March 22, 2011

We Gather Together: Conversations on Same-Gender Blessings

In my two blogs this week I will be aggregating messages from Katrina Hamilton who represented the Diocese of Olympia at the church-wide consultation on Same-Sex Blessings in Atlanta. Katrina is the 25-year-old head of our deputation to next year’s General Convention which will be the third time she has served as a deputy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011
On the flight down I was reviewing the current wedding ceremony used by the Episcopal Church. Like many, I was operating under the assumption that the reason this process takes so long had to do with dissension among Episcopalians, and that creating the new liturgy itself would be fairly straight forward. Just take out the parts where it says man and woman, right? I realize now that I had always thought of gay marriage as a justice fight, and never about what success would look like, or how it would sound.

What words would we use to replace man and woman? Two people, two adults, spouses, wives, husbands, partners? The word partner is so common, but is that because it's preferred or because husband and wife are terms reserved for the officially married? Will the wording change as recognized same-sex marriages become more common?

Same-sex ceremonies represent a new facet in the church, but marriage does not. Shouldn't these new rites carry that same emotional connection to the past? Or is that just tying them down to a liturgy that has refused to acknowledge them for so long? Can we adjust the language while still keeping the poetry?

I worry about creating something too modern. I worry that the more differences there are in the ceremonies, the more we stress the differences in the unions, and the more separate but equal things become.

Friday, March 18, 2011
I was nervous at lunch today. Looking around I saw a lot of people with name badges, but not a lot who were born after 1980. Or even 1970. So far I'm fairly certain that out of the 200 or so people attending, I am the 7th youngest person in the room. If you count the baby.

The day alternated between large group informative sessions and small group discussion sessions. For the second small group we were given a suggested outline for what a same-sex blessing might contain as well as an example text to start conversation.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) wasn't tasked with gay marriage, they were tasked with same sex blessings. But what is a blessing? What exactly are we trying to make? Is it supposed to be something completely different, a totally separate event? Or are we just calling it a blessing because we can't call it a marriage? Did we charge the SCLM with the creation of a new religious ceremony, or a watered down wedding?

Today I heard a case for the creation of a blessing ceremony that was completely new to me. Many people (gay or straight) find love well into their retirement years. They want to make a commitment and publicly declare their affection, but if they get legally married they will lose pension benefits. So there is a real and reasonable need in the church for a religious ceremony that feels like a marriage but specifically is not one.

Now for the question that I don't have an answer to: What is marriage?

I guess my point is that it's hard to deny someone something unless you know what it is. I don't know about you, but I'm starting to realize I don't know what marriage is.