Fruitfulness and Mutual Blessing

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-gender 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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As the theological resources task group continues to hone and refine the theological principles in our work, it would be helpful to hear more specifically about the principles themselves. To begin that conversation, I invite some reflection on two of those principles that are particularly intertwined with each other – the “fruitfulness” of committed relationships and the character of “mutual blessing.” In brief, what we are trying to articulate here is how living in a committed, covenantal relationship enables us to engage in our vocations as Christians in ways that we couldn’t apart from the relationship. Thus, the love shared in such a relationship “spills” over into lives of hospitality and generous service. This in turn makes all such committed relationships a blessing to the wider community. We would appreciate hearing how you might have experienced this in your own faith communities. How have committed relationships been a blessing to you? Where you have seen the “fruits of the Spirit” in such a relationship? Specific examples of these principles will help us refine our work – thank you in advance!

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We invite your participation in this dialogue about blessing same-gender 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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7 thoughts on “Fruitfulness and Mutual Blessing

  1. My partner and I will have been married for forty-four years in March. The love she and I share have enabled us to served the church in many ways. We were, for a number of years, presenting team for Episcopal Marriage Encounter, also serving as Unit Executives for the Northeastern United States and as members of the National Board of Episcopal Marriage Encounter. Additionally, we have both been members of vestries, alter guilds, church office volunteers, our church’s food pantry team and other church groups. Additionally, I have, with her support, served as a Deputy to General Convention (currently in my third term), member of the Diocesan Council, the Diocesan Trustees, and chair of several committees of the Diocese. The love we share and the mutual support we provide each other have, without a doubt, made these services possible. I firmly believe that the synergistic love two people who are committed to each other share, is a major factor in each of their relationships with individuals and institutions with which they interact and in their longevity.

  2. As a parish rector, my experience of those couples who are in healthy committed covenant relationships with one another is that they bring a certain yeastiness, a certain energy to the congregation as well as to the other circles in which they live. At its best, their experience of daily life which they have agreed to live together in faithfulness, brings a wisdom to the community of how all of us can live together faithfully. Some of the couples have learned the grace of humor, some have learned how to stand with one another through very dark and painful times, some have learned how to encourage each other to be their best selves. Of course, some have also learned how to fail at the very relationship they hoped to share together. Those experiences also, when lived out in the church community provide the yeast of growth and the energy of learning about loss and the many faces of reconciliation. In my own life as a married woman and as a priest who has witnessed the ceremonies and the on-going life of both opposite sex and same sex committed covenant relationships I have found the fruitfulness of such relationships to be far more about the healthy energy of the life shared with each other, the generous sense of home and family that is created, and the accountability toward that constant decision to love that the partners call one another to make, than it is about the work and tasks in the world we also free each other up to live given our various gifts and talents, good as that work may be. To me the heart of the fruitfulness is less in the “doing” and more in the “being.”

  3. My husband and I have served our parish in a ‘hospitality capacity,’ ie, we have planned menus and decor for a congregational ‘mardi gras’ dinner, and have hosted our after-service ‘coffee hour’ once a month since our marriage. Our ‘coffee hourse’ have evolved into ‘feasts’ that celebrate one of the saints included in that month’s Ordo Kalendar. Working as a couple, we have been able to brainstorm ideas, prepare and cook togeter in our home, and decorate. Neither of us, acting on our own, could coordinate, plan and execute these events. The day before our ‘coffee hour’ finds us in our kitchen for an entire day cooking and baking together, a labor of love which has produced fruit for the entire congregation.

  4. Pete says, eloquently: “I firmly believe that the synergistic love two people who are committed to each other share, is a major factor in each of their relationships with individuals and institutions with which they interact and in their longevity.” The fact that the couples Pete refers to are in life-long covenantal relationships is important. However, it’s important to remember that “synergistic love” is sometimes not covenantal. People in sexual + intellectual love relationships can exert quite a bit of synergism among the people around them, even if they are breaking marriage vows, or have not made them. They can talk themselves into thinking that it’s their “synergism,” rather than their fidelity, that has the theological meaning. I think the church has to be careful to think clearly while working on the theology of same sex relationships. It’s not the “synergism” that is important; although that’s wonderful in a life-long relationship, it can be deceiving, causing people to allow themselves to opt out of their existing relationships in order to form new ones which are more “synergistic.” It’s the life-long fidelity which is important.

  5. Not only is there synergy and “yeastiness”, as has been suggested, but the committed relationships I have seen, same-sex and opposite-sex, serve their community through the covenanted and committed nature of it. Ms. Scott notes that uncommitted partners or best friends or even unfaithful parties can allow for that mutual growth and more efficient service. What distinguishes romantic covenantal relationships, I believe, is the shared household and the full union that it brings. Straining to imitate God’s Trinitarian nature more fully, couples who marry bring their individual concerns and souls together to form a union that is not only inseparable (except in extreme cases) but itself produces a vibrant love that extends beyond them. While two loving non-covenanted people can bear fruits of energy and service, they are not united as one. A union formed in and through the grace of God exists for its fruitfulness and witness to Divine Love.

    In addition to mutual encouragement, the union serves the community and those united as an example of commitment. That God’s love for His people is expressed through terms of marriage requires each marriage (or union) to display the unconditional love and life-long commitment to the help and good of one another. Furthermore, growth and service are not easy: any non-committed/covenanted relationship can be set aside when it becomes too burdensome or pushes us too far. A seriously committed union is a barrier to that spiritual sloth. The service to and love of God and one’s spouse become linked, and encourage continued commitment, service, and love in turn: knowing that as God would bear all (and has borne all) for us, we must do so for our partners; and as a wife’s smile may fill her husband with joy, so does his prayer or thanksgiving please God above all.

  6. Sorry to confuse anyone about the post I wrote before Bridey’s–I didn’t say that unfaithful parties “could allow for …mutual growth and more effiicient service”; what I said was that there is “synergy” created by sexual and intellectual relationships that are fulfulling to the partners, but that isn’t what the church should be aiming for; if the “synergy” without the fidelity is to become the model, we’re headed for quite a moral quagmire. Thanks, Bridey, for saying what I was trying to say about fidelity.

  7. There’s a really discouraging article in the current (June 14) _This Week_ magazine about fidelity (“are the rules being changed because of the internet?”), prompted by the Weiner incident. Andrew Sullivan, among others, has something to say. I remember how persuasive he was a few years ago about honoring same-sex relationships; an important argument for doing so, he said, was that society needs to honor and support monogamy for it to take place in most cases. He said monogamous relationships were in the best interest of society. He hasn’t changed his mind in this article, but says the internet issue needs to be explored. I hope the church takes a leading role in giving positive guidance on the issue, going so far as to say people should not yield to the internet temptations, providing reasons, etc. –This is not the forum for what I’ve just said, but I did think it was tangential.

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