From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Kansas bishop approves limited plan for blessing non-married couples
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
--Melodie Woerman is editor of Plenteous Harvest, the
newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas.
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