Covenantal Relationships as Vocation

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.

Read more about this project.

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In the first blog entry here last month, I reflected on some of the challenges and opportunities I have encountered during pre-marital counseling sessions when the couples I work with have not paused to reflect on the spiritual significance of the commitment they were making to each other. At least one of the comments posted here in response to my observations made a connection between the covenant of marriage and the baptismal covenant. I find that very helpful as a way to consider the covenantal aspects of committed relationships.

Even though it’s still common today to talk about “falling in love” with someone, a commitment is not something one “falls into.” Committing one’s self to a covenantal relationship is a deliberate decision involving significant promises.  In fact, it might be helpful to think of that kind of commitment as something one is called into, as a vocation. Much like the vocational call to ordained ministry, not everyone is called into a covenantal relationship with another person. Those who are called into covenants certainly need the blessing of divine grace to keep their promises, to live out their commitment “with God’s help.”

So I’m wondering if those who are in long-term committed relationships have a sense of being called into that commitment. Would you describe your relationship as a divine vocation? Do you see similarities here to the baptismal covenant? How might the vocational aspect of covenantal relationships encourage deeper theological reflection in our congregations?

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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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3 thoughts on “Covenantal Relationships as Vocation

  1. The Marriage Task Force of the diocese of El Camino Real has reached this same conclusion – that marriage is a vocation to which some of us are called, and we need to treat it with the same respect and discernment that we might use for other holy vocations.
    My personal experience is that I and my spouse are called to a covenanted relationship in the service of God. We do different work ( I’m a priest and writer, she’s a psychotherapist) but together we can do far more both as a couple and as individuals than we could apart. The focus of our holy union was a covenant not just to faithful love but also to the service of God.

  2. My husband and I were intentionally de-churched when we married. Nonetheless we sought out a pastor to guide us through premarital counseling and the wedding ceremony. We sought out a pastor and had a church wedding because even though the institutional churches of our childhoods had become too narrow for our understanding of God, we still wanted God’s blessing on our marriage. Our work with this pastor, now a retired Episcopal priest, provided the foundation for our now, 25 year old marriage. She also pointed us to the Episcopal Church, of which we have been members for 21 years. I have been a priest for ten years and my husband has served the various churches we’ve been members of in a variety of ways. All that is to say that our marriage has become a vocation and a place where God’s love has been revealed to us and in us and through us in ways we never anticipated when we first decided to marry .

  3. My husband and I grew up in Roman Catholic homes. Marriage as vocation was as clear to use as the idea of priesthood as vocation. So when we noticed God calling us closer to each other, the idea of a vocational relationship was already firm in our understanding. Inclusive Rites of Christian Marriage are necessary as witness that marriage is vocational and sacramental. Marriage involves the commitment of not only two individuals to each other, but the community’s commitment to them, and their commitment to God and the community. However, I see less and less of my generation (i’m in my late 20s,) viewing marriage in this way. Those who seek the church’s blessing, gay or straight, seem to do it for the sake of affirmation alone, leaving the idea of commitment and covenant rather linear.

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