A committee has been formed to create recommendations for how Oklahoma Episcopalians will respond to a same-sex liturgical blessing approved by the Episcopal Church USA earlier this year.
The Rt. Rev. Edward Konieczny, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, said he created the committee of clergy and lay people to ensure that Episcopal parishioners across the state have a say in how the same-sex rites are administered in the diocese. The committee is set to meet for the first time in a retreat Friday through Dec. 15.
Konieczny said he asked people to let him know if they were interested in being part of the committee. Of those who contacted him, the bishop selected the following individuals for the committee:
The Rev. Bill Carroll, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Shawnee, chairman; the Rev. Mary Davis, vicar of St. John's Episcopal Church, Woodward; Shirley Hunter, St. Augustine's of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City; the Rev. Everett Lees, vicar of Christ Church Episcopal, Tulsa; Richard Ogden, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, Oklahoma City; and the Rev. Dale Petley, associate rector at All Souls' Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City.
Konieczny told Oklahoma Episcopalians that he would form such a committee in a diocesan letter he shared shortly after the Episcopal Church USA's General Convention approved Resolution A049 in July. The measure allows clergy to use a same-gender liturgical blessing called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” The measure stated that the blessing could be used beginning Dec. 2.
The measure also included an amendment made by Konieczny that gives bishops oversight on the same-sex blessing in their diocese and also protects clergy from being forced to perform such rites.
Konieczny said he has told parishioners in the Oklahoma diocese that no one can perform the blessing until he received recommendations from the new committee and subsequently made decisions based on their analysis. Konieczny said he has asked that the committee complete its work by Pentecost 2013 (May 19, 2013).
The bishop said he spent much of September traveling throughout Oklahoma to talk with Episcopalians about the decisions made at the denomination's General Convention in Indianapolis. He said sometimes the same-gender blessing resolution did not come up in those parish conversations, but it was part of the discussions at several churches.
He said those discussions and the committee are ways to ensure that people around the diocese have input on how Oklahoma will react to the same-sex resolution.
He said there will be an opportunity for public input regarding the committee's recommendations before he decides how the diocese will proceed further.
“I just really felt a strong commitment and a need to not enter into this and make arbitrary and unilateral decisions as the bishop, even though that's certainly within the realm,” Konieczny said.
“I love to take the time to listen to people pastorally, to allow people to express themselves, to get some level of understanding about where we're going.”
Konieczny said the same-sex blessing resolution is challenging for several reasons.
He said some people have expressed concern that the same-sex liturgical blessing in the resolution closely mirrors the marriage liturgy contained in the denomination's prayer book. Konieczny said both the blessing and the marriage ceremony include similar components such as a declaration of intent, exchange of vows and exchange of rings.
Konieczny said these similarities are part of an ongoing debate in the church.
Another challenge is that some members of the church do not approve of the same-gender rites.
Konieczny said he does not think many of them are uncomfortable with homosexual individuals so much as they find the same-sex liturgical blessing to be contrary to what they grew up with.
“It comes around from their understanding about what they have known in their lives about traditional marriage,” he said. “We all carry around those tapes that we play about the way that we were raised, the values that we've come to understand as our own moral compass in our lives.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the same-gender blessing resolution is a state constitutional amendment that effectively bans same-gender marriage in Oklahoma.
Konieczny said the committee will need to remember that there are no legal implications connected to the same-sex liturgical blessing.
He said this is unlike the marriage ceremony, in which clergy in Oklahoma act as agents of the state.
“It (liturgical blessing) does not, and I know this is another part of the conversation with gay and lesbian persons, have the legal rights that go forth with marriage,” he said. “Those are civil decisions that are made by civil authorities not by the church.”
Konieczny said the diocese will have to be cautious so that gay and lesbian couples do not mistakenly perceive that the church's pastoral response in administering the blessing carries any legal rights.
He said he is optimistic that the new committee will help the diocese move forward in regards to the same-sex blessing issue, no matter the difficulty.
“I'm very aware that this is challenging conversation for lots of people and I'm respectful of that,” he said.
“I want to make sure we don't do things arbitrarily and that we hopefully in the Diocese of Oklahoma can be an example of living out our baptismal covenant of honoring and respecting the human dignity of all human beings and, at the same time, work for those things in society that require that we see how justice is implemented.”