Texas Episcopal Church May Become First Congregation in State to Perform Same-Sex Rites

A historic congregation in Texas may become the first church in the state to perform the same-sex union blessing recently approved by The Episcopal Church's national leadership.

St. David's Episcopal Church of Austin, which is under the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, may begin performing a recently approved rite blessings for same-sex couples by next month. Jeanie Sablatura, director of communications for St. David's Episcopal, told The Christian Post that her church's decision to move forward was part of a "Unity in Mission plan" set up by the Texas Diocese.

"We were one of two churches asked by the Diocese of Texas if we would like to participate to which we said yes based on the size of our parish (one of the largest Episcopal churches in Texas) and because we have an active gay and lesbian population within our parish," said Sablatura.

"Couples wishing for a blessing adhere to the same requirements we have of those wanting to get married at St. David's including that they must be active, attending members of the parish. Currently, we have several couples in the process of meeting with our rector to have a blessing performed."

Last July, The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops voted to approve blessings for same-sex couples in a vote of 111 yeas to 41 nays, with three abstentions. From there, it went to TEC's House of Deputies, where 78 percent of voting lay members and 76 percent of clergy members voted in support of the new rite.

By August 2012, the General Conference approved it. Spokesmen for The Episcopal Church have stressed that the approved measure was a "blessing" of same-sex couples, not a marriage rite as would be performed for opposite sex couples.

The issue over gay unions has been a divisive one for The Episcopal Church, as many churches and even the occasional diocese have opted to leave the liberal denomination over the theological difference.

One example is The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which opted to depart TEC four years ago and has been embroiled in a legal dispute over church property with the national leadership ever since.

Suzanne Gill, communications director for Fort Worth Diocese, told The Christian Post that the direction St. David's and the Texas Diocese under Bishop Andy Doyle are taking is unsurprising.

"It is not surprising, since Bishop Doyle announced months ago that it would be permitted. This is the direction of the entire Episcopal Church," said Gill.

"The city of Austin has a different culture than much of the rest of the state, and all Texans are aware of this …The Episcopal Church's seminary in Austin teaches a liberal theology and has provided living accommodations for same-sex couples for a number of years."

When asked by CP if these latest developments could lead to more churches leaving, Gill responded that the single action by St. David's would probably not lead to more defections.

"This one event is not likely to precipitate action of an entire parish, though it may cause individual members in a number of places to walk away, as so many thousands of others already have done all across the nation," said Gill.

Founded in 1853, St. David's Episcopal Church of Austin, Texas, has a congregation of about 2,500 parishioners, many of whom are members of the LGBT community.