‘Respectful’ hearing for gay-rites debate
by Simon Sarmiento
|“RITES relating to marriage” was the subject under study by 56 Anglicanliturgists at the biennial meeting of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC) earlier this month in Canterbury. Continuing work that was begun two years ago in New Zealand, a report on this topic will be completed by December.Participants came from 19 Anglican provinces, including Brazil, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and the Southern Cone. Topics included theology, cultural contexts, and the shape and elements of ritual. Papers were delivered by the Bishop of Central Tanganyika, the Rt Revd Mdimi Mhogolo, and by the Revd Dr Simon Jones, of Merton College, Oxford.
Dr Jones drew attention to the particular issues faced by Church of Englandclergy who frequently have to deal with couples presenting themselves for marriage in church, neither of whom are baptised, or attend church regularly.
Bishop Mhogolo explained that Christian missionarieswho came to Tanzania had paid no attention to traditional Tanzanian marriage-customs, in which washing and anointing rather than rings and vows were the principal symbols.
As a consequence, Christian marriage rites now appear alien to most Tanzanians.
In addition to the regular sessions, there was a separate presentation by members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) of the Episcopal Church in the United Stateson their development of a theological rationale and liturgical principles for same-sex blessings. Those who attended were asked to give feedback by considering specific questions in small working groups.
The chair of the IALC, Dr Eileen Scully, from Canada, said on Thursday of last week that the purpose of the IALC meeting was to work on rites related to heterosexual couples only. In countries where civil-marriage laws were changing, however, to allow either civil unions or same-sex marriage, Churches faced challenges. They needed to reflect on the parallels with traditional marriage.
The Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Revd Dr Ruth Meyers, said on Saturday that the 2009 General Convention had directed the SCLM both to inform, and to invite reflections from, the rest of the Communion. The IALC meeting was an ideal opportunity to discuss the matter.
The Episcopal Church’s request for such a session was made according to existing IALC norms, she said, and had been unanimously approved in advance by the IALC steering committee. It was a coincidence that marriage was the main topic this year; the request would have been made in any event.
Dr Meyers also noted that the Episcopal Church’s request conformed to the Windsor report’s recommendation that “provinces engaged in discernment regarding the blessing of same-sex unions [should] engage the Communion in continuing study.”
The feedback was enormously helpful, and the delegates from the Episcopal Church felt honoured by the respectful hearing that they had received, she said.
56 Liturgical Scholars from around the Anglican Communion, meeting recently in Canterbury, U.K., were urged by the TEC delegation to consider the possibilitiy of the inclusion of a special rite for the Celebration of Same-sex Partnerships for Church members.
Simon Sarmiento, though not present at the conference but privy to the contents of the proceedings, has provided us with an idea of what went on in the discussion groups at the conference which were then gathered to consider the issue of the provision of an appropriate rite for Same-sex Couples.
The Convenor of the Conference, “The chair of the IALC, Dr Eileen Scully, from Canada, said on Thursday of last week that the purpose of the IALC meeting was to work on rites related to heterosexual couples only; however, to allow either civil unions or same-sex marriage, Churches faced challenges. They needed to reflect on the parallels with traditional marriage.”
It would appear from Simon’s report that “In addition to the regular sessions, there was a separate presentation by members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) of the Episcopal Church in the United States on their development of a theological rationale and liturgical principles for same-sex blessings”. Those who then attended the Conference were asked to give feedback by considering specific questions in small working groups.
In the event, the TEC Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music was heard ‘respectfully’ by the members of the Commission, and the resulting feedback from the various group discussions was found to be both helpful and encouraging to TEC members.
Whatever flows from this new initiative by TEC’s Liturgical S.C., to encourage the Anglican Communion’s input on the Same-sex Blessings issue; the fact that the International Anglican Liturgical Commission has been open (in accordance with the ‘Windsor Report’s recommendations) to listen to TEC’s proposals to provide a rite for Same-sex Blessings, and to discuss the prospect of a wider acceptance of the same, is a move forward from the seeming deadlock on this issue in parts of the Communion.
This article, published in last Friday’s Church Times, included a facility for subscribers to vote on the need for a rite for Same-sex Blessings, answering the following link question:
“Should blessings of civil partnerships be modelled on the marriage service?”
When I last looked, the voting was YES:52% , and NO:47% – Not much difference, except that U.K. C.T. Readers seem marginally in favour of a Same-sex Blessing Rite.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, N.Z.