The Rev. Frank B. Crumbaugh III of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in Beach Haven has told his congregation that he is considering blessing the marriage of a same-sex couple.
He stressed he will not be marrying the couple as far as the Episcopal Church is concerned. Same-sex marriage isn’t recognized by the Episcopal Church USA.
“It isn’t a marriage liturgy; it is a blessing liturgy called ‘I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,’” Crumbaugh told The SandPaper.
In a civil role, however, the priest would be marrying the couple, as allowed in New Jersey since Oct. 21, 2013.
“If I go ahead, I will be signing the wedding certificate,” he said.
Crumbaugh, like all other ordained clergy, is allowed to marry people in New Jersey. So when it comes to marriage, he has two masters, the state and his church. If he decides to unite the couple, he will act, then, in two capacities, marrying them as part of his civil duties and blessing them as a representative of the Episcopal Church.
If it all sounds complicated, it is. The nation’s Christian denominations, for the most part, haven’t kept pace with the 17 states across the country that have authorized same-sex marriages.
Many denominations don’t want to keep pace. The nation’s five largest Christian denominations in the United States – the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and the Church of God in Christ – officially oppose same-sex unions.
Others avoid the issue, saying they don’t dictate to their individual churches. One, the United Church of Christ, passed a resolution “in support of equal marriage rights for all” in 2005.
Some, though, have been struggling with the issue for several years. The Episcopal Church has been one of them.
With about 2 million members, the Episcopal Church is the 14th largest denomination in the United States. It was rocked – and rocked the nation and the worldwide Anglican Community – in 2003 when its General Convention consented to the ordination and consecration of a gay, partnered man, Gene Robinson, as the bishop of New Hampshire.
The fallout was considerable, with hundreds and perhaps thousands of conservative U.S. Episcopalians leaving the church while several Anglican dioceses in the rest of the world, especially in Africa, condemned the move.
The smoke eventually settled. At its annual convention in July 2012, the church approved the blessing of same-sex relationships by a rather lopsided margin (111-41 in the House of Bishops; 77 percent in the House of Deputies, which consists of clergy and lay people). But it was careful not to call the blessing ceremony a marriage ceremony.
“We have authorized a blessing,” said media affairs representative Nancy Davidge at the time, “and a blessing is different than a marriage. A blessing is a theological response to a monogamous, committed relationship.”
Crumbaugh said the Episcopal Church is taking small steps in dealing with the issue, just as civil authorities in New Jersey had done. The church’s blessing ceremony is the religious equivalent of the state’s civil union, a compromise and, perhaps, temporary.
Crumbaugh is sensitive when it comes to issues such as the ordination of gays or same-sex blessings. In the wake of the Gene Robinson episode, he initiated a number of church discussions about such issues and promised he would once again do so should a local situation occur.
“We were/are not all of one mind,” he recently wrote his church’s members, “a full range of opinions was heard, many questions were asked. The conversations hewed to my imperative about civility, and however anyone felt about it one way or the other, we all regarded each other with respect. That civil respect is perhaps the enduring legacy of those conversations.”
The talks were effective. Nobody, said Crumbaugh, left his congregation during the Robinson flap.
So when a “gay person raised in this parish and that person’s intended life-partner””asked, “Father Frank, would you consider blessing our marriage?” Crumbaugh decided to open the lines of communication once again.
“I may agree or decline to officiate for any couple, gay or straight,” wrote the priest to his flock. “I have not made up my mind, and as is true with any couple, I can’t do so until we’ve had the pre-marital meetings.”
Crumbaugh wrote that he was asking for input because “I respect you, I love you and I care deeply for all persons who affiliate here, making up this community of Faith. To the degree that you want to communicate with me as I contemplate this liturgy, I am glad to hear from you.”
However, he also wrote that, ultimately, it would be his decision.
“I am not asking your permission. Canonically, the decision must be mine alone, with the advice and consent of my Bishop. I am grateful to say that the Bishop has confidence in my judgment on this matter, and will support whatever decision I make.”
Will the blessing be a first for the Diocese of New Jersey if Crumbaugh decides to go forward?
“No,” he said. “Many have been done in the diocese.”