The day after they confirmed Gene Robinson as the first openly gay man to be elected into the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, the bishops on Wednesday drew back from authorizing an official rite for blessing relationships like Robinson's.

But for the first time in the Episcopal Church's nearly three-decade debate on homosexuality, the bishops said that local experiments in same-sex blessing rites are "within the bonds of our common life."

The bishops also authorized "compilation and development of resources, under the direction of the Presiding Bishop, to facilitate as wide a conversation of discernment as possible throughout the church."

On Wednesday afternoon the bishops discussed Resolution C051, which proposed that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) prepare rites for blessing same-sex unions. Under that resolution, the church's next General Convention would consider the rites in 2006 for possible inclusion in Enriching Our Worship, a book of supplemental rites that congregations may use with a bishop's permission.

Inclusion in Enriching Our Worship would have been more than advocates of same-sex rites originally sought. Claiming the Blessing, a movement pressing for such rites, had asked only that the rites be included in The Book of Occasional Services. Enriching Our Worship, unlike The Book of Occasional Services, includes alternative rites for central services, such as the Holy Eucharist.

Bishop Peter Lee of the Diocese of Virginia proposed striking the paragraph that called on the SCLM to prepare rites for Enriching Our Worship. Bishop John Chane of the Diocese of Washington, a leading advocate for blessing same-sex unions, quickly endorsed Lee's amendment, as did many other liberal (and some conservative) ...

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