I want to share with you today my thoughts on two significant decisions made by our recent General Convention that I find to be most promising as we move forward as the Body of Christ and as the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.
First, the Book of Common Prayer. Contrary to what a lot of news reports said, nothing is changing with the 1979 Prayer Book. As a matter of fact, the 2018 Convention voted to “memorialize” the book which means, unless another action of Convention changes it, the BCP 1979 will remain an official prayer book of The Episcopal Church. What Convention did do is to authorize for use adapted versions of Eucharistic Prayers A, B, and D for trial use. These prayers will be available digitally for use beginning on Advent 1, 2018. You can contact Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims for details on how to get access to these. The adapted prayers offer more expansive language for God, moving us beyond male pronouns for our Creator. No one must use these prayers, although I encourage parishes to experiment with them and to provide your feedback to Canon Cathy which she will then forward to a special task force that will be appointed by the General Convention leadership.
Additionally, marriage. The General Convention adopted a policy making marriage available to all people in their home parishes. There are eight bishops, who, in spite of the decision of General Convention on marriage in 2015, refused to allow the marriage rites written for same gender couples to be used in their dioceses. The 2018 General Convention made two significant decisions regarding marriage equality: all marriage rites, those in the BCP 1979 and those in alternative texts —“I Will Bless You and You Will Be A Blessing”–are available to all couples seeking the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. All canonical requirements for a clergy person to sanctify a marriage apply equally to all couples. I think you all know my convictions concerning marriage which is why the negative response to the marriage issue has pained me greatly.
When same gender marriage was first approved by the state of New York in 2011 and then by the Church (at the 2012 General Convention) I met with people from across our Diocese to discuss this issue. I heard opinions all across the spectrum and made my decision known clearly in 2012—same gender marriage was allowed in our Diocese.
I made a conscious decision to perform my first same gender marriage in January 2013 when I married the late Deacon Pete Dempesy-Sims and Canon Cathy Dempesy-Sims. I beheld how their love grew over time and their bonds of marriage deepened. When I buried Deacon Pete in November of 2017 the grief Cathy felt (and feels) was and is no different than the grief that any wife would have at the death of her spouse.
The debate about the marriage rites at the 2018 General Convention hit close to home for our entire WNY deputation and I was proud of the testimony that Canon Cathy gave on the floor of the House of Deputies and which I then referenced in a speech on the floor of the House of Bishops as we debated the marriage resolution. As always, I am happy to discuss the theology of marriage with anyone in our Diocese.
General Convention made many more important decisions, including the need to dismantle racism across the Church (and we now have a new commission to dismantle racism in our Diocese). We addressed sexual abuse issues, refining the clergy discipline process and much much more.
In the light of the significance of so much that happened at Convention, I invite all of you to attend a session on General Convention actions to be held at a program to be offered by our deputation at the DMC on September 11, from 7 pm to 8:30 pm. I have encouraged all the clergy to attend and invite any laity who wish to learn more to attend as well.