Amherst’s Episcopal Church Declares Wedding Moratorium

Grace Episcopal Church
in Amherst, MA has come up with a creative way to affirm GLBT rights without defying the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage rites. From today’s Daily Hampshire Gazette (subscription required):

Declaring a “holy fast,” Grace Episcopal Church has decided to stop performing all wedding ceremonies because its bishops bar the blessing of same-sex unions.

“We are called to join the fast that our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ have had to observe all their lives,” said the church’s rector, the Rev. Robert Hirschfeld, in his sermon Sunday.

The worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, has been splitting apart over this issue and the election of a gay bishop. Hirschfeld said that he knows of no other church that has taken the step of abstaining from all weddings.

“Gays and lesbians are the church, as much, if not more, as I am a straight white man,” he said in his sermon. “But this sacrament, and the grace it is meant to convey, is not available to them.”

The reaction of members of the congregation was largely positive at discussions with Hirschfeld after Sunday’s two services. Some members expressed concern that the move might be polarizing,  while others said they regretted that people who grew up in the church can’t get married there….

Hirschfeld said he was asked at the deathbed of Victoria White, a Northampton lesbian who died recently, if it would be all right to have her funeral at Grace Church. “The question had poignancy for me,” he said. “We are here for all people.”

Gay and lesbian couples “always feel their relationship is less than holy” when they are denied the right to marry, he said.

“I can no longer hold together my own integrity as a priest who has made vows to minister faithfully the sacraments of the reconciling love of Christ, if indeed to perform such sacrament means deeper, more wrenching, more agonizing tearing of the body of Christ which I am called to support and nourish,” Hirschfeld said in his sermon….

“I invite us to join in solidarity, no a better word is in communion, with those persons who have been fasting and walking in the desert their whole lives, not by choice, but because the church has forced them to,” Hirschfeld said.

Grace Episcopal’s solution strikes me as an especially Christian, nonviolent way to take a stand. Leadership through sacrifice, rather than through defiance of authority, is a powerful and peaceful witness. Hirschfeld’s entire sermon is online here.

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