Dear Friends in Christ,
As I prepare for next week's General Convention and my expected confirmation as your Bishop-elect, I wanted to write you concerning one piece of legislation that will likely be approved, namely Resolution A049 to Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships. If the resolution goes through as submitted, the proposed rites would be permitted, subject to the approval of the Diocesan Bishop, beginning in Advent 2012.
During the process that led to my election, I consistently stated my conviction that the Diocese of Pittsburgh needed to have a conversation that would lead to a consensus on how to approach both the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of those in same-sex partnerships. I also said that I would be an active participant in such a conversation, informing it and helping to guide it, but not dictating its outcome. On this basis, I also have refrained from foreclosing the conversation by leading with my own thoughts on these matters. If we, as a diocese, are to arrive at a common mind, a local sensus fidelium, we cannot reach conclusions on these issues before we begin our inquiry.
The liturgies that have been proposed do, in fact, articulate such a set of conclusions. They expound a theology of blessing and implement it through sacramental rites. Since the substance of this theology, and the mode of its expression, are among the questions that belong to our inquiry, for your bishop to license the use of these rites before we have had a chance to open together the questions they conclude, would be to turn a deliberative process into mere talk about things that had already been decided. The question of whether these, or other similar rites, may or may not have a place in our common life needs to be considered as part of our discussion, not made moot before we have even begun.
Assuming I am confirmed in Indianapolis, I should be arriving in Pittsburgh in mid-August. In the fall, I would hope to convene a design team to seek input from across the diocese and plan the format and content of this conversation. My hope is that we would launch this process in January 2013 and come to some preliminary recommendations by Pentecost, though if we need more time, we can certainly take it. I hope you will support this by your own voices and prayers. I know some are weary of talking, and only want a decision. But the process out of which such a decision comes is crucially important. In the end, the only thing that will matter is that God is glorified through our work, that we be brought together, across our many differences, in closer bonds of affection to show a broken and polarized world what a reconciling community in Jesus Christ may look like. Only if we can do this as a Church, have we any business offering ourselves to others as ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).
One other note: I have heard from a few who appear to believe that my approach to this matter is somehow insincere or evasive, that this is all a mere stalking-horse, that I will eventually seek to marginalize those with whom I disagree and return the diocese to something like the Bad Old Days. I completely understand this apprehension. How can you really know me yet? Given all that has happened in this diocese, the fact that you are willing to trust me at all is a testimony to God's grace and your open-heartedness, and to the healing you have begun under Bishops Johnson and Price. I expect I will make more than my share of missteps as your new bishop. You will discover quickly that I am just as much an earthen vessel as God ever tried to use. But I do promise I will love each of you and all of you, try to love you as Christ loves each and all of us, and work diligently to see that we do not fall back into the animosities of the past. So, I ask you to join with me in praying that Christ will fill us with His wisdom along with His love. In this spirit I very much believe and hope that God will build us together into that most beautiful creature this side of heaven: Christ's Body Visible on earth, the harbinger in word and deed of God's Own Reign.
Please pray for the Church soon to gather in Indianapolis, that Jesus Christ may clearly be seen in what we say and do.
This comes with my heartfelt prayers for you and those you love.
Fondly, your Bishop-elect,
June 28th 2012
The Feast of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons