Episcopal Church same-sex blessing
resource excerpts available online

“I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing”

[November 27, 2012] The Episcopal Church’s liturgical rite for blessing same-sex relationships, authorized by General Convention for use in the Episcopal Church beginning the first Sunday in Advent, December 2, is now available online free of charge.

The rite and a short theological summary, both excerpted from the report of the Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) titled “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” are posted here.

The rite, which must be approved by each diocesan bishop before it is used in individual dioceses, is authorized by General Convention for provisional use until 2015.

“We learn as we pray,” explained the Rev. Ruth Meyers, Ph.D, Dean of Academic Affairs and Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific and SCLM Chair. “During the next three years, the rite will be reviewed by clergy who use it and the couples whose unions it blesses. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music will compile those reviews and make a report to General Convention 2015.”

Resource
The online excerpt includes the liturgy and a summary that includes themes for theological reflection and spiritual practice. “Our covenantal life with God is expressed in relationships of commitment and faithfulness, including those of same-sex couples,” the report reads. “It is the Church’s joy to celebrate these relationships as signs of God’s love, to pray for God’s grace to support couples in their life together, and to join with these couples in our shared witness to the gospel in the world.”

The full text of “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” available for purchase from Church Publishing, Inc., includes:
Introduction
Faith, Hope, and Love: Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships:

  •      Preface
  •      Overview: Theological Reflection on Same-Sex Relationships
  •      1. The Church’s Call: A Focus on Mission
  •      2. The Church’s Joy: A Theology of Blessing
  •      3. The Church’s Life: Covenantal Relationship
  •      4. The Church’s Challenge: Christian Unity and Biblical Interpretation

The Church’s Canon Law and Laws of the States
Hearing, Seeing, and Declaring New Things: Preparing Same-Sex Couples for a Liturgy of Blessing
The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant: Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships
Discussion Guide to I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing
Appendices:

  •      A Review of General Convention Legislation
  •      Glossary

The print and eBook versions containing the full resources are available from Church Publishing here.

Some Words about the Anti-Judaism Resolution

At the General Convention of 2009, it was resolved that the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music be directed “to collect, develop and disseminate materials that assist members of the Church to address Christian anti-Judaism expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts.”  It was further resolved that the Commission in union with the Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations should prepare “a statement defining anti-Judaism and why it demands our attention.”  [Resolution 2009-A089]  On several occasions during this triennium, the SCLM members have discussed how we might best fulfill this Resolution.  I had offered to chair this project because of my particular commitment to this subject.

From the occasion of our first meeting, I found myself with questions and doubts about how this work might be accomplished most effectively.  Although the 2009 Convention had suggested the preparation of a pamphlet as well as age-appropriate educational materials for children, I acknowledged my doubts about the long term effectiveness of such materials.  It is too easy for such materials, of a type often produced in the past by the national Church, simply to be pushed aside as new concerns and issues arise.

In our meeting late in 2011, the members of the SCLM supported my suggestion that the most appropriate place in which to focus our proposals on this important issue would be in the context of our public worship, and more specifically in the context of liturgical preaching on those occasions when the most problematic texts arise during the course of the liturgical year.  To accomplish this, we believe that commentary should be made available for our clergy as a resource for those times when the lectionary will call them to preach on what are seen as “the difficult texts.”  Many such resources already exist, but often written by Christian authors who are quite committed to this concern but for whom the normative context for preaching is not with reference to an authorized lectionary.

Given that we are now quite near the time of the next General Convention, we have asked that this Convention authorize the extension of this project into the coming triennium (2013—2015), and that during that period, as an aid to preaching on the texts generally viewed as central to this issue, the SCLM would make available in its BLOG, appropriate commentary which would, it is hoped, cast a stronger light upon these texts and aid our clergy in a common effort to address the problem of anti-Judaism in their preaching.

Many of the most difficult texts occur, not surprisingly, during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday, and also during Eastertide.  It is our plan that appropriate commentary would be made available well in advance so that it could be used as a substantial resource in our liturgical preaching.

