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SAN DIEGO: Bishop outlines process for same-gender blessings

[Episcopal News Service] Bishop Jim Mathes of San Diego has sent a letter to clergy of the diocese approving a process to celebrate same-gender blessings.

"I want to underscore this is really about providing pastoral latitude to the clergy in appropriate situations, and that the context in which we do this is our effort to be that inclusive church that strives to find a place for those who struggle with the very breadth of that inclusivity," Mathes said in a July 20 telephone interview from his San Diego office.

"For that reason this allows for pastoral generosity in providing blessings and honors those who, for conscience reasons, cannot go there," he added.

The June 22 letter cited General Convention 2009 Resolution C056, which resolved "that all bishops, noting particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church."

Mathes said he believes C056 "changes the posture of our Church toward gay and lesbian persons who desire the Church bless their relationships," according to the letter. "In its totality, the resolution creates openness to move forward pastorally, honors those who disagree with same-sex blessings, and does not proscribe particular liturgies."
 
He offered a process for same-gender blessings but declined to establish a general policy or specific rite at the present time. Clergy are not required to perform the blessings.

Prior to seeking Mathes' permission to bless a same-gender union, clergy are asked to have the support of their vestries and to have studied the issue among their congregations, using tools such as the Holiness in Relationship Report of the Diocese of San Diego.

"As I have already said, at this time, I am not going to promulgate a rite for such moments," the letter continued. "So, I ask you to write me a detailed letter, including the proposed service. If there are earlier marriages, then I will need to see divorce decrees. If there are other noteworthy relationships, I would like you to explore them as you would for a couple contemplating remarriage. Finally, I ask that you have the couple send me letters from each explaining to me what this service means and how it will change their lives.
 
"I am convinced that this is necessary and will be an important contribution to the Church's work of discernment on this issue," Mathes said.
 
Clergy who disagree with same-gender blessings may refer couples to colleagues who are willing to perform them, he added.

"The Church is not of one mind on this issue and generosity across differences should be our character," continued the letter, which also asked for feedback. "I am committed to full inclusion, including a valued place for those who disagree with these decisions.
 
The Rev. Canon Allysin Thomas, sub-dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, said she is "in conversation with a couple to do a blessing in the fall, but there's no date set yet.
"We're really excited about it. We've been wanting to do this for as long as I can remember," she said. "I never thought that this day would ever necessarily happen and it has, so we're thrilled."

But, she added, "We are mindful that there will be other parishes that do not receive the news in the same way we do."

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.

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