Then, the Prayer Book and Litury legislative committee brought to the floor of the House of Bishops (where such legislation originates) a resolution that called for the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender unions, along with a generous flexibility in the use of rites in those civil jurisdictions where marriage equality is already (or may become) a reality. The debate was vigorous and positive. It looked as if we were going to move forward. Then a bishop rose to propose that legislating this issue was counterproductive. It was moved to send this to a small working group to come up with a “better way.” This motion passed, and I feared that this move was an attempt to get us to do nothing, or worse, to make our own statement as bishops, completely sidestepping the fact that we were meeting, not as a lone House of Bishops, but as the General Convention, which includes laity and clergy.
In an effort to forestall this move, I signed up to be a part of the small working group (Presiding Bishop Katharine had invited any who wanted to be a part of the group to volunteer). What followed was perhaps the most signficant “moment” of the Convention for me.
We met late into the night on Wednesday night. Some 25 bishops representing the entire spectrum of opinion, from the most conservative to the most liberal. On Wednesday night, using the style of the African Indaba process from the Lambeth Conference, we each simply spoke about where we were on this issue. NEVER in my six years as a bishop have I experienced the holy speaking and holy listening I experienced that night. Each bishop in turn spoke their truth — the pain and difficulty they’ve experienced in their dioceses as a result of the controversy, the personal burdens they’ve shouldered, the pain of gay and lesbian people in their dioceses who are not sure whether they are valued as full members of this church and their pastoral needs as children of God. Each spoke of what they needed to go home with. Each was honest and vulnerable about what they could give up for the good of the whole. It is hard to describe the vulnerability and honesty with which each bishop contributed.
We took all this to our prayers and to bed, and returned at 7:00 the next morning to decide what all this meant for the resolution before us. The vulnerability and honesty continued in this working session. What resulted was a resolution to bring back to the House that represented that group’s “best way forward,” although there was no attempt to lock anyone into voting for it or to commit to every word.
At our afternoon session, the resolution was presented, along with a brief account of our precious time together. Then we talked about the resolution at our tables of eight, for close to half an hour. Then the debate began. There were a few amendments offered — some passed, some failed. But the resolution we had crafted remained reasonably intact.
Just as we were nearly ready to vote, a bishop rose and proposed “discharging” the resolution (in effect, NOT voting on it and making it “go away”). This move to not deal with the issue failed by a substantial (3 to 1) margin. It seemed clear that the Bishops knew that we could not duck out of this one. A roll call was requested, so no bishop could hide behind a voice vote. The time had come to declare ourselves. When the resolution came to a vote, it passed by a whopping 3.5 to 1 margin. Interestingly, some of the bishops who had voted to make the whole issue go away, when finally having to vote, voted “yes!” There were some bishops who voted “yes” who had NEVER voted “yes” on any gay-affirmative resolution before. This vote was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone seemed stunned.