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"I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing"
By Church Publishing Incorporated
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 2015 The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church
All rights reserved.
I. Introduction to the Revised and Expanded Edition
In 2012, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church commended "Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing" for study and use throughout The Episcopal Church. In the 2013-2015 triennium, the materials were widely used in a number of dioceses, and the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) invited responses through several avenues. This new volume is the result of this process.
Responses to Liturgical Resources 1
In January 2013, the SCLM asked bishops of The Episcopal Church to report whether they had authorized the liturgy "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant," and if so, whether they had authorized any modifications to meet the needs of members of The Episcopal Church. The SCLM received responses from half (fifty-five) of the dioceses, and of these, thirty-eight had authorized use of the resource. In many dioceses in jurisdictions where civil marriage is legal for same-sex couples, the bishop authorized revisions of the liturgy to allow clergy to officiate at a civil marriage of a same-sex couple.
In fall 2013, nearly one thousand people accessed an online survey distributed with the assistance of diocesan contact people and through social media. Responses were overwhelmingly positive to all sections of Liturgical Resources 1. However, a number of respondents expressed frustration or confusion that the liturgy appeared to be a "separate but equal" rite, which therefore was not equivalent to marriage.
The Commission heard similar comments at an international, ecumenical, indaba-style conversation on same-sex marriage that it hosted at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, Missouri, June 3–5 2014. The SCLM invited participation from every diocese of The Episcopal Church and every province of the Anglican Communion where civil marriage is legal for same-sex couples, and from ecumenical partner churches in the United States. Participants at the consultation included fifty-seven people representing twenty-four dioceses of The Episcopal Church, six other churches of the Anglican Communion, and five ecumenical partners, along with the President of the House of Deputies, the Presiding Bishop, and the Secretary of General Convention. Two dioceses of The Episcopal Church and two provinces of the Anglican Communion declined to send representatives. While none of the participants in the consultation was opposed to same-sex marriage, the conversation enabled the Commission to understand more deeply the issues facing clergy and same-sex couples in contexts where civil marriage is legal.
To evaluate the Kansas City consultation, the SCLM asked the Reverend Doctor Paula Nesbitt, a sociologist who has worked extensively in evaluation of the continuing indaba process in the Anglican Communion, to interview a selected cross-section of participants. We have included her executive summary of her report as an appendix to this volume.
Faith, Hope, and Love: Theological Resources
In Resolution A049, the 2012 General Convention directed the SCLM to develop the theological resource "with specific attention to further engagement with scripture and the relevant categories and sources of systematic theology (e.g., creation, sin, grace, salvation, redemption, human nature)." The Commission invited responses from theologians representing different disciplines (Scripture, ethics, Church history, systematic theology, missiology) and diverse theological perspectives. These essays are included in this revised and expanded edition; they represent the viewpoint of the individual authors rather than the consensus of the SCLM.
The Church's Canon Law and Laws of the States
Liturgical Resources 1 included a study of the complexities of civil and canon law regarding marriage and civil unions. It offered a number of scenarios, taking into account differences in both civil law and diocesan policy.
Since 2012, dramatic changes in civil law in the United States have reshaped the context. When Liturgical Resources 1 was first published as part of the 2012 Blue Book Report to the 77th General Convention, seven states and the District of Columbia allowed same-sex civil marriage. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, "The Court, in this decision, holds same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States. It follows that the Court must also hold – and it now does hold – that there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character."
Recognizing that resolutions to amend the marriage canon were likely to come before the 2015 General Convention, the SCLM determined that the original section on canon law might no longer be relevant or provide useful guidance. Instead, an appendix to this revised and expanded edition of Liturgical Resources 1 provides a history of the marriage canon prepared by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage for its 2015 Blue Book report. In addition, the definitions of "civil union," "Defense of Marriage Act," and "same-sex marriage" have been revised in the Glossary.
In Resolution A036, the 2015 General Convention revised Canon I.18, and in Resolution A054, the Convention affirmed that the provisions of Canon I.19.3, regarding marriage after divorce, apply to the liturgies in this resource. We have included both the revised Canon I.18 and Canon I.19, which was not revised, in Appendix 2.
Hearing, Seeing, and Declaring New Things: Pastoral Resources
Several participants in the June 2014 consultation on same-sex marriage expressed concern that the pastoral resource portrayed gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in a negative and stereotypical manner. The SCLM formed an ad hoc task group to recommend revisions. The first half of the resource has been revised accordingly.
