-The Serenity PrayerDear Friends in Christ at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School: I thank God for His many gifts and blessings at our parish. We have inherited a precious and powerful identity as a traditional Episcopal community that worships God and cares for God’s people in the Name of the Crucified and Resurrected Christ. In the past few years, God has blessed us with an increasing number of new members who are drawn to His grace through our practice of the Faith. We are grateful for the legacy that we have received, we are confident of our identity in God, and we are secure in His love. Through God’s grace, St. Thomas’ continues to stand ready, as our Mission Statement declares, to “share the joy of loving and serving God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We are entering a challenging time for Episcopalians in general and for the Diocese of Texas in particular. Last week, Bishop Doyle convened a meeting of the clergy of the diocese to share his plan to keep our diocese united during what is likely to be an anxious summer. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church, when it meets in Indianapolis this July, is almost certain to approve a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships. Bishop Doyle informed us that he does not approve of these proposed liturgies, and that he will vote against them. His position is that the Episcopal Diocese of Texas is a traditional diocese that upholds the Scriptural teaching and practice that Christian marriage is a lifelong union between one man and one woman and that sexual activity is healthy and appropriate only in that context. Nevertheless, he believes that there will be enough bishops and delegates from other dioceses who favor these rites to ensure their approval. Bishop Doyle believes, and I agree, that this action at the national level will inflame an existing division within our diocese. The majority of clergy, congregations, and people in our diocese do not approve of such rites, but there are many clergy and several congregations who say they feel conscience-bound to proceed with them. In my judgment, at that point Bishop Doyle’s choice will be either to ignore those infractions of ecclesiastical discipline or to pursue costly and divisive legal and disciplinary measures that would be overruled on appeal to national canon law. In anticipation of these events, and to avoid ongoing conflict that would overwhelm our work to proclaim the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, Bishop Doyle convened a committee of about forty Rectors and other church leaders that met regularly for about a year. This “Task Force for Unity in Mission” represented a wide variety of perspectives. Meanwhile, he sought input and counsel from other bishops in our Church, including our former diocesan bishops, our Presiding Bishop, and the sitting and the previous Archbishops of Canterbury. As a result of these deliberations, Bishop Doyle authored his plan to navigate the Diocese through the events of this summer. He also wrote a 120 page theological paper that articulates his teaching on Christian marriage, ecclesiastical unity, and episcopal authority. At our diocese-wide meeting at Camp Allen, Bishop Doyle discussed his plan, his paper, and the Task Force’s Affirmation, which he had released the week before. After General Convention’s decision, the essence of his plan is as follows:
- Congregations may choose to take no action, one way or the other.
- Traditional congregations may declare, either in letters to him, statements to the public, and/or amendments to their by-laws, that they will not conduct or participate in these rites, nor sponsor for ordination or employ anyone who is in a non-celibate relationship outside of Holy Matrimony.
- Two congregations (St. Stephen’s, Houston and one yet to be decided in Austin) will receive permission to enter an eight-month process of discernment about whether and how to bless same-sex relationships, following the rites approved and the direction of the Bishop. In the future, additional parishes may request permission to perform these liturgies, but their rectors, vestries, and laity must be in complete support of them.
- With God’s help, we choose not to let any decision or any person in our national church, in our diocese, or anywhere else change the way St. Thomas’ believes in God, worships God, teaches about God, administers God’s sacraments, or ministers to the world in God’s Name.
- With God’s help, we choose not to let any decision or any person in our national church, in our diocese, or anywhere else undermine with faithless fears or worldly anxieties our trust in God’s truth about all, mercy towards all, power over all, or love for all.
- With God’s help, we choose to abide in the serenity that comes from accepting the things we cannot change, the courage that comes from changing the things we can, and the wisdom that comes from knowing the difference.
 While objectionable for other reasons, this service is not equivalent to marriage. Unlike the Rite for marriage, this liturgy is not intended to express “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” that is associated with the sacraments of the Church. Instead, it will be a prayer service that asks for God’s blessing upon the two people involved, and it will not be included in any version of the Book of Common Prayer. Furthermore, because the passage of the “Marriage Amendment” to the Texas Constitution in 2005 prohibits any recognition of same sex couples in the State of Texas, and because Title I, Canon 18, Section 1 of The Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church declares that “Every Member of the Clergy of this Church shall conform to the laws of the State governing the creation of the civil status of marriage, and also to the laws of this Church governing the solemnization of Holy Matrimony,” the proposed liturgy would not confer any legal status to the couple involved in the service. The current form of the proposed liturgy, which may yet be modified based on some objections by some bishops, including our own, may be found at http://houseofdeputies.org/blessingexcerpts.
 At this point in the discussion, Bishop Doyle asked me to edit and make suggestions for his paper, and to join the Task Force as they finalized their written Affirmation that declares support for Bishop Doyle’s effort to keep our diocese together.