Some East Tennessee churches will be able to bless the relationships of same-sex couples next year, under the directive of a local religious leader.
In July, The Episcopal Church adopted Resolution A049, which will allow Episcopal parishes to bless same sex unions. Last week, Right Rev. George Young, Bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee, wrote the region's congregations a letter that said those blessing could officially begin later this February.
More Information: Read the Bishop's letter here
"I voted in favor of Resolution A049, and I am grateful that the church has provided a means to honor and bless the relationships of gay and lesbian Christians," he wrote.
Young said the diocese will not force any of its congregations to perform the blessing on same-sex couples. He said a parish's clergy and vestry, a committee of congregation members, must decide whether the practice is something suitable for their members.
The decision to allow same-sex blessings did not surprise St. James Episcopal Reverend John Mark Wiggers.
"Our church was moving in this direction for a while and so I expected this to happen, that we would approve a rite of same-sex blessing," he said.
He said the church's evolution has also impacted whether some of it members stay loyal to its teachings.
"Over time, some [members] have left, some have joined us, some have hung in with us, whether they agreed or disagreed," he said. "It's been an interesting journey."
St. James Episcopal is one of two parish in Knoxville that is registered as a part "Believe OUTloud", a national database that highlights church homes that are "welcoming" to the LGBT community. The other "Believe OUTloud" parish is St. Luke's Episcopal in East Knoxville.
More Information: Believe OUTloud Episcopal Congregations
St. Luke's Parishioner Nancy Mott has been a part of the church for 15 years. As a lesbian, Mott said she is happy St. Luke's and the diocese are taking steps to affirm the relationships of same-sex couples.
"It's really quite amazing the Diocese of East Tennessee has become as progressive as it is now," she said.
Mott said she and her partner will likely seek a blessing from the church once they are officially recognized. Young said they will not be recognized until after the 2013 Diocesan Convention in February 8-9.