The five-session process for preparing couples for a blessing of their covenantal relationship was not revised. Though the SCLM received some suggestions for a different order of the sessions and for other changes, no clear consensus emerged. The content and structure of the sessions is recommended but not required, and the SCLM believes that clergy and lay people trained for preparing couples can adapt the resource to suit their particular approach.
After the 2015 General Convention, the pastoral resource was revised to take account of the revisions of the marriage canon (Canon I.18) and the authorization of trial use of the liturgies for marriage as well as the U.S. Supreme Court decision permitting same-sex marriage throughout the United States.
In response to comments by those who used the 2012 rite, the SCLM made some revisions to the original liturgical resource, "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant." The 2015 General Convention authorized this revised liturgy for use "under the direction and with the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority" (Resolution 2015-A054).
In addition, heeding the concern that "separate but equal" rites are inherently unequal, the SCLM developed and recommended to the 2015 General Convention an adaptation of the 2012 liturgy that can be used for marriage for any couple, as well as "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2," a gender-neutral adaptation of the marriage rite in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The Convention authorized these rites for trial use, that is, as a proposed revision of the BCP. Resolution 2015-A054 directs that these liturgies be used under the direction and with the permission of the diocesan bishop, and stipulates that bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision will make provision for all couples asking to be married in the Episcopal Church to have access to the liturgies.
Some respondents to the survey expressed appreciation for the materials in the discussion guide, while a significant minority indicated that they had not used the materials because they had already done this work.
Given the rapidly changing context, the SCLM believes that the material will continue to be of use in some places. Since the Commission did not receive any strong recommendations for revision of the discussion guide, the primary change to this section of the resource is the addition of an option to present two of the liturgies in this resource. In addition, after the 2015 General Convention minor revisions were made to take account of the decisions of General Convention as well as the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the marriage of same-sex couples.
Since 2009, as the SCLM has gone about its work on these resources, terminology has been debated. Should we refer to "same-gender" or "same-sex" couples? As indicated in the Introduction to the first edition, the 2012 General Convention directed that the resource use "same-sex" rather than "same-gender," and the SCLM then determined that "opposite-sex" rather than "different-gender" would be more in keeping with the spirit of Resolution 2012–A049. The task group that reviewed the pastoral resource recommended that the resource refer to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people. The terms reflect growing awareness of the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Commission consulted with scholars working in the area of gender studies and learned that the term "gender and sexual minorities" (GSM) is increasingly preferred as an all-encompassing term. We have introduced that term in the section "Hearing, Seeing, and Declaring New Things: Pastoral Resources for Preparing Couples for a Liturgy of Blessing or Marriage" and included a discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, recognizing the complexity of gender and sexuality, we have used the term "different-sex" rather "opposite-sex" throughout this revised and expanded edition.
We offer this revised and expanded edition with gratitude for all who have offered their feedback, and in the hope that these resources will continue to strengthen our shared witness to the gospel.
Ruth A. Meyers
on behalf of
The Standing Commission on Liturgy
and Music and The Special Legislative
Committees on Marriage of the
78 General Convention
II. Introduction to the First Edition (2012)
As members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) of the Episcopal Church, we give thanks for the many and various ways that the grace of God in Christ is made manifest in our Church and throughout the world. Whenever the Church pronounces God's blessing, it does so with such gratitude always in mind.
For more than thirty years, the Episcopal Church has been responding to the call to seek and serve Christ in its members who are gay and lesbian. In 1976, a resolution of General Convention affirmed that "homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church." Since then, we have been in a churchwide discernment process about how we live out that resolution. Some congregations and their clergy have welcomed same-sex couples and offered liturgical blessings of their relationships, and some dioceses have developed guidelines for such blessings. Resolution C051 of the 2003 General Convention recognized "that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." Six years later, General Convention called for the collection and development of resources for those blessings. The materials presented here respond to that call.
Resolution C056 of the 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to "collect and develop theological and liturgical resources" for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This resolution instructed the Commission to work in consultation with the House of Bishops and to "devise an open process for the conduct of its work, inviting participation from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals who are engaged in such theological work, and inviting theological reflection from throughout the Anglican Communion." We have understood the process for our work to be as important as the resources themselves.
