Vermont Episcopal priests will continue to bless same-sex unions despite criticism of the practice from an Anglican Church commission. Vermont bishop Thomas C. Ely said Monday that parishes in the state will continue to celebrate and bless civil unions until the governing body of the Episcopal Church says not to.
The U.S. Episcopal Church, a branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, was criticized in a report released Monday for electing openly gay V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. The Anglican Church commission urged the Episcopal Church not to elect any more gay bishops and asked bishops not to "authorize public rites of blessing for same-sex unions."
Ely said he saw the report as a starting point for discussion, not as a ruling meant to institute change. The report called for the church to continue to study the biblical and theological rationale for allowing or denying same-sex unions. "How can we reflect critically on this without the experiences of gay and
lesbian couples?" Ely asked. "We're only reflecting in the abstract, not in the concrete. I believe theology needs the concrete. I hope that's what we're contributing to the conversation in Vermont."
Ely said Vermont is in the unique position of having legal unions of same-sex couples. He said he doesn't believe his decision to continue blessing same-sex unions is contrary to the report's findings. Episcopal priests in Vermont began blessing same-sex unions with the permission of then-bishop Mary Adelia McLeod in 2000, the year Vermont's first-in-the-nation civil-union law was adopted.
Kendall Harmon, steering committee member of the Pennsylvania-based Anglican Communion Network, said the responses of the presiding U.S. bishop and Ely are irresponsible. The Anglican Communion Network was founded in January as an effort to return to the "historic faith and order of Anglicanism" in America, from which they believe the Episcopal Church has strayed. "Here is American arrogance writ large," he said. "The Anglican community is divided. The recommendations need to be taken very seriously. You have both the presiding bishop and the bishop of Vermont indicating they are not willing to take the report seriously."
Ely said he is taking the report very seriously and will continue to reflect upon the report in coming months.