— Updated at 10:00 a.m. March 9, 2012 to include dates of House of Deputies online discussion and other details.
[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has released excerpts from its “I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing: Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships,” report, including the text of its proposed rite of blessing.
In addition to the proposed rite, the excerpts released March 8 include a theological reflection on blessing same-gender relationships and two related legislative resolutions that the SCLM will recommend to General Convention when it meets in Indianapolis July 4-12.
“We really wanted to give bishops and deputies in particular an opportunity to understand the material prior to General Convention, and providing it to the wider church then allowed bishops and deputies to hear from the wider church as part of their discernment about how they might respond at convention,” the Rev. Ruth Meyers, Hodges-Haynes professor of liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and SCLM chair, told Episcopal News Service in a telephone interview shortly before the excerpts were posted.
The SCLM’s work comes in response to General Convention’s 2009 mandate (via Resolution C056) that it work with the House of Bishops to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships and report to this summer’s 77th meeting of convention.
The proposed rite is titled “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” Marriage is specifically not mentioned because, as Meyers has frequently pointed out, C056 called for development of resources for blessing same-gender relationships and not solemnizing marriages of same-gender couples. However, the introductory page of the rite notes that “to comply with the laws of the civil jurisdiction in which the rite is celebrated, the priest shall consult the bishop, who may authorize modifications in the Pronouncement” section of the rite.
Meyers told ENS that the commission wanted “to leave leeway for” bishops in such settings who have already or may yet decide that clergy in their dioceses may officiate at the civil portion of a marriage or civil union. She said such a decision may necessitate a change in the wording of the portion of the liturgy in which the presider says “Inasmuch as N. and N. have exchanged vows of love and fidelity in the presence of God and the Church, I now pronounce that they are bound to one another in a holy covenant, as long as they both shall live. Amen.”
The rite, meant to occur within the context of the Holy Eucharist, includes a suggested extension of the opening acclamation; an exhortation (which traditionally begins “Dearly beloved:) specific to the nature of the rite; four suggested new collects; lists of appropriate Old Testament and Epistle lessons, psalms and gospel readings; a new preface to the eucharistic prayer and a new post-communion prayer.
The “witnessing of the vows and blessing of the covenant” section includes newly written additions to a structure and elements that echo to the Book of Common Prayer’s marriage rite.
Meyers told ENS that the commission’s liturgical task group received “hundreds” of blessing rites, some dating to the 1970s, submitted by Episcopalians in response to a request from the SCLM. Based on a set of liturgical and theological principles for reviewing the rites, they read each one and borrowed from some of them, she said. A sampling of the rites is here.
A press release from the church’s Office of Public Affairs said the theological reflection notes that the SCLM has reviewed more than 30 years of General Convention’s deliberation on same-gender couples, especially Resolution 2000-D039, that identified characteristics the church expects of couples living in marriage and other lifelong committed relationships: “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.”
SCLM’s first resolution asks the convention to commend its report to the church for study and to allow trial use of the liturgical rite beginning on the First Sunday of Advent 2012 (Dec 2). The proposed trial-use period would allow for a churchwide review and SCLM would report to the next meeting of General Convention in Salt Lake City in 2015 on how all the materials were used.
That resolution also requests that convention extend C056’s provision of “generous pastoral response,” particularly to bishops in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal. Some bishops have cited that provision in allowing clergy to officiate at the marriages or civil unions of same-gender couples in states where those unions are legal.
The second resolution asks convention to form a task force that would guide the church “to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage” during the 2013-2015 triennium. This task force, Meyers said in the release, would help the church study the issues raised by the marriage equality debate in civil society.
Meyers told ENS that the decision to release excerpts of the report now was based on the timing of a series of meetings across the church in which bishops and deputies will get their first look at the final report. SCLM members will present the report to regularly scheduled pre-convention provincial synod meetings, which began with Province IX’s gathering during which participants were briefed on the materials March 7.
The House of Bishops also will get a briefing during its March 16-20 meeting at Camp Allen Conference and Retreat Center in Navasota, Texas. Given C056’s mandate, the bishops “have been part of the conversation all the way along and they are very eager to see this material,” Meyers said.
“And at the same time because of our bicameral polity … it seemed important to make it available to deputies for conversation as well,” Meyers added.
Members of the House of Deputies will be able to discuss the excerpts in the online forum on House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson’s website, the release said. The discussion will begin March 16 and end March 23.
“Given the number of people who were going to have access to [the excerpts] among the bishops and deputies, it seemed best simply to release [them] so that others in the church who wanted to follow the discussion on the deputy forum, then they could do that and have access to the material to understand what the discussion is,” Meyers explained. People who are not deputies can read postings on the deputy online forum but may not participate in that discussion.
She said she hoped that bishops and deputies would talk amongst themselves about the materials and that they would also find ways to hear from Episcopalians in their dioceses.
“I hope that people do take time as that old Anglican collect says of Scripture: ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ [Proper 28] – at least to read and mark, and really grapple with what’s there because there’s a substantial theological essay here,” she told ENS. “I would also hope that other Episcopalians would also read and study this material and be in conversation with their deputies and bishops, and let them know their hopes and concerns and questions so that bishops and deputies can come to convention and then listen to one another again, listen to the testimony in public hearings and be prepared to make a decision.”
Above all, Meyers said she hoped the church would “engage this with a depth of prayer and thinking to be attentive to the work of the Spirit in our midst.”
The commission said in the preface to its report that “for some Episcopalians, this material will resonate well with their long-standing experience and theological reflection; for others, the call from the 2009 General Convention represents a new and perhaps perplexing moment in the life of our church.”
“We take that difference seriously,” the commission said, adding that “all of us belong equally to the Episcopal Church and to the worldwide Anglican Communion and, most of all, to the universal Body of Christ. This theological resource honors the centrality of Scripture among Anglicans, interpreted in concert with the historical traditions of the church and in the light of reason.”
A summary of the process SCLM used to develop the rite and accompanying resources is available here in an October 2011 ENS report when the commission put the finishing touches to its work.
The full set of resources the SCLM has developed includes an introduction explaining the process that has been undertaken, a survey of legal and canonical matters, pastoral resources for preparing a couple for a liturgical blessing, a discussion guide for congregations, and an overview of GC legislation. These, along with the excerpts released March 7, will be published in April as part of the collection of reports to General Convention from all official commissions, committees, agencies, and boards of the Episcopal Church known as the Blue Book. It will be posted online here.
The commission is recommending that the resources be published as “Liturgical Resources I” (thus not part of an existing official liturgical book or series in The Episcopal Church), a document that would include pastoral and teaching materials as well as the theological essay and liturgy, Anderson said in a March 8 letter to deputies and first alternate deputies. She added the reminder that none of the material is currently authorized for use in the Episcopal Church.
For more information contact SCLM at firstname.lastname@example.org
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.