From the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission: New Translations and the Rite of Same-Sex Blessing

Funding new language translations of the Book of Common Prayer is crucial for the life of The Episcopal Church. The work done by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) around the issue of same-sex blessing provides a model for how this can happen by doing three things: 1) focusing on baptismal theology, 2) exploring scripture and 3) acknowledging differences and unity in the wider church. By starting with a baptismal perspective, the committee uncovered ways that our most intimate relationships are part of our call to mission as evidenced in the Baptismal Covenant. The committee recognized that there remains a tension within the wider church about these issues, but that the Holy Spirit continues to bind us in spite of differences.

(You can read more about their process at: https://extranet.generalconvention.org/staff/files/download/15668)

The work, therefore, while initially targeted at the needs of same-sex couples, provided an occasion for deepened understandings of fundamental theological issues: baptismal/missional calling, covenantal relationships, the concept of blessing, and recognition of unity and difference. Because it addressed these fundamental theological issues, the insights gained could be brought to bear on issues not specifically related to same-sex relationships. As many are aware, heterosexual people expressed the desire to use the rite for their marriages.

For me personally reading the committee’s work was tremendously healing. I had long struggled to make sense of the liturgical and physical remnants of my failed first marriage: rings that I felt strange about unceremoniously selling, promises made in front of the altar, and the task of co-parenting children with someone to whom I was no longer married but yet still practically bound.

How could the church help me unbind what it had helped to bind and to what extent? What did it mean to continue to seek and serve Christ in my ex? In seminary, several years before the same-sex blessing documents were published, I wrote a pastoral liturgy for priests to use with divorced individuals in which the rings played a symbolic role. My preceptor, an Episcopal priest, dismissed it out of hand, telling me that I was still married in the eyes of God.

As I read the work of the SCLM, finally I found an in-depth theological understanding of committed relationships grounded in scripture and baptismal theology. I began to think about blessing in a way that started to redeem those gold bands. Worn out clich├ęs about help-meets, obedience, and sacrificially laying down one’s life – with all the cultural baggage of the same - were either rendered irrelevant or transformed by the work of that committee. It also affirmed what my current husband and I deeply understood as we had each navigated the ways our respective divorces affected relationships in our church community. The Same-Sex Blessing documents, in their recognition of continued theological differences, echoed and acknowledged the sadness my current husband and I felt over the absence at our wedding of close long-term friends due to their conservative beliefs about remarriage.

It is not easy to step outside our cultural frameworks. The decision of the committee to engage in primary theological questions while exploring commitment in same-sex relationships, however, provided an occasion for understanding issues of identity as members of the body of Christ that would not have occurred if the marriage rite had simply been adapted for use by same-sex couples. With a focus on the missional quality of baptism and study of scripture, a rite was developed that challenges the myopic and narcissistic cultural understandings of committed relationships. In so doing, the work of the SCLM revealed a deeper understanding of all committed relationships whether called “marriage” by the state or not. So we find that such work helps us return to what is more deeply Jewish and profoundly Christian than the so-called “Judeo-Christian” American culture that is conflated with Christianity.

Accordingly, my hope is that developing Kreyol (Haitian Creole) and other translations of our liturgies will similarly push our denomination to seek what is essential in the liturgy. Robust translations are called for: those that are borne of deep engagement with the purpose and intent of our liturgical texts in dialogue with the culture. In contrast to a word-by-word translation effort that ignores the metaphors, images and idioms specific to the cultural context of a language, deeper engagement between text and culture may unmask our linguistic idols. In the same way that we gained a deeper understanding of “marriage” by setting that word aside, the nature of our relationship to God and each other might be more fully revealed through exploration of what it means to have common worship if we set aside the desire for a slavish commitment to common language. We may learn how to be “Anglican” by setting aside our anglophile fetishes, and entering into deep engagement with the non-English speaking members

Comments

Popular Posts