* * * * * * * * * *

A CONCLUDING NOTE:

ANTI-JUDAISM OR ANTI-SEMITISM

At the request of the SCLM, Professor Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski prepared a study document which he presented at a meeting of the Commission at its meeting in October 2010, in Concord, NH.  In this paper, Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski noted that the focus on this issue in the Episcopal Church has been on liturgical language, and that the more fundamental issue which needs to be addressed is our theology of covenant.  He comments that the concern must lie with anti-Judaism rather than anti-Semitism because the prejudice “is not aimed at a race but at religious and theological categories that denigrate Judaism.”

He notes further that liturgical language is the symptom “of the underlying theological problem of supersessionism and its expression in Christian life and thought.  Only once the problem of supersessionism has been addressed and resolved can the specific issue of liturgical language be fully remedied.”

With his permission, I wish to quote part of Professor Joslyn-Siemiatkoski’s essay.  He has summed up the issue which faces the church, and offers an excellent point of departure for the plan of the SCLM to offer commentary on the problematic passages in Scripture as they come up in the lectionary in the course of the liturgical year.

He writes, “Central to Christian anti-Judaism is a theological position that marginalizes Judaism as a lived expression of belief and culture rooted in an eternal covenant between the people of Israel and God. (See also his essay, “ ‘Moses Received the Torah at Sinai and Handed It On’ [Mishnah Avot 1:10]:  The Relevance of the Written and Oral Torah for Christians,” Anglican Theological Review 91:3 [2009]:  pp. 444-5.) Supersessionism  is commonly defined as the belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people.  Three core elements comprise supersessionist theology.  First is the understanding that Judaism is an obsolete, spiritually arid religion.  Second, the church has fulfilled the spiritual longings of Israel by entering into full relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ.  As a corollary, the historical people of the Israel of the Old Testament are no longer necessary for the implementation of God’s plan of salvation.  Third, since the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and were willing actors in the events leading to his crucifixion, God has ended the covenant with the historical people of Israel.  Evidence for the abrogation of the covenant by God is found in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. by the Romans and the subsequent expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel.”

Obviously all of these supersessionist ideas require intense reflection on the part of all Christians since often they have inherited such views, even in a subliminal way, through what they have heard from childhood in the anti-Jewish attitudes which are often  assimilated quite uncritically.

Growing up, as I did, as a Jewish kid in New Orleans, I experienced from the time I entered school the anti-Judaism which was bred into the bone of many of my classmates.  This became so serious that my parents decided to put me into a private school which had been founded early in the 20thcentury to offer a safe place for Jewish children to get an education.  The children who had persecuted me (and that is not too strong a word) all came from Christian families and had learned there, as one classmate said to me, that “you killed our Christ.”  Such anti-Judaism remains in American society, but it is our hope that in this project the Episcopal Church will confront its presence among our own members and begin to reclaim the important theological and spiritual ties which link our hope in God to that of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Louis Weil
Hodges-Haynes Professor Emeritus of Liturgics at The Church Divinity School of the Pacific
Member, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

release of materials

Yesterday the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music released excerpts from the resources we’ve developed. As the article on Episcopal News Service notes, a series of meetings this spring will give us an opportunity to introduce these materials to Bishops and Deputies, who will consider them at General Convention this July. The Province IX Synod (dioceses in Latin America and the Caribbean) met this week and heard a presentation. The House of Bishops will discuss the materials at their meeting later this month, and Deputies will participate in a discussion in the Deputy Online Forum from March 16-23. Representatives of the Commission will make a presentation at each Provincial Synod in Provinces I-VIII later this spring.

The Deputy Online Forum site includes links to the resources in both English and Spanish. The discussion is live-streamed and publicly available; only those who are deputies will be able to post in the discussion.

Developing these materials has been a rich and rewarding process as the Commission has heard stories and reflected together on Scripture and tradition in light of our contemporary context. Here on the blog, we’ve been exploring different aspects of the resources as the Church prepares for General Convention. We’ll continue to post reflections throughout the spring.

The resources released now include a theological reflection, a proposed liturgy, and two resolutions the Commission is proposing to General Convention.  The full set of resources will include an introduction explaining the process the Commission has undertaken, a section on canons and legal issues, pastoral guidelines for preparing couples for a blessing liturgy, a discussion guide, and an appendix that compiles relevant General Convention legislation. These resources will be published in the Blue Book, the compilation of reports to the General Convention that General Convention Office will be issue in April

We invite you to read the excerpts and tell us what you think.

