2/23/2009

A Little Decision on Blessing and Marriage.

In 2002 I made the decision that I would no longer officiate at weddings. Given the inability of the Episcopal Church to move on the blessing of same sex relationships or to produce a rite for blessing it seemed to me important not to participate in what was an increasingly confused and confusing liturgical activity.

This was for me a fairly drastic change in the exercise of ministry. Over the years I have officiated at something like one hundred sixty weddings. On the other hand I was not at the time a parish priest and didn't have to conform to parish expectations. I was perfectly willing to attend weddings, just not officiate at them. I was also clear that in emergencies I was willing to cover for other clergy. So in the past seven years I have twice officiated. Otherwise I have neither officiated for the state or blessed for the Church.

This last week I took some time and made the decision to be open to blessing in weddings and in other celebrations of union. I have decided, however, to ask couples who seek such blessing to see a state agent for the state agreement of marriage. If Delaware gets its act together and makes civil unions or marriages for same sex couples, I will ask the same of them. Go to the State for the State matters, come to the Church (or at least to me as part of the Church) for blessing.

For years I have believed that The Episcopal Church ought to relieve its clergy of acting as agents for the State in signing marriage papers, essentially as a notary to the effect that the two people declared themselves married. So now seems the time to act on that belief. That means, I suppose, that if people ask me to officiate we will either have to use the service "The Blessing of a Civil Marriage" or a form for blessing suitable to the occasion.

No doubt I will not be asked very often, but now, when asked, I can respond as one who blesses God for the wonders of commitment and blesses those who make them.

15 comments:

Maryajo said...

Hooray for you Father Mark! I have long felt that the Church should not be doing the legal part of the marriage ceremony. That is for officials of the State as it is in many countries. Our clergy should be priests and bless marriages, hopefully both same sex marriages and heterosexual marriages. If a denomination or a parish cannot deal with same sex blessings they will be poorer for losing those Christians from their flock. There should not be so much haggling over this issue and certainly the State should stay out of people's consciences.
Maryajo

Grandmère Mimi said...

Another cheer for your stance, Mark. The church should be out of the business of making marriage legal. Clergy were late to the marriage party in the history of the church, and we should go back to our roots. France is one country that I think of that seems to do quite well with the policy of excluding clergy from the legal part of the ceremony.

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

I've often wondered, though, which date (civil or church) couples use for their anniversary date...

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Mark! After all, if my understanding of church history is correct, you're merely reverting to a Pre-Constantinian practice. I've only been a priest for about a year and a half and so, I have to try not to "make waves." However, I plan to do much the same as you once I'm a bit better established. Fr. Bill+

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well done, Mark, although I fear you and I and a handful of other clerics will be left in the cold shadows on this one. It has nothing whatsoever to do with scriptures or politics. It has everything to do with money. I know one priest who, long before domestic partnership and civil unions became available in his state, was changing his register to "Sacramental Marriage" and registering heterosexual marriages as well as homosexual blessings.

Why? Because a very wealthy man in his congregation said he would give a sizable donation to the Organ Fund (I know, right?) if this priest would 'marry' he and his partner.

So, for years, this church has played "let's pretend". Not because of theology. Not because of politics. But rather because it's a beautiful church and attracts lots of 'foot traffic' and people who will pay just about anything to have their wedding ceremony there.

Your position has great integrity, Mark. I hope others can hear you, but I fear they won't.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Tom, I suspect that it will be the same as whether parents choose to celebrate their child's birth or her baptism.

Anonymous said...

The State of Nevada requires clergy to get a license to function on behalf of the State, something I never obtained. With competition from the First Church of Elvis to perform weddings, the State wanted to ensure that clergy did not owe child support and would adequately represent the State's interest. The one wedding I did perform consisted of the couple visiting a justice of the peace in the morning, with a church wedding in the afternoon.

I plan to follow that approach now that I am in California, regardless of what shape weddings take.

Paul Colbert+

John-Julian, OJN said...

Dear Mark:

Congratulations and celebrations! You know, back in the early 70's Bishop Wolf of Maine turned in his state license to marry, and suggested his clergy do likewise. I never heard what happened after that. but I do think the way forward is for some present bishop to do the same and ask the clergy to follow suit. If there could be one whole diocese where the clergy can simply say to ALL couples: "We don't do marriages; only Holy Matrimonial Blessings." it would move everyone in that direction (and would remove the stigma of being the only clergy person in the area who doesn't do marriages).

Fr. Bill: No, it wouldn't make us pre-Constantinian. There WAS no such thing as a "Christian Marriage" in those days — all marriages were secular state marriages – and there were no blessing ceremonies for marriages that we know of in those days, either. In fact, it was staying UN-married and celibate which was the major Christian message back then.

"Christian marriage" is a very late development in the history of the Church; it wasn't even named a "sacrament" until the 11th century! (Which is all rather amazing considering that it seems for many to be the center of all that is "Christian" these days, and we celibate monastics are seen as the semi-psychotic odd-balls.) )

Fr Craig said...

I agree with you, Mark. But all hell would break loose in my parish if I did this. I do spend time in counseling stressing that marriage is a contract under the law and all I do is to bless it. There gonna get married someplace and I would hate to do anything that might turn them against the church. 'Course, most of those I've married never showed up again, I admit...

Erika Baker said...

Tom
I'm from Germany where you always have a civil marriage before the church is allowed to marry you. Most couples have their civil ceremony on a Friday and the church wedding on the Saturday.

Whether they choose a church wedding because of their faith or because of the fairy tale aspect of it - they tend to see this as their Real wedding day.
They only have to be careful to note the right day on official documents.

Phil said...

John-Julian, this is Tertullian in his Ad uxorem, which uses both distinctly sacramental language and appears to presuppose the Church’s involvement in marriage:

“How shall we ever be able adequately to describe the happiness of that marriage which the Church arranges, the Sacrifice strengthens, upon which the blessing sets a seal, at which angels are present as witnesses, and to which the Father gives His consent? For not even on earth do children marry properly and legally without their fathers’ permission.”

Tertullian = ca.160 – ca.220 AD
Constantine = ca. 272 – 337

SCG said...

Good for you, Fr. Mark! Ironically, as a notary public in FL, I can marry people... and have. But, as a lesbian, I can not marry my partner. Aren't double-standards a kick in the rear?

textjunkie said...

Wow, Mark, that is fantastic. I've been saying for years that the church should get out of the marriage business all together and leave it to the state, that we needed one word for what the church does and another for the legal status. I didn't think anyone else thought that way, but you are actually putting it in practice. Good for you! I hope more clergy can do the same.

Dan said...

I applaud your decision. One less chance for people to be exposed to the teachings of the General Convention Church.n

Rev Dr Mom said...

In my diocese where same sex marriage is legal but clergy may not officiate per the bishop since it violates the canons, that is exactly the route many clergy take.

One way I've heard this being done is for a member of the vestry to become a jp for the day in order to do the legal part, which works quite well. Maybe it's not quite as clean a separation of church and state but it seems a workable compromise and allows for one service.