Pittsburgh Episcopal bishop approves same-sex blessings

Bishop Dorsey McConnell

Bishop Dorsey McConnell

PITTSBURGH — The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will let local priests decide if they want to conduct ceremonies to bless same-sex couples.

The decision by Bishop Dorsey McConnell allows priests — but will not require them — to perform the services beginning in January, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Bishop Dorsey McConnell

Bishop Dorsey McConnell

At its legislative General Convention last year, the Episcopal Church approved a provisional rite for same-sex couples that was subject to approval by local bishops, and which will be reviewed at its next convention in 2015. Called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Same-sex couples must complete counseling before having their unions blessed by the church.

McConnell said he doesn’t plan to conduct the services himself but that he made the decision to allow them to reflect the diversity of opinion on the matter within the diocese.

“I’ve always said I am called to be bishop of the whole diocese,” McConnell told the newspaper.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has 37 congregations with about 10,000 members. A majority of its clergy and lay leaders voted to leave the diocese in 2008 and sided with more conservative churches in the global Anglican Communion in a debate that grew out of the national church’s decision to consecrate its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003.

Before the 2008 split, the Episcopal Diocese claimed 74 congregations, but because some churches also split over joining the more conservative Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, that diocese claims more than 50 southwestern Pennsylvania congregations, according to its website.

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The Rev. James Simons, who leads St. Michael’s of the Valley church in Ligonier, said McConnell’s decision was “pretty much what most people expected.” Although Simons said he also would not perform a same-sex blessing, he said, “I think that what the bishop did was wise and I’m supportive of his decision.”

Dianne Watson, speaking for a group called Integrity Pittsburgh that is pushing for same-sex marriage — not just blessing services — called the decision a good start but only an “incremental step.”

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual persons should have access to all of the rites of the Episcopal Church, no matter which local church they go to,” she said.

Only one major U.S. Protestant group, the United Church of Christ, has endorsed same-sex marriage outright.

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