Ruth Meyers
Chair, Standing Commission on Lturgy and Music

Continued Use of Holy Women, Holy Men

It’s great to hear from people who have appreciated keeping the commemorations and reading the blog.

While the official period of trial use has concluded, you may continue to use the resource. Having gone through a full year, we have received comments on all of the commemorations and so have feedback that will inform the Calendar Committee and the Commission in our report to the July 2012 General Convention.

The online survey will be available until the end of August to receive additional comments on any commemoration. The survey is available in English and in Spanish.

Update, 9/15/11: The online survey is now closed.

You can purchase the book from Church Publishing. You can download the text in Spanish (Santas, Santos) and  in English from the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music page on the General Convention website.

Update: 9/15/11: Santas, Santoscontinues to be available on the General Convention website. You can access the English version through the Archives on this blog  – the commemorations were posted from July 2010 through June 2011.

The SCLM continues to receive comments through this blog.

Ruth Meyers

Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

End of Trial Use

The official year of trial use of Holy Women, Holy Men concluded on June 30. Many thanks to our blogging team who created the posts, and to all of our readers and all of you who commented on the commemorations.

This summer the Calendar Committee of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is continuing its review of your comments and responses to the online survey. The committee is preparing recommendations for the commission to review at our October meeting, and a public report of those recommendations would come after that meeting.

Ruth Meyers

Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

Hymnal Revision Survey

The Episcopal Church Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is inviting input and comments about a possible revision of The Hymnal 1982.

An online survey is available until January 31, 2011. The survey was distributed this fall to a stratified random sample of congregations in the Episcopal Church. If you’ve already completed a survey, you don’t need to do it again.

Resolution B004 of the 2009 General Convention “authorize(s) Church Publishing Incorporated, working with the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, to conduct a feasibility study on the need for revision of The Hymnal 1982 by speaking to congregations, dioceses and all seminaries of this Church, and to report its findings to the 77th General Convention.”

From the December press release: “The study seeks answers to two basic questions,” said Dr. Matthew J. Price, Church Pension Group Director of Analytical Research.  “First, do the hymnal and the other authorized resources that the Church has for worship music meet the needs of the Church? If the answer to the first question is ‘no’, then the question should be asked as to whether a new Hymnal is the most efficacious means of answering these new needs.”

Following the January 31 deadline, the responses from the initial phase along with the general survey info, will be collated and all data reviewed. These results, along with recommendations for next steps, will be presented to General Convention 2012 as part of the SCLM report.

Stories from New England

The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music met this week in Concord, New Hampshire, where we held a hearing with 33 representatives of the dioceses of Province I (which comprises all of New England). The commission was eager to learn from the experiences of those dioceses. The changing status of civil unions and same-gender marriage in those states has meant that many of the dioceses have been addressing questions of blessing same-gender relationships for many years. The province is the only province of the Episcopal Church to develop a resource for clergy ministering to same-gender couples, and most of the dioceses have provided guidelines for blessing same-gender relationships.

In the early afternoon of October 19, in the parish hall at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord, people came forward, diocese by diocese, to tell their stories. Two church musicians used the vows and prayers from the Book of Common Prayer; they had seen many weddings from the vantage point of the organ bench, and they did not want to be forced to do something different. Another couple pondered what to call their rite and finally settled on “covenant.” Two men who have been in a committed relationship for 27 years moved to Vermont 3 years ago and found themselves warmly embraced by a congregation; in this place, they had nothing to hide any more, and were able to receive the church’s blessing and celebrate eucharist as part of that liturgy.

Again and again we heard about the cost of secrecy in times when relationships had to be hidden and blessings could not be openly celebrated. Couples and clergy spoke powerfully of the joy that came when relationships could be openly acknowledged. Many told us that congregations were transformed when they joined in the celebration of a blessing; for one congregation, the blessing of a civil union as part of the regular Sunday liturgy was especially powerful. Clergy and couples alike were surprised at how jubilant congregations were.

