The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, a group of "continuing Episcopalians" within the Diocese of South Carolina, has embraced a rite that would bless same-sex relationships. Its leaders are involved in a legal battle over property against a diocese that broke away from the denomination.
"Our covenantal life with God is expressed in relationships of commitment and faithfulness, including those of same-sex couples," a document from the group about the rrelatively new rite states. "It is the Church's joy to celebrate these relationships as signs of God's love, to pray for God's grace to support couples in their life together, and to join with these couples in our shared witness to the gospel in the world."
The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, sent out a letter Tuesday allowing for priests to perform the rite known as "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant."
"I do want to be clear that this permission does not define an expectation for clergy. In your own life of prayer and within community, you will decide how to respond to this statement of permission," wrote vonRosenberg. "The preparation of a couple for this blessing of the church will require attention and care on your part, and I certainly encourage the exercise of your pastoral ministry in the context of couples seeking this blessing."
Bishop vonRosenberg also wrote, "I commend our continuing journey as a diocese to your prayers, recognizing that differences of opinion and of practice appropriately exist within the greater unity which binds us to one another in Christ."
"As we take this step in particular, may we be mindful of our baptismal pledge to 'respect the dignity of every human being', all along the way," concluded vonRosenberg.
The decision by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina to allow the rite on blessing same-sex relationships comes as the group is embroiled in a legal battle for the name and property of the Diocese of South Carolina.
In November 2012, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina's leadership voted to leave The Episcopal Church. Not long after the decision to leave, the breakaway leadership found itself in court over who rightfully owns the diocesan name and property.
In January 2013, a judge granted an injunction stating that the breakaway diocesan leadership retained control of the name and marks of the Diocese of South Carolina during the legal proceedings.
Arguments were heard in the trial on Tuesday before Judge Diane Goodstein in the Dorchester County Courthouse.
By allowing the blessing of same-sex relationships, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is putting itself at further odds with the South Carolina Diocese, which voted to leave because of the national denomination's increasing acceptance of homosexuality.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the South Carolina Diocese, issued a pastoral letter regarding Tuesday's legal proceedings.
"The path that has brought us as a diocese to this hour has been long and winding," wrote Lawrence, adding that "through it all we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it ever striving to be mindful that we have been entrusted with this Truth…"