frgavin on June 12th, 2011

Priests giving blessings for same-sex couples

By Sue Nowicki

Beginning Sunday, Episcopal priests in the San Joaquin Diocese can “perform blessings of same gender civil marriages, domestic partnerships and relationships which are lifelong committed relationships characterized by fidelity, monogamy” and “holy love.”

The change doesn’t mean Episcopal priests will begin marrying same-sex couples, Bishop Chester Talton said. Such marriages are forbidden by state law, although that is under review by the courts.

Instead, Talton said, “what is being authorized is a blessing of relationships, which we’ve chosen to call sacred unions.”

That would include a blessing for same-sex couples who were married in a civil ceremony for the short time in 2008 when such marriages were legal in California, he said. It also would include homosexual or heterosexual couples who are not married, but live together in a committed relationship.

The impact, Talton said, will “acknowledge the sacredness of that relationship. I think it also says our church is one that is inclusive, that welcomes all, that will embrace all members of God’s creation in God’s church.”

The Rev. Kathleen West, acting priest-in-charge at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Modesto, said Thursday no one there has asked for a blessing, but she is ready when they do.

“This … will be good for us and for seeking, gay people who are looking for a place where they can be accepted with no condemnation of their created way of having same-sex attraction,” she said. “I think it will happen at St. Paul’s.”

The Rev. Kathryn Galicia, priest at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Turlock, said she supports the bishop’s policy, even though, she added, “it may never happen in our particular parish.” As a priest, she said, “I’m called to love people as we are loved by God. This is along the lines of where we’re expecting to go in the future.”

Reason for controversy

Other faith communities in Modesto, including College Avenue Congregational Church and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County, have been doing similar ceremonies for the past three decades, their pastors said.

But such blessings are one reason theologically conservative parishes and dioceses in the United States have left the national Episcopal Church and moved to alternative oversight groups within the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Bishop John-David Schofield, who is retiring this year, was the first in the country to lead an entire diocese away from Episcopal control in 2007, establishing the Anglican San Joaquin Diocese. Lawsuits filed by Episcopalians still are pending over the property for diocesan headquarters in Fresno and the 40 parishes that moved with Schofield.

The Rev. Gerald Grossman, pastor of St. Francis Anglican Church in Turlock, called Talton’s authorization for blessings “embarrassingly predictable. As for our parish, we shall continue to minister using the grace and liberty that is found in Christ alone.”

The Rev. Michael McClenaghan, who led his congregation at St. Paul’s to walk away from their $2.4 million property and start again as Wellspring Anglican Church in downtown Modesto to avoid a lawsuit, said he “wasn’t surprised” by the blessing policy.

“The Episcopal Church will try to please the world rather than honor God and obey him,” he said. “We want to be part of the culture, but we’re not going to be molded by it. That’s the difference between us.”

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