In two dioceses, Rhode Island and Western Massachusetts, the bishop has not allowed clergy to officiate at blessings of civil unions or same-gender marriage. Laity and clergy spoke of their yearning to have blessings celebrated in churches in these dioceses. One man who was married in Massachusetts after 10 years in a committed relationship explained he and his husband knew they could do this on their own because they had learned from the catechism that the couple are the ministers of the rite.

There was a lot to take in! I will be pondering these stories for quite some time. These stories have helped me – and the entire commission – understand more deeply the variety of experiences and the ways God is at work as the church begins to welcome and bless the relationships of same-gender couples.

Episcopal Life Online covered the event in text and video.

Ruth Meyers

Chair, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

Holy Women, Holy Men Trial Use Evaluation Survey

Updated December 14, 2010

In response to Resolution A096 of the 2009 General Convention, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music is encouraging trial use of the commemorations in Holy Women, Holy Men. Our friends in the Church Pension Group’s Office of Research have created an online survey to help us gather responses from around the church.

In December 2010, the survey format was revised. The new survey is available here. At the top of the page, you’ll enter the name of the person(s) being commemorated, then respond to a few questions about the commemoration. A box for your comments  is at the bottom of the page. Click “continue to next page,” and you’re done!

Official trial use extends from July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011. You may begin the survey at any time during this year, and you may comment on any commemoration at any time. You do not need to comment on all of the commemorations in order to participate.

If you have questions or comments on the content of this survey, please contact Dr. Matthew Price, Director of Analytical Research, or Susan Erdey, Data and Research Products Specialist, at the Church Pension Group. If you have technical questions, please contact the Rev. Joseph Stewart-Sicking, Ed.D., or Rochelle Pereira, MS, at Loyola University Maryland.

The old survey worked this way: You’ll sign in to the survey using your e-mail address and a password you create. When you start the survey, we’ll ask you some demographic information, which will be kept confidential and used only in aggregate. Then the survey will lead you through the calendar day by day, asking you to respond to a few questions and giving you opportunity to add your own comments about each commemoration. After you enter your responses about a commemoration, save your survey and return the next day to respond to the next commemoration.

Commission asks input on Holy Women, Holy Men

From the Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs:

[July 1, 2010]  As mandated in General Convention 2009 Resolution A096, The Episcopal Church Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is soliciting views, opinions and feedback on Holy Women, Holy Men, a major revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

The Rev. Ruth Meyers, Ph.D., Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific and SCLM Chair, explained that Holy Women, Holy Men is currently in trial use, and comments are welcome through the SCLM blog.  “We want to hear about people’s experiences with Holy Women, Holy Men,” she said. “It’s important that everyone have an opportunity to review and provide input on this major work. That includes individuals as well as congregations and dioceses.”

An online survey to assist in gathering feedback is available July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011: https://www.psychdata.com/s.asp?SID=139265.  More information about the survey is available here.

After compiling the data derived from the survey, SCLM will prepare a comprehensive report on the usage and people’s experiences with Holy Women, Holy Men for the 77th General Convention in 2012 in Indianapolis, IN.

As noted on the SCLM blog site: Holy Women, Holy Men…is the official worship book which includes biographies of saints who are commemorated in the calendar of the Episcopal Church, along with the collects (prayers) and scripture readings appointed for worship on these feasts. Over 100 new commemorations were approved at the 2009 General Convention…The General Convention called for trial use of these commemorations, giving opportunity to pray with this new material before a final decision about whether to add each commemoration to the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer.”

For more information on Holy Women, Holy Menhttp://www.churchpublishing.org/

Also available at Episcopal Books & Resources: www.episcopalbookstore.org

Communicating with SCLM

SCLM is committed to communicating with the wider church. To do so, a special email address has been established for all correspondence, to offer ideas, or to contact a SCLM member: sclm@episcopalchurch.org

The SCLM blog is here: https://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com .

A Spanish-language Holy Women, Holy Men is in production.

The Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ in 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 nations.  The Episcopal Church is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Episcopal Church Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music: http://generalconvention.org/ccab/mandate/2

The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

IamEpiscopalian: http://www.iamepiscopalian.org/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/episcopalian

Twitter: http://twitter.com/iamepiscopalian

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/TECtube

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The Nature of 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-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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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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