November 25, 2013
Dear Friends in Christ,
As you know, the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Indianapolis in 2012, authorized at the discretion of the bishop, a provisional rite for blessing a lifelong covenant between persons of the same sex. Prior to that, I had announced my intention to conduct a series of conversations in the diocese to give me a sense of the faithful and to lay the groundwork for our continuing unity. These conversations have occurred, and I include a report as part of this letter. Beyond that process, I have listened to many other voices, reflected deeply on Scripture, consulted broadly, and prayed throughout, asking that God would guide me toward a decision consistent with His will. The purpose of this letter is to convey not only that decision, but also my hope in our future together and the scope of some of the pastoral considerations I believe we will need to keep in mind going forward.
As I have listened to you, I have heard many passionate, and sometimes contradictory, hopes and fears. Some have insisted they will not tolerate any permitted use of a blessing liturgy in this diocese, while others have insisted they will accept nothing less than sacramental marriage for same-sex couples. Between these poles I have heard a host of nuanced positions, usually accompanied by the sincere desire for the unity of the Church and a deep hope that, whatever my decision, we would find a way to hold onto one another in Christ, setting an example for the world by our love.
This unity in diversity has been in the forefront of expressed values since the earliest days of the rebuilding that took place in this diocese after 2008. Our “Mission, Vision & Values” covenant from that time speaks of our commitment to each other, despite differences and disagreement, being united in greater measure by our faith expressed in the Creeds; by the authority of Scripture, tradition and reason in our common life; and by a commitment both to the order of the Episcopal Church and the fellowship of the Anglican Communion. While that covenant does not explicitly name the issues concerning human sexuality, it has been understood that these matters are part of the diversity in the diocese, expressed in the character of local communities of faith, some congregations in the aggregate being more conservative on issues of sexuality, others more progressive, and a few quite mixed.
Since this local character exists in variety of conviction, I find it reasonable that this variety should be allowed to express itself in local practice, by allowing the decision of whether or not to use this rite to be made by each pastor, in his or her own parish. This “local option” will allow each rector or priest-in-charge to minister pastorally according to his or her commitments and conscience, while putting none under constraint or duress.
Having said this, I must also be clear, both as your bishop and from my own place in this spectrum of belief, that I have serious reservations concerning the theology and intention of the rite, for reasons I have specified in an assessment that appears below. I know that at least a few of the clergy inclined to use this rite share some of my concerns about it; I also know they see it as a way of offering public recognition and pastoral support to same-sex couples in whom qualities of mutual devotion and fidelity, care and nurture, and faithful participation in the life of the Church are clearly visible. It is out of respect for their local pastoral authority, as well as out of my own pastoral regard for the free conscience of all who are under their care, that I will allow the use of this rite according to the guidelines that also appear below.
As for the somewhat related matter of ordained ministry, I believe the principal determining factor in regard to my role as ordinary rests in my discernment, in concert with the Church, as to whether God is calling any given individual to Holy Orders. Therefore, I will not alter the non-discrimination policy begun under Bishop Price; an individual’s being in a committed same-sex partnership will not, in and of itself, be a barrier either to ordination or call in this diocese.
I have previously acknowledged that these policy decisions, along with the accompanying materials, will not satisfy everyone. However, I believe we are called into one Body, as Christ’s members, and in and through that Body are called to bear with one another, not out of obligation, but out of joy in the gift God has given us through one another, perhaps especially in the gift of those who differ with us and yet whom we embrace as sisters and brothers in Christ. In an increasingly polarized and contentious world, let us pray that our forbearance with one another in love will show forth the character of Jesus the Reconciler, whose heart of peace yearns over all our wars.
Finally, I know that even to open this topic exposes the most tender areas of human identity and affections, the deepest questions of our aspirations and purpose in life, our acceptability before God and others, our call to holiness, and our need for grace. Mindful that we all must one day render an account before the judgment seat of Christ, especially for those who were kept from the mercy of God by anything we have done or said, I ask your particular prayers and consideration, in the coming days, for the following:
- Those gay, lesbian, or transgendered people who have not found a welcome in the Church; as well as those who rejoice that their committed relationships may now be celebrated.
- Those of homosexual or heterosexual orientation who are committed to lives of holy celibacy, as a matter of obedience to God and faithfulness to Scripture.
- All who are married; especially those struggling, seeking the grace of God and the support of a Christian community to heal their relationship and reconcile them to their spouse.
- Those whose marriages have ended badly and who bear old burdens of grief or guilt.
- The divorced and remarried who may still encounter a spirit of condemnation in the Church.
I have often said that I believe I was called to be the bishop of the whole diocese, not merely a part of it. That remains my commitment. I am available to talk and pray with you around any concerns you may have regarding any part of this letter. I only ask again that, as we move forward, you hold in your own heart and prayers those whose views may be utterly different from your own, but who share with you the same hope in Christ.
May the coming holy season of Advent serve as a time to renew our souls, quicken our repentance, and refresh our joy as together we await the celebration of the Savior’s birth.
Faithfully your bishop,
(The Right Reverend) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.
The Bishop of Pittsburgh
This Pastoral Letter, issued by The Rt. Revd Dorsey W.M. McConnell, Bishop Pittsburgh in the American Episcopal Church (TEC), has decided, after consultation and prayer, to allow parishes to conduct Same-Sex Blessing in their churches, according to their own capacity and willingness to do so.
Bishop McConnell, aware of the fact that some members of TEC, though homosexual or lesbian themselves, have also made a conscious decision to remain celibate – either alone or in a committed same-sex relationship. He affirms his support for such people and wants this to be widely understood, while yet not standing in the way of those same-sex couples who wish to avail themselves of the Blessing of The Church in their specific relationship, without having to commit themselves to a celibate partnership.
This decision on the Bishop’s part would seem to meet many of the criteria that the Church was looking for to pastorally care for those lesbians and homosexuals in the Church who are both Christian and committed to their same-sex partnerships in a way consistent with the ideals of Christian intimacy in a committed, faithful relationship.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand