I trust that you are all enjoying the warm weather and beauty of summer in Michigan! My summer has been busy with adventures both new and old. In addition to camping, kayaking, gardening and spending time with family and friends, I have been invited to more weddings this summer than I have in years! Although each wedding I attend is unique, the basic understanding of why we have gathered together remains the same: to celebrate and witness the vows of love and lifelong commitment two people make with each other and with God.
The Book of Common Prayer has several beautiful liturgical options for celebrating a marriage. And thanks to the work of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) we now have several more! Resolution B012: Marriage Rites for the Whole Church, which was presented at the 2018 General Convention, reads as follows:
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention authorize for continued trial use, in accordance with Article X of the Constitution and Canon II.3.6, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage” and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2” (as appended to the report of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage to the 79th General Convention); and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention authorize for trial use, in accordance with Article X of the Constitution and Canon II.3.6, “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage 2” and “An Order for Marriage 2” (as appended to the report of the Task Force for the Study of Marriage to the 79th General Convention), beginning the first Sunday of Advent, 2018; and be it further
Resolved, That the period of trial use for these liturgies shall extend until the completion of the next comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer; and be it further
Resolved, That the SCLM monitor the use of these rites as part of their work of revising the Book of Common Prayer; and be it further
Resolved, That the material prepared by the TFSM with regard to paragraph one of “Concerning the Service” of Marriage, the proper prefaces for Marriage and the Catechism be referred to the SCLM for serious consideration as they engage in the process of revision of the Book of Common Prayer; and be it further
Resolved, That all of this material be authorized for publication as part of Liturgical Resources 2 (as appended to the report of the TFSM) and be made available electronically in English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole at no cost by the first Sunday of Advent, 2018; and be it further
Resolved, That under the canonical direction of the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge and where permitted to do so by civil law, provision will be made for all couples desiring to use these marriage liturgies in their local congregation or worshipping community, provided that nothing in this Resolve narrows the authority of the Rector or Priest-in-Charge (Canon III.9.6(a)); and be it further
Resolved, That in dioceses where the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority (or, where applicable, ecclesiastical supervision) holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples, and there is a desire to use such rites by same-sex couples in a congregation or worshipping community, the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority (or ecclesiastical supervision) shall invite, as necessary, another bishop of this Church to provide pastoral support to the couple, the Member of the Clergy involved and the congregation or worshipping community in order to fulfill the intention of this resolution that all couples have convenient and reasonable local congregational access to these rites; and be it further
Resolved, That the provision of Canon I.18.7 applies by extension to these liturgies, namely, “It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage”; and be it further
Resolved, That the provisions of Canon I.19.3 regarding marriage after divorce apply equally to these liturgies; and be it further
Resolved, That bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority, or where appropriate ecclesiastical supervision, who hold a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same sex couples, shall in the case of remarriage after divorce, invite another bishop of this Church to oversee the consent process and to receive any report of such Marriages, as provided in Canon I.19.3(c); and be it further
Resolved, That bishops continue the work of leading the Church in comprehensive engagement with these materials and continue to provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further
Resolved, That this Church continue to honor theological diversity in regard to matters of human sexuality; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention request the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance to consider a budget allocation of $100,000 for the implementation of this resolution; and be it further
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention direct the Secretary of General Convention and the Custodian of the Standard Book of Common Prayer, in consultation with the outgoing Chair of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage and the Chairs of the Legislative Committees to whom this legislation is referred, to finalize and arrange with Church Publishing for the publication (in English, Spanish, French, and Haitian Creole) of the material contained in “Liturgical Resources 2” as approved by the 79th General Convention; the General Convention Office to make these materials available electronically at no cost no later than the first Sunday of Advent 2018.
While anyone can use these new resources, they were originally developed for our LGBTQ sisters and brothers so that they might have liturgies appropriate for same-sex couples.
The Episcopal Church has a long and rich history of engaging complex and difficult issues of social justice, so it should come as no surprise that the work toward full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the life of the Church began long before the new liturgical resources were approved. The first resolution was passed in Minneapolis, in 1976. For the first time, General Convention adopted a resolution that acknowledged and affirmed the presence of persons of homosexual orientation in the Church. Resolution 1976–A069 read:
Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.
Successive conventions both acknowledged the work of their predecessors and reached new decisions, particularly with regard to the blessing of the faithful, monogamous, lifelong relationships of gay men and lesbians.
In 2012, the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church commended “Liturgical Resources I: I will Bless You, and You Will be a Blessing” for study and use throughout The Episcopal Church. Over the next three years the materials were widely used in a number of dioceses (including The Diocese of Michigan) and the SCLM invited feedback through several avenues.
From the introduction of revised Liturgical Resources I:
In fall 2013, nearly one thousand people accessed an online survey distributed with the assistance of diocesan contact people and through social media. Responses were overwhelmingly positive to all sections of Liturgical Resources 1. However, a number of respondents expressed frustration or confusion that the liturgy appeared to be a “separate but equal” rite, which therefore was not equivalent to marriage.
Heeding the concern that “separate but equal” rites are inherently unequal, the SCLM developed and recommended to the 78th General Convention an adaptation of the 2012 liturgy that can be used for marriage by any couple, as well as “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2,” a gender-neutral adaptation of the marriage rite in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The Convention authorized these rites for trial use, that is, as a proposed revision of the BCP.
The day after the opening of the 78th General Convention, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution requires all states to grant same-sex marriages and recognize same-sex marriages granted in other states. The work of the SCLM and the 78th General Convention meant clergy in The Episcopal Church had access to liturgical resources for couples who were ready to take advantage of the court’s decision. Convention approved the amended resources to be available beginning the first Sunday in Advent, 2015, with the understanding that the use of these resources was to be with the approval of the clergy member’s diocesan bishop.
While many bishops, including Bishop Gibbs, have embraced the progress The Episcopal Church has made toward full inclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers and have approved the use of the new resources, not all bishops are ready to embrace marriage for same-sex couples. Resolution B012 from last year’s General Convention, provides a way for a bishop who holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples to provide pastoral support for these couples and their clergy via a bishop from a neighboring diocese so that no one is denied access to the new liturgies. Although it’s not a “perfect” solution, it does go a long way toward respecting the dignity of each person involved.
My parish has not yet had the opportunity to celebrate the marriage of a same-sex couple. However, our Ministry Support Team and Vestry have already had conversations about the possibility so we can be ready when the time comes. The report from The Task Force on the Study of Marriage from the Blue Book of the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church includes some excellent study guides, essays, pastoral resources for preparing couples for marriage, and discussion questions to help facilitate conversation about marriage. Being prepared for the opportunity ahead of time will help all of us provide any couple wanting to get married in the church with the best guidance, love, and support we can offer.
Let us pray…
(from The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant)
Almighty and everliving God: look tenderly upon N. and N., who stand before you in the company of your Church. Let their life together bring them great joy. Grant them so to love selflessly and live humbly, that they may be to one another and to the world a witness and a sign of your never-failing love and care; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, to the ages of ages. Amen.
The Rev. Diana Walworth, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council