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North Carolina bishop approves blessings for gay couples

North Carolina bishop approves blessings for gay couples

The spiritual leader of nearly 50,000 North Carolina Episcopalians has given formal permission for churches in his diocese to bless same-sex unions. "The blessing of the committed lifelong unions of persons of the same gender is one way our community can live the Gospel through faithful and loving pastoral care and spiritual support for each other," Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina said in a letter to clergy earlier this month. Curry's diocese is one of at least six among the nation's 108 U.S. Episcopal dioceses to adopt official written policies allowing the blessing of same-sex unions. The Raleigh-based diocese is home to 121 parishes in 39 counties. No same-sex ceremonies have been held in the diocese with the bishop's approval, said Kaye Lasater Culp, a spokeswoman for Curry's diocese. "If this was done before," she said, "it's been done on its own." Of North Carolina's two other dioceses, the Western North Carolina diocese, based in Asheville, allows its clergy to bless same-sex unions, and the East Carolina diocese, headquartered in Kinston, does not. Bishop Robert Johnson of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina said an unwritten "collegial policy" allows parishes to decide for themselves. He said three parishes among 72 in the diocese have conducted fewer than 10 ceremonies. He said parishes will still be free to decide for themselves when he retires and is succeeded in September by the Reverend Porter Taylor of Athens, Ga. The U.S. Episcopal church, with 2.3 million members, has no official ceremony for same-sex blessings but acknowledges that an unknown number of bishops allow their clergy to conduct them. Nearly every mainstream religious denomination in the United States has been battling over same-sex marriage and ordination of gay clergy for years, with no resolution in sight. The controversy has been especially hot in the Episcopal church, with last year's confirmation of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in the church. Curry's July 1 letter to clergy members is having an influence. With the bishop's blessing, the Reverend David Pittman of St. Peter's Episcopal Church said he'll ask lay leaders at the downtown Charlotte church to approve two requests for same-sex ceremonies. "I don't imagine it will be a problem," Pittman said. "We bless homes and consecrate buildings. I think people are more important than things." All four people belong to the 900-member church. One couple is male. Pittman said two women are planning their same-sex blessing to mark their 25th anniversary. In Durham, St. Philip's Episcopal Church plans to bless same-sex unions within the year. Other churches will have no part of same-sex unions. The Reverend Fred Hoffman of All Saints Episcopal Church in Concord said he believes blessing same-sex unions runs counter to his reading of Scripture. "This is not an issue of being against homosexuality," he said. "We're called to love everybody." But, Hoffman added, "I don't think we have to accommodate to the culture." Some Episcopalians angry over Curry's strong stance have cut their financial donations to the Raleigh-based diocese. It has seen a 15% drop in donations since last August, when Robinson was confirmed amid national front-page headlines. Culp said the drop also likely results from tough economic times.

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