Theological Principles for C056 Work

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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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.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

Our rules for posting are fairly simple. Express yourself with courtesy, civility, and respect for others, whether or not you agree with them.

SCLM-C056 Flyer

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 following was posted by the Rev. Keri Aubert, project manager.

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For a quick overview of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s work on 2009 General Convention Resolution C056, see our new informational flyer at the links below. The four versions offer two print/view formats in both English and Spanish.

SCLM-C056 Flyer – Sept 2010 – Booklet View – English

SCLM-C056 Flyer – Sept 2010 – Booklet View- Spanish

SCLM-C056 Flyer – Sept 2010 – Electronic View – English

 SCLM-C056 Flyer – Sept 2010 – Electronic View – Spanish

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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.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

Our rules for posting are fairly simple. Express yourself with courtesy, civility, and respect for others, whether or not you agree with them.

Task Group on Pastoral and Teaching Resources

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. Canon Thaddeus Bennett, co-chair of the task group preparing pastoral and teaching resources. Besides working as a parish priest, the Rev. Canon Bennett (of the Diocese of Vermont) has served as Canon for Transition Ministry in the Diocese of Vermont and Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Los Angeles. He is one of the authors of the Episcopal Church’s Fresh Start resource and serves as a vocational faculty for CREDO. He helped found three HIV/AIDS organizations, including the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, and co-authored a number of resources for HIV/AIDS education and ministry.

Read more about this project.

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There are two key areas for the Task Group on Pastoral and Teaching Resources:  researching and bringing forth some recommendations about the ways the Episcopal Church, its clergy and lay leaders prepare couples for ceremonies of blessing, especially regarding the preparation of same-gender couples for such a commitment.  As well, we want to research and bring forth recommendations about how to help prepare a congregation for same-gender ceremonies and ways in which the Christian community can support all couples in their commitment to a life together and as a part of a Christian community.

This blog is devoted to the first area – pastoral resources for preparing a couple for a lifelong commitment ceremony.  A recent search of the Episcopal Archives finds that we have been talking about this since at least 1921 and that there has been regular discussion since 1945.  That’s the good news!  The bad news is that it seems there was lots of conversation but very few concrete resources for people preparing a couple for marriage. 

In the 21st century we suspect that clergy and lay professionals who work with (same-gender and opposite-gender) couples use a variety of resources in their work and ministry. As well, we suspect that seminaries are teaching students about such preparation. Personally, one exercise I do is to ask the couple individually to answer the question:  What are the five major reasons for a break-up of a committed relationship? By asking them to name those things you get their own perspectives as well as insights to their family of origin; you see how they do and do not match each other; and you usually are able to do some work around “preventing those things from ruining your relationship.”  We want to know what you use, what works and does not work, and what special consideration or material you use for working with same-gender couples.

Please let us know your thoughts and let us know if we can contact you for copies of the resources or the materials you use.  OR you can send them directly to us at sclm@episcopalchurch.org.

The Vision and Mission of the Church

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 these blog posts, I’ve been suggesting some ways the wider church might engage in some theological reflection on the blessing of same-sex unions—not only the blessing a community evokes for the couple but also the blessing a couple offers to the wider community. When I reflect on that “double blessing,” I’m always reminded of how biblical writers turned frequently to marriage as a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with God. It’s a powerful image, and a key aspect of the good news of the Gospel: We are invited into intimate, loving communion with God-in-Christ. 

Among the many blessings of a covenantal relationship is the sign it offers to the church of our Gospel hope: the promise made in Christ of loving union with God. In that sense, the covenantal relationships in our congregations always point beyond themselves toward that powerful and hopeful vision. When we offer a blessing to a couple in a committed relationship, we are certainly engaged in an act of pastoral care, but also much more. That liturgical act, it seems to me, is part of the mission of the Church in the world. Covenantal relationships can inspire our Gospel witness to the hope of union with God-in-Christ.

 Vocation, service, mission, and ministry—do couples really think about these things when they reflect on their relationship? How would this kind of theological reflection make a difference in congregational life? How could we make the pastoral care of couples more closely linked to the Church’s mission in the world?

 I’m eager to learn how clergy, congregations, and couples are thinking about these questions and already living them out in their congregational patterns of ministry.

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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.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

Our rules for posting are fairly simple. Express yourself with courtesy, civility, and respect for others, whether or not you agree with them.

Discerning the Gifts of Covenantal Relationships

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 last blog entry (dated July 21), I made some observations about being called into covenantal relationships as a vocation. The comments in response to that post made reference to the sense of ministry and service the responders had discerned in their own committed relationships. Vocation, ministry, and service – these are important reasons why Christians would want to evoke a blessing on committed relationships. Much like baptism and ordination, all of us need God’s grace to live into the vocation of a covenanted relationship.

