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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During the recent House of Bishops meeting in Phoenix, the C056 Task Group chairs had the opportunity to present our work and to solicit feedback from the bishops. As part of that presentation, I had the privilege of presenting our work-in-process concerning the theological principles that have been guiding our work so far. I’m eager to hear from others—both clergy and lay—about these principles and how they resonate with your own pastoral and liturgical ministries!
From the beginning, the Commission has understood the blessing of committed relationships in faith communities as a blessing not only for the couple but also for the wider community. The Commission then reflected on how the work of collecting and developing resources for such blessings offers an opportunity to retrieve key Christian insights concerning these relationships and to renew the church’s theological reflection on them.
More specifically, this project presents an opportunity to retrieve at least two key touchstones in historical Christian approaches to committed relationships, which helps to frame why such relationships deserve a liturgical blessing in Christian faith communities. Those touchstones are: the sacramental character of covenantal relationships (committed relationships make God’s presence and divine grace visible); and the eschatological vision inspired and evoked by covenantal relationship (the desire that leads us to commit ourselves to another person reflects the human desire and hope for union with God-in-Christ).
Even more particularly, as the Commission reflected on these two touchstones, several theological principles emerged that seemed fruitful for guiding the work moving forward. We’re eager to learn how these principles are already at work in our congregations and how they might enliven our shared reflection on committed relationships.
Those principles are, in brief:
- Vocation: While people may “fall” in love, people are by contrast called into long-term committed relationships, as a vocation;
- Spiritual Discipline: The vocational aspect of committed relationship requires ongoing spiritual discipline, sustained in part by regular participation in a faith community;
- Covenant: Rather than “contracts,” biblical traditions turn often to the spiritual significance of “covenants” for committed relationships, which reflects God’s own covenantal relationship with God’s creation;
- Household: Biblical traditions likewise emphasize households (often multi-generational) that are established by covenantal commitment and are rooted in a larger community;
- Fruitfulness: Faithful love in relationship overflows into countless gifts offered well beyond the couple, including lives of service, compassion, generosity, and hospitality.
I have already written briefly about some of these principles in previous blog posts, which could be summarized in the following way. Much like ordination and other forms of ministry, human beings are called into covenantal relationships as a divine vocation. These covenants are sustained by spiritual disciplines, not contracts, and the divine grace in these relationships is discerned by the fruits of fidelity it yields (not least among them are households marked by compassion, generosity, and hospitality). For that reason, covenantal relationships rightly belong to the mission of the Church in its ongoing witness to the good news of the Gospel; these relationships thus point beyond themselves to the Christian hope of union with God.
Where and how do these principles resonate with your own life and ministry and what kind of questions do they raise for you? Let us know!
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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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