Bart

Dear General Convention:

I have been an Episcopalian for over 10 years and am currently a member of Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas, Texas. I participate in the life of the church in a number of ways, including as a vestry member, choir member, current volunteer and past board member of our music concert series, past co-coordinator of our LGBT+ fellowship, alternate delegate to diocesan convention, adult catechumenate program mentor, and past member of the vestry nominating committee. It is not uncommon for me to be at the church every day of the week. I was initially drawn to The Episcopal Church by the beauty of its music tradition and liturgy. I stayed and became confirmed because of the wideness of its charity, compassion, and witness to the world: seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of every human being. Transfiguration truly lives out this mission, and I’m happy to assist in any way that I can.

Imagine my elation, as a gay Episcopalian, when both TEC General Convention and the U.S. Supreme Court made long-overdue recognition of same-sex marriage in the summer of 2015. Imagine, then, my utter heartbreak afterwards when the Bishop of Dallas exercised his authority to completely forbid these rites both on diocesan property and by any member of the clergy resident or licensed in the diocese, regardless of venue. In doing so, he has reinforced his personal opinion that gay and lesbian Episcopalians are lesser – unworthy of the sacraments of the Church. For someone who spends so much time at his beloved church, this stabs me like a dagger through the heart.

GC Resolution 2015-A054 established that “Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority…will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies.” Our bishop’s making provision for access was to essentially say, “Not in my backyard and not by any of my clergy; go somewhere else.”

The suggested solution is to send us over to the Diocese of Fort Worth where the liturgies for same-sex marriage are available on a limited basis. You may think that this is a minor inconvenience; I assure you that it is not. While there are some churches in Fort Worth whose rectors will allow the weddings of non-parishioners, it is often done as a space rental or a “good neighbor” wedding for those of other denominations who do not have a church home. This comes at an additional cost. The choir is not made available for non-parishioner weddings and a volunteer choir of friends is hindered or outright forbidden. The parish hall is not made available for non-parishioners which adds the extra expense of a separate reception venue. Fort Worth can be over an hour away from Dallas, depending on the time of day, so one must start from scratch to find a local caterer, baker, hotel, and other venues and vendors in an unfamiliar city rather than known vendors where one resides, not to mention multiple trips back and forth to investigate and coordinate these. The clergy and church are strangers because one’s own clergy are forbidden to officiate. This is both a substantial inconvenience and a substantial added expense, both of which are necessitated only by lack of pastoral consideration shown by our bishop.

Imagine – one more time – the utter hurt when you are told that you are forbidden to be married in your own church, surrounded by your supportive church family, or by your own clergy in another location. This could not possibly have been the intent of GC78, yet it is the very real outcome.

I have seen a number of friends transfer out of the Diocese of Dallas to feel less like second-class Episcopalians. I have also seen a number of friends resort to civil marriages which likewise cannot be blessed in our diocese, although we can bless pets, backpacks, and all manner of other things. Others travel to a different diocese to have access to these rites. It is my fundamental belief that this is not – and should not – be the Episcopal way.

If same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and recognized as equal to and indistinct from opposite-sex marriage by the church, then the decision to marry any couple should remain with the member of the clergy asked to officiate, and should not necessitate the bishop’s approval or involvement. I am simply asking that you return the decision-making to individual clergy and parishes, as in other marriage rites.

While the majority of Episcopalians enjoy access to these same-sex marriage rites, there are a great number who have been excluded by unyielding bishops, even in parishes with overwhelming support for same-sex marriage. Your work is unfinished. Please don’t forget about us.

Bart Stockton