Task Force on the Study of Marriage Reports Progress

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] The Episcopal Church Task Force on the Study of Marriage has issued the following progress report:

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage, meeting August 28-30 in Salt Lake City, UT, continued its work as directed by the 2015 General Convention. The Task Force reviewed the work completed to date, made decisions for completing work needing additional attention, and planned its final report to the 79th General Convention, due December 1.

The Academic working group reported on the compiled responses to its short essays onContemporary Trends and Norms in Marriage and Family Life; Theological Foundations for Christian Relationship; Sexual Intimacy:  A Complex Gift; The Holiness of Householding; Singleness; and Culture, Ethnicity and Marriage.  The Task Force received 20 responses and suggestions from a diverse group of reviewers representing Episcopal seminary faculty as well as “theologians, ethicists, pastors, liturgists, social scientists, and educators who are not members of the expanded Task Force, and whose perspectives represent the spectrum of understandings on these matters in our Church; …”  The essays include discussion questions and, when finalized, will form aDiscussion Guide to engage dioceses and parishes in their discernment of how the Church responds to the diversity of relationships evident in the world today.

Chair pro-tem Joan Geiszler-Ludlum commented, “The Task Force on the Study of Marriage is grateful to those who read and responded to the essays and appreciative of the depth and breadth of the responses to the essays.  The constructive suggestions reflect serious and helpful thought on the issues concerning marriage and other relationships, singleness, cohabitation, and parenting.”

The Pastoral working group has received 170 responses to the Relationship Survey conducted between September 2016 and May 2017. The responses included:

• 157 narrative responses to the following question (Question 1) which were woven into the Task Force’s essays as illustrative material:  “Please tell us about a committed or intimate relationship – including dedication to singleness or commitment to an intentional religious community – in which you are involved, or of which you are aware, and how this has had a significant (positive or negative) impact on your life.” 

• 68 responses to the following questions (Question 2 and 3) which inform the Task Force’s mandate to “study and monitor … the impact of same-sex marriage and rites of blessing on our Church …”:  “Was The Episcopal Church (or other church), diocese, or parish/congregation helpful to this relationship? If not helpful – or marginally helpful – how could the church have done better to support or nurture the relationship described?”

• 57 narrative responses to this question, added late in the fall of 2016:  “Since December 2015 the Episcopal Church has made marriage liturgies equally available to both opposite and same sex couples.  Can you share a personal story of the impact this has had on you, your congregation or your diocese?”

The responses represent a wide range of ages. There were many responses about relationships of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples and from many Provinces, except for Province IX.  Persons of color are notably underrepresented among the stories received to date.  The Pastoral working group is seeking additional responses through phone interviews with members of underrepresented groups.  These transcripts will be added to essays and archived for future study.

The Ecclesial working group has collected data from the 101 domestic dioceses on the implementation of the use of the trial liturgies for marriage as authorized by General Convention 2015 (Resolution 2015-A054, here) (Note: The Episcopal Church includes ten dioceses in civil legal jurisdictions that do not allow marriage for same-sex couples.  Since the Church Canons require compliance with both civil and canonical requirements for marriage, the trial liturgies for marriage are not authorized for use in those dioceses.) The survey data shows:

• 93 bishops have authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage.

• Of the 93 bishops, 73 authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage without conditions.

• Of the 93 bishops, 20 authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage with conditions, such as concurrent approval of rector and vestry (12), approval of vestry and permission of the bishop (2), approval of the bishop (1), completion of a parish study/discernment process (2), or use of only 1 of the 3 rites (3).  In the last category, there was no agreement as to which trial liturgy was authorized.

• 8 bishops have not authorized use of the trial liturgies for marriage, including 2 bishops who have prohibited their use by clergy canonically resident in those dioceses, both within and outside of the diocese.

