Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Experiencing Church At-Work in the Blessings Project

By Dr. Gale A. Yee

            This is my very first blog, something that I have resisted doing for a while. However, I’ve just finished an extraordinary weekend and feel the urge to write about it.  Since last fall, I have been a member of the Task Force on Theological Resources for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) Addressing General Convention Resolution CO56, Liturgies for Blessings. A mouthful, right?
      This commission has been charged to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources regarding the blessing of same-gender relationships. I was asked to be on the Task Force as the “bible” person. There are three other Task Forces working on the Resolution CO56: Liturgical Resources, Pastoral and Teaching Resources, and Canonical and Legal Considerations. Each Task Force is composed of bishops, clergy and lay folks of about 10 members.
            Recently there was a church-wide consultation of all nine ECUSA provinces in which the members of the four Task Forces met with about 230 folks from the House of Deputies in Atlanta, GA. The meeting was meant to inform the Deputies about the work on the Liturgies for Blessings, to engage in theological reflection as a Christian community, and to equip the Deputies to report to their deputations and engage them in ongoing theological reflection. The Deputies and Task Force members were divided into 15 groups, each with a facilitator and a scribe. I was the facilitator for Group Three, which had 15 people.
            My group was absolutely wonderful, with deputies from the dioceses of Central Florida, Utah, Western Kansas, El Camino Real, Missouri, Long Island North Carolina, Hawaii, Tennessee, North Dakota, Utah, Lexington, and Convocation of American Churches in Europe. My folks were very supportive of same-gender relationships. However, there were many deputies who were not, and who were quite vocal about this in other groups.        We facilitators were directed to hear the objections, but not let them move us off the goal of the weekend, namely, to reflect theologically about the General Convention Resolution CO56.
            Our first small group session was intended to help the Deputies think theologically about blessings and covenantal relationships.  All groups had to respond first to the question: “How have you found God in your relationships? Give an example in your own life.”
     It was such an honor to hear these stories in my group and the range of relationships with spouses, partners, students, and families. We then were asked to respond to the draft document that my Theological Resource group developed, Christian Life and Covenants, which highlighted the touchstones covenant and vocation, nurturing a household, and enabling ministry and service.
     My group then shared which of these touchstones spoke most directly to their own experiences of relationship. The hardest part of the process was completing the following in a Tweet and sending it off to be put in a Power Point: “Covenantal relationships manifest God’s presence by ______.” Each group at the next Plenary had one-minute to explain their Tweet. 
            Our second session together discussed a tentative outline of a rite for same-gender blessings and an example of a blessing drawn from the thousands of blessings that the Task force on Liturgical Resources had collected. We were given eight principles that embodied a classically Anglican liturgical ethos on which to judge a blessing:
·      It resonates with Scripture.
·      It has high literary value; it is beautiful according to accepted and respected standards.
·      It uses the recurring structures, linguistic patterns, and metaphors of the 1979 BCP.
·      It is formal, not casual, conversational, or colloquial.
·      It has a ritual or sacral register.
·      It is dense enough to “carry the freight’ of the sacred purpose for which it is intended.
·      It is metaphoric without being obtuse.
·      It is can be performed.
       What a time we had ripping apart this sample blessing! It seemed to flunk all eight categories of Anglican liturgical standards.
            Our third small group meeting discussed drafts of questions that the Pastoral and Teaching Resources Task Force wanted the deputies to bring back to their constituencies. We were to assess whether these questions were productive enough to engage the average church group.
      My group was asked to consider questions on Theology: “How do our inherited texts, and the exposition thereof, form and inform our knowledge of God, and our individual and corporate life together?” and “Why is it important to consider the theological implications of celebration, blessing, and the consideration of blessing same-gender relations before any move forward?” As you can imagine, we thought these questions were just too dense for the average congregation to get their heads around. The most helpful suggestion we had was to engage the services of a 5th grade teacher to rewrite them.
            It was a real gift for me to spend a weekend with very astute and committed Episcopalians to reflect theologically on developing same-gender blessings! Our communal hope was that the Episcopal Church uses this occasion to build on a more greatly enhanced theology of marriage in general.
*  Dr. Gale A. Yee is the Nancy W. King Professor of Biblical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, USA.


  1. Thank you for posting this Gale. It is instructive and encouraging to see how the Episcopal Church in North America is moving with theological, biblical and liturgical integrity toward formal blessing for same-sex couples. May your process be a model for other denominations if/when they reach this conversation.

  2. Gale are you able to take advantage of (if it is of any use) the theological work around same sex blessins that has been done in the Diocese of New Westminster?
    Laurel Dykstra

  3. I am so pleased that you are involved in this work, Gale. You are a wonderful contribution to this important effort. What a great debut for your first blog! There - that wasn't so bad now, was it? Maybe you'll even do it again. Soon.

  4. Thanks, Anonymous. I will alert the chair of my Theological Resources Task for to this material.

  5. Gale, I'm thrilled that you are a part of the work on C056. After reading your post (yay, first blog post!) I'm left wondering why the Church has never done this kind of deep thinking about opposite-sex marriage. Just another way the queers are leading the faithful into important discussions, I suppose.