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 blessing same-sex relationships (Resolution C056). The Commission is eager to engage the wider church in theological conversation as one among many sources that will inform our work.
The reflection below was submitted by the Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D., chair of the task group preparing theological resources.
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Prior to teaching in a seminary, I served as a parish priest in the suburbs of Chicago, where a good deal of my time each spring and summer was spent on weddings. Regardless of how active a given couple may have been in church life, the theological and spiritual portions of the pre-marital counseling sessions were usually the most challenging.
I always began the first of those sessions with what turned out to be a deceptively simple question: Why do you want to get married in a church? I can recall only one out of more than a dozen couples responding with anything like a theological or spiritual answer to that question. Only a few of them had considered the difference between a legal contract and a liturgical blessing. And none of the couples had pondered what role their invited guests would play during the service or in their relationship. All of this offered a rich opportunity for theological reflection in those preparatory sessions, which certainly enhanced the liturgical experience for the couple; I often wished all of the participants in those liturgies could have engaged in those sessions as well.
In my view, the work now underway by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in gathering resources for the blessing of same-sex unions offers a similarly rich opportunity for theological reflection from which the whole church can benefit. Not least, it offers an opportunity to reflect on the nature of liturgical blessing itself, as well as the spiritual character of committed or “covenantal” relationships. Why, for example, would a faith community wish to “bless” a couple in a committed relationship? What does such a liturgical blessing mean and signify? How does a committed relationship in turn offer a “blessing” to the faith community in which they participate?
A good way to begin addressing those questions is by reflecting on one’s own relational commitments. Have you discerned any spiritual gifts emerging from your relationship that you may not have recognized apart from that commitment? As you observe and interact with covenanted couples, have you noticed particular gifts that their relationship contributes to the wider community? How does the presence of committed relationships, in all their various forms, shape the spiritual character of your own congregational life?
Most congregations would likely find their shared faith deepened by engaging in this kind of theological reflection. It suggests, for example, ways of thinking about committed relationships in terms of vocation and ministry, and in at least two respects. First, how might we think about entering into covenantal relationships as a divine calling, as part of our larger vocation as Christian people? And second, how can the spiritual gifts of such relationships contribute to the church’s ongoing ministry and Gospel witness in the world?
Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D.
Chair, SCLM task group on theological resources
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We invite your participation in this dialogue about blessing same-sex relationships. Your responses and observations here will help inform the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in our work of developing theological and liturgical resources for such blessings. We hope that this conversation will also be a way to renew and enliven a shared vision of the church’s mission in the world.
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