This data, along with a structured survey of eight parishes representing a sample of the diversity of positions on the implementation of the trial liturgies for marriage and a survey of the Church’s ecumenical partners, is how the Task Force is responding to its mandate to “study and monitor … the impact of same-sex marriage and rites of blessing on our Church.”  (Resolution 2015-A037, here )

The Functional working group is addressing the Task Force’s mandate from General Convention to study “the continuing debate about clergy acting as agents of the state in officiating at marriages …”   While the debate has subsided during this triennium, the Task Force observes that the subject appears to arise in part from clergy frustration in dealing with the “wedding industrial complex” and in part from dissatisfaction with the acceptance of marriage equality for same-sex couples.  The Task Force is exploring ways to assist clergy in understanding their role differently, as agents of the couple.  Robust engagement with the role of clergy acting as agents of the couple promises new perspectives on setting standards and guidelines for marriage and on strengthening pre-marriage counseling and formation.

Finally, the Task Force is shifting into the portions of its mandate to “report and make recommendations to the 79th General Convention” and “provide educational and pastoral resources for congregational use on these matters that represents the spectrum of understandings on these matters in our Church”.  The Task Force is drafting resolutions for the consideration of the 79th General Convention, including the following.

One resolution proposes continued trial use of the liturgies for marriage during the next triennium, as revised and amended, pursuant to Article X of the Constitution, as additions to The Book of Common Prayer:  The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage; The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2; The Blessing of a Civil Marriage 2; andAn Order for Marriage 2.  Proposed amendments to the rites, prefaces, and appropriate sections of the Catechism would also be made in order to make the language gender-neutral (i.e. “the couple”) rather than specific to a man and a woman.

The resolution calls for publication of these alterations and additions in a revised edition of Liturgical Resources I:  I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing, Revised and Expanded 2018 (as appended to the Report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage), with three future options for continuing use:

1. Extend the period of trial use;

2. Adopt on second reading, without amendment by the 80th General Convention in 2021, these additions/alterations to the Book of Common Prayer; or

3. Take some other action as determined by the 80th General Convention in 2021.

This resolution also proposes terms and conditions applied to trial use that require reasonable and convenient access to these trial liturgies; calls for continuing engagement with these materials; allows for clergy to decline to use them; and honors theological diversity and refrains from any punishment resulting from differing convictions on these matters.

A second resolution authorizes two liturgies for blessing relationships, for addition to the Enriching Our Worship series.  The first liturgy, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”, is currently authorized for use by same-sex couples in dioceses of The Episcopal Church where the civil jurisdiction does not allow marriage for same-sex couples. This resolution proposes that this rite be included in the Enriching Our Worship series.

The second liturgy, “The Blessing of a Lifelong Relationship”, is intended for use in two circumstances:

1. By  mature couples who seek to form and formalize a special relationship with one another that is unconditional and lifelong, but is nevertheless something different than a marriage in that it does not include the merging of property, finances, or other civil legal encumbrances, in order to protect against personal and familial hardship.

2. By couples for whom the requirement to furnish identification to obtain a marriage license could result in civil or criminal legal penalties, including deportation, because of their immigration status.

This resolution also includes terms and conditions for use of the two liturgies for blessing relationships that are similar to proposed terms and conditions for use of the marriage rites.

“This Interim Report reflects the depth of quality and the broad scope of work of the 15 members of the Task Force in response to the wide-ranging mandates of Resolution 2015-A034.  The dedication and the commitment of the Task Force to its work, as reflected in its final Report and recommendations will aid and inform the General Convention in its work in 2018 as well as the wider Church for years to come,” said Geiszler-Ludlum.

Members
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor, Diocese of Chicago, Chair
Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, Diocese of East Carolina, Vice Chair/Chair Pro Tem
The Rev. Philip Dinwiddie, Diocese of Michigan, Secretary
The Rev. Stannard Baker, Diocese of Vermont
Bishop Thomas Ely, Diocese of Vermont
The Rev. Gianetta Hayes-Martin, Diocese of California
The Rev. Carlye Hughes, Diocese of Fort Worth
The Rev. Jordan Hylden, Diocese of Dallas
The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, Diocese of California
Bishop Steven Miller, Diocese of Milwaukee
The Rev. Humphrey Paulino, Diocese of Venezuela
The Rev. Susan Russell, Diocese of Los Angeles
Deborah Stokes, Diocese of Southern Ohio
Bishop Brian Thom, Diocese of Idaho
Melodie Woerman, Diocese of Kansas

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