I am so proud of our church. Today’s reading from the interactive Advent retreat says “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see”. I was truly blessed to see that amazing liturgy celebrated in April at All Saints.
Episcopal priests offer spiritual support for gay unions
By Lois K. Solomon, Sun Sentinel
5:09 a.m. EST, December 4, 2012
Gay couples who seek spiritual affirmation of their relationships can now sanctify their unions with special blessings at South Florida’s Episcopal churches.
Priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida have been given permission to perform a distinct rite, different from the marriage between a man and a woman. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony, to be introduced this month, was approved by national convention delegates over the summer.
South Florida’s Episcopal priests had been performing a locally approved liturgy for the past two years for couples who have been married in other states, Bishop Leo Frade said. Florida law does not recognize same-sex marriages.
Frade said none of the priests in the 77-church diocese, which covers six South Florida counties, have told him they are morally opposed to the blessings.
Lorraine Michels and Joan Van Ness were married in 2009 in Massachusetts, but decided to participate in a nine-couple blessing ceremony in April at All Saints Episcopal in Fort Lauderdale. They have been together since 1993.
“As a Catholic, I thought that once I left Catholicism, I’d never see the inside of a church again,” said Michels, 66, a retired physical education teacher from New York. But Van Ness, 67, grew up Episcopalian and the church invited the couple to participate. Michels said the ceremony, attended by about 300 people, was moving and emotional.
“What was overwhelming was the love everyone who attended felt,” Michels said. “It was one of the highlights of my life.”
The Episcopal Church, the 14th-largest denomination in the U.S., is the largest denomination to approve a gay blessing ritual, but not the first. The United Church of Christ has approved same-sex unions since 2005.
Although gay marriage was approved by three states in the November election and is now legal in nine, not every mainline denomination has accepted the unions. Methodists and Presbyterians rejected gay rights resolutions earlier this year.
Gay rights issues have also fractured the Episcopal Church in recent years. In 2003, the church approved its first gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, spurring some parishes to break away and form a conservative coalition. The church now has about 1.9 million members, down from 2.3 million in 2003.
To make sure parishioners understand the church’s interpretation of gay relationships and the new national liturgy, some South Florida churches have been conducting information sessions. At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, about 30 people have been attending the seven-week series, the Rev. Chip Stokes said.
“We lost some folks in earlier years, but support now has been very high,” said Stokes, who has performed one blessing ceremony. “The culture has changed on this issue.”
Several priests in the diocese said they are ready to perform the blessings if asked.
“No one has approached me, but I’m open to offering it,” said the Rev. Andrew Sherman of St. Gregory Episcopal Church in Boca Raton.