A Pastoral Response To Marriage
Susan Eaves is Reverend of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church. Photo by Kevin Clay.
In 2011, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia adopted a policy of generous pastoral response and invited churches to apply for authorization to perform blessings of same-gender unions. The terminology “generous pastoral response” came out of the 2009 General Convention, the triennial governance meeting of the Episcopal Church.
“In the Episcopal Church, there are various clauses and various diocese,” Susan Eaves, Reverend of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Richmond, said. “In our diocese, we have chosen to extend what’s called a ‘generous pastoral response’ to same-gender couples. What that means is that when you have a couple in your congregation who have been faithful during a period of time and have not had the benefit of celebrating that relationship, we provide a ceremony so that they can give thanks to the love that they share and make future promises about faithfulness.”
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, located off Hawthorne Avenue, is one of the nine churches in the Diocese of Virginia that extends these ceremonies to same-sex couples. The Episcopal Church wants to put emphasis -whether heterosexual or not- on people who want to have long-term, life-long, stable relationships and all that entails.
Last year, the Bishop of the Diocese invited churches in the Diocese to prepare their congregations and submit applications.
“I was in the fortunate position that this congregation has always been very welcoming of diversity,” Eaves said. “So long, long before I was rector of this church, they already had gay and lesbian members who were very much part of the community. And I believe, although I was not a witness, that there was an occasion on which a ceremony was held. We have had the advantage in this congregation of probably working at life together, for longer than many congregations. We’ve also had educational programs and discussions…I was able to write to the Bishop and say ‘These are the things that we have done.’”
After Eaves submitted an application in writing to the diocese, the Bishop gave her permission to extend generous pastoral responses at St. Thomas.’ More are expected to follow – and recently, in Richmond, Christ Ascension was added to the list.
“Any church can still apply at any point,” Eaves said.
Last fall, St. Thomas’ had a ceremony for two women who had been together for 25 years and never had the opportunity to have a public recognition of the relationship.
“I would characterize people in this situation as people in need of the assurance of God’s love,” Eaves said. “And we do that in the church by having a ceremony that honors, respects and dignifies their relationship.”
According to Eaves, the church doesn’t play a role in the legalization of same-sex marriage at the state and federal government level. However, she hopes that more churches will be stepping in the direction of recognizing unions among couples.
“Jesus reminds us to be good citizens and being a Christian is about being an intentional member of society, working towards what is just and good,” Eaves said. “So if you see the issue of working towards the legalization of same-gender unions and the rights involved in that part of your cause, as a Christian to ensure that we have a just society, then yes, I would imagine people will get involved. And I would hope so.”
Gillan Ludlow is a Fredericksburg native and attending Virginia Commonwealth University as a print journalism undergraduate.
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