Even more, that grace is not just for the sake of the couple alone but for the gifts their relationship offers to the church and the world. When I reflect on what those gifts might be, I find it helpful to consider biblical covenants – how ancient Hebrew prophets understood Israel’s covenant with God, and how early Christian communities lived into their covenant with God-in-Christ. The divine grace in those covenants yields many gifts (or what the Apostle Paul called “the fruits of the Spirit”), yet biblical writers seem especially to emphasize communities of compassion, generosity, and hospitality as signs of God’s blessing and grace.

I wonder if we could think about our committed relationships in a similar way. The blessing and grace of living into a covenantal relationship empowers us to offer compassionate, generous, and hospitable service to the world. I’m eager to learn whether those in long-term committed relationships have discovered these gifts in your relationship and whether you have noticed those gifts in the covenantal relationships around you. How else might you describe the gifts offered by committed relationships to your own faith community and to the wider world? What signs of divine grace – or “fruits of the Spirit” – do you discern in those relationships?

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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.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

Our rules for posting are fairly simple. Express yourself with courtesy, civility, and respect for others, whether or not you agree with them.

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?

# # #

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.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

Our rules for posting are fairly simple. Express yourself with courtesy, civility, and respect for others, whether or not you agree with them.

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.

# # #

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.

To post a comment, your first and last name and email address are required. Your name will be published; your email address will not. The first time you post, a moderator will need to approve your submission; after that, your comments will appear instantly.

Our rules for posting are fairly simple. Express yourself with courtesy, civility, and respect for others, whether or not you agree with them.

Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music announces task force group leaders

From the Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs:

[June 28, 2010] The Episcopal Church Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) is addressing its duties to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for same-sex blessings, as charged in General Convention Resolution C056, through three main task forces and by establishing communication tools to solicit responses from the wider Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Ruth Meyers, Ph.D., SCLM Chair, pointed out, “We are following the direction outlined in C056: To share some of the ideas being considered as task groups develop theological and liturgical resources. To encourage a conversation about the theological, liturgical, and pastoral principles for blessing same-sex relationships. To offer and invite theological reflection about this work.”

To accomplish these tasks, SCLM has established three task groups to focus on particular areas: a liturgical resources group; a pastoral/teaching resources group; and a theological resources group.

Resources

Resources and important information posted on the SCLM website are:

– Member lists for the three task forces

– GC09 Resolution C056 Liturgies for Blessings.

– Response of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music

Resources available here: SC_L&M_2010_May_TFC056.pdf

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

Meet the task group leaders

Liturgical resources task group: The Rev. Patrick Malloy, Ph.D., of the Diocese of Bethlehem.  He is the H. Boone Porter Chair in Liturgics at General Theological Seminary in New York City and is a former member of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. The rector of Grace Church, Allentown, PA, he is the author of Celebrating the Eucharist (Church Publishing, 2007) and a forthcoming second volume, Celebrating the Pastoral Rites and the Daily Office.

Pastoral/teaching resources group co-chair: The Rev. Canon Thaddeus A. Bennett of the Diocese of Vermont. He is the part-time Canon for Transition Ministry and part-time rector of St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains Church in Wilmington, VT. Previously, he was the Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. He is one of the authors of the Episcopal Church’s Fresh Start resource and serves as a vocational faculty for CREDO. He helped found three HIV/AIDS organizations, including the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition, and co-authored a number of resources for HIV/AIDS education and ministry.

Pastoral/teaching resources group co-chair: The Rev. Canon Susan Russell of the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Senior Associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena and is the Chair of the Program Group on LGBT Ministry for the Diocese of Los Angeles. In 2008 she convened the task force responsible for creating a diocesan pastoral response to both the May California Supreme Court decision on marriage equality and the November Proposition 8 ballot initiative.

Theological resources task group: The Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D., of the Diocese of California.  He is a member of the core doctoral faculty in theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA, and coordinates the Certificate in Sexuality and Religion program at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) where he serves as Senior Director of Academic Research and Resources at the school’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry.  Since 2006 he has been a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Theology and Sexuality and he is Book Review Editor of the Anglican Theological Review. His first book, published in 2005, was Dancing with God: Anglican Christianity and the Practice of Hope. He serves as associate clergy at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley.

Communicating with SCLM

Meyers, who served as a GC09 deputy from the Diocese of Chicago and is the Hodges-Haynes Professor of Liturgics at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, explained that a blog has been established for easy communication. She noted, “SCLM and the task force groups welcome comments, suggestions, and ideas.” The blog site is https://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com .

SCLM is committed to communicating with the wider church, Meyers stressed. 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 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

SCLM Mandate: http://generalconvention.org/ccab/mandate/2

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