The Scope of Our Work
Because Resolution 2009–C056 directed us to "collect and develop" resources, we have not debated whether the Church should bless same-sex relationships. Nonetheless, we recognize that Episcopalians and Christians throughout the Anglican Communion have disagreed about whether such blessings are a legitimate development within Christian tradition or an unacceptable departure from biblical teaching. Resolution 2009–C056 acknowledged this dispute in the resolve "that this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality," and previous General Convention resolutions have also recognized this disagreement. In the theological essay "Faith, Hope, and Love" we acknowledge these differences, and offer an approach to blessing same-sex relationships that reflects the centrality of Scripture in Anglican tradition, interpreted in concert with the historical traditions of the Church and in the light of reason. The discussion guide included in these resources is intended to enable all congregations and dioceses to explore the materials, whether or not they believe the Church should bless same-sex relationships.
As we developed the resources, many people asked whether we were actually preparing a rite for same-sex marriage. In accord with Resolution 2009–C056, the Commission has understood our charge to be the development of a liturgy of blessing, not marriage. Nonetheless, there are a number of parallels to opposite-sex marriage, as General Convention Resolution 2000–D039 suggested when it acknowledged that "there are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships." That 2000 resolution then set forth the expectation that "such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God," and denounced "promiscuity, exploitation, and abusiveness in the relationships of any of our members." These expectations have defined the Commission's understanding of the same-sex relationships for which we have developed resources. While the liturgy we have developed is not called "marriage," we recognize significant parallels: two people publicly make a lifelong, monogamous commitment to one another with the exchange of solemn vows in a ritual that pronounces God's blessing on their life together.
The question of marriage is complicated by ongoing changes in American civil law. As of August 2011, six states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, five states allow civil unions, and seven recognize some form of domestic partnership; on the other hand, thirty states have adopted constitutional language defining marriage as between one man and one woman and thirty-nine states have statutes defining marriage in this way. Civil law in other countries where the Episcopal Church is located adds further complexity. Both the Book of Common Prayer and the Canons of the Episcopal Church require clergy to conform to the laws of the state regarding marriage and describe marriage as being between a man and a woman. To address this complexity, these resources include an essay on canon law that discusses scenarios likely to arise as same-sex couples request an authorized liturgy for blessing of their relationship and/or civil marriage (or union) in the Church.
In addition to questions about the term "marriage," we received many comments about the terms "gender" and "sex." Following the wording of Resolution 2009–C056, in the resource presented to the 2012 General Convention, the Commission used the term "same-gender" to describe these relationships and "different-gender" as the comparable term. However, the 2012 General Convention directed that the term "same-sex" be used rather than "same-gender," and the published resource makes this change. In addition, as the Commission reviewed the resource for publication, it determined that the use of the term "opposite-sex" rather than "different-gender" was in keeping with the spirit of the 2012 General Convention resolution, and so the published resource makes this change as well. This is more than a linguistic question. As the Commission worked on these resources, we acknowledged but did not address the complexity of contemporary social and academic conversations about the categories of "sex" and "gender." The pastoral resources for preparation of couples prior to a liturgy of blessing offer ways to work with individuals who identify themselves as bisexual or transgender. The resources expect that a bisexual or transgender couple who seeks the Church's blessing of their relationship will commit to monogamy and lifelong faithfulness, the same commitment asked of every other same-sex and opposite-sex couple.
The Commission has gathered a vast amount of materials, including official studies, service leaflets from liturgies of blessing, and diocesan and provincial guidelines for these blessings. The Archives of the Episcopal Church established a digital archive for the project,http://www.episcopalarchives.org/SCLM/, where anyone may review the materials we have gathered.
Resolution 2009–C056 allows bishops to "provide generous pastoral response" to meet the needs of the Church's members, so in December 2009, the chair of the Commission asked all diocesan bishops to report what provisions they were making and what resources they were commending to their dioceses. Twenty-seven bishops responded to this request, and a number of these bishops included theological, pastoral, teaching, and/or liturgical resources. Seven other dioceses subsequently submitted materials. All diocesan materials that we received are available for review in the digital archive for Resolution 2009–C056.
Excerpted from "I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing" by Church Publishing Incorporated. Copyright © 2015 The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of The Episcopal Church. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
ContentsI. Introduction to the Revised and Expanded Edition,
II. Introduction to the First Edition (2012),
III. Faith, Hope, and Love: Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships,
IV. Hearing, Seeing, and Declaring New Things: Pastoral Resources for Preparing Couples for a Liturgy of Blessing or Marriage,
V. Liturgical Resources,
VI. Discussion Guide to "I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing" (revised and expanded edition),