From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Kansas bishop approves limited plan for blessing non-married couples

Date Sat, 29 Jun 2002 14:17:09 -0400

June 29, 2002


Episcopalians: Kansas bishop approves limited plan for 
blessing non-married couples

by Melodie Woerman

(ENS) Bishop William Smalley of Kansas has informed clergy that 
he will begin authorizing the limited blessing of non-married 
persons. This policy would extend to heterosexual couples for 
whom marriage would create a financial hardship, and homosexual 

Smalley was emphatic in stating this blessing is not to be a 
substitute for Holy Matrimony and may not resemble it 

The policy calls for consensus between the vestry of a parish 
and its rector before application can be made to Smalley, who 
would authorize the blessing. That application must include 
notice that one of the people seeking blessing is a member of 
the parish, the form of the liturgy to be used and details of a 
plan for pastoral care for those in the parish who are not in 

Smalley, who has announced he will retire Jan. 1, 2004, said 
this policy is his and does not bind his successor. He said he 
based his decision on the action of General Convention in 2000 
in adopting resolution D039, in which the church "acknowledged" 
that some church members were living in life-long committed 
relationships outside of marriage. He said he believes offering 
the church's blessing to such couples is part of that 

Smalley, citing the 38 years of marriage he and his wife 
Carole have shared, said they have benefited from the prayerful 
support of a loving Christian community. "(We) have grown in our 
love and faith, in large part because of the church's blessing 
and support." He said he did not want to deny that same support, 
through the blessing of the church, to those who cannot choose 
marriage. He said, "I come to my decision in part out of 
pastoral care for these people, but also because of the example 
I see in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus in his 
incarnation cared deeply for all people and had a special care 
for those denied the fullness of life."

Smalley said he believes Kansas is the first diocese to offer 
blessings to heterosexual as well as homosexual couples, based 
on the language of resolution D039.

In an interview after the policy was made public to parish 
clergy, Smalley said he has wrestled with this decision for many 
years. "This has been a long struggle for me," he said. "Since 
General Convention it has been a daily struggle in my prayers. I 
can say this decision was reached prayerfully."

Quoting the gospel story of the woman caught in adultery, the 
bishop noted that Jesus did not condemn her but told her to "Go 
and sin no more." The question he said then becomes, "What does 
Jesus define as sin? Is this particular behavior sinful? That is 
the question for the church." Smalley said he sides with medical 
evidence indicating homosexuality is a human condition. "Some 
people are just created that way," he said. 

However, he noted the possibility his position may be in 
error. "I may be wrong in my view, and if so, I am prepared to 
face my Lord and say I was wrong. I may be judged for that, and 
I am prepared for that," he said.

Smalley also said he believes the church is called to ask 
what Scripture and the Anglican tradition mean today. He noted 
the church has over time reinterpreted Jesus' injunction against 
divorce and now permits divorced persons to remarry. In issuing 
this policy, Smalley said he does not believe he is departing 
from Scripture. "I think I am joining with the church in asking 
what God is saying to the church now," he said.

He said he thinks three parishes in the diocese may use the 
policy for blessing homosexual couples. He was unsure how many 
may seek authorization for blessing heterosexual couples under 
the policy's provisions. Smalley said he believes most such 
couples will be older people who would lose a pension or 
disability benefit from a deceased spouse if they marry, harming 
those on limited incomes.

Smalley said he understands not all people in the diocese 
will support this policy. In response to their concerns, he said 
he would remind them that no parish has to make use of this 
option, which requires agreement between the elected leadership 
of a parish and its rector before plans can proceed. 

He also said, in spite of any opposition, he trusts members 
of the Diocese of Kansas will remain in communion with one 
another and with him. "I see we are called to be a community 
which honors marriage as a sacrament and honors people who are 
different and not withhold the church's blessing from them. We 
stay in contact and communication with each other. It's about 
keeping communion."


--Melodie Woerman is editor of Plenteous Harvest, the 
newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas.

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