Discerning the Gifts of Covenantal Relationships

The 2009 General Convention of the Episcopal Church directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to collect and develop theological and liturgical resources for blessing same-sex relationships (Resolution C056). The Commission is eager to engage the wider church in theological conversation as one among many sources that will inform our work.

The reflection below was submitted by the Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D., chair of the task group preparing theological resources.

Read more about this project.

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In the last blog entry (dated July 21), I made some observations about being called into covenantal relationships as a vocation. The comments in response to that post made reference to the sense of ministry and service the responders had discerned in their own committed relationships. Vocation, ministry, and service – these are important reasons why Christians would want to evoke a blessing on committed relationships. Much like baptism and ordination, all of us need God’s grace to live into the vocation of a covenanted relationship.

Even more, that grace is not just for the sake of the couple alone but for the gifts their relationship offers to the church and the world. When I reflect on what those gifts might be, I find it helpful to consider biblical covenants – how ancient Hebrew prophets understood Israel’s covenant with God, and how early Christian communities lived into their covenant with God-in-Christ. The divine grace in those covenants yields many gifts (or what the Apostle Paul called “the fruits of the Spirit”), yet biblical writers seem especially to emphasize communities of compassion, generosity, and hospitality as signs of God’s blessing and grace.

I wonder if we could think about our committed relationships in a similar way. The blessing and grace of living into a covenantal relationship empowers us to offer compassionate, generous, and hospitable service to the world. I’m eager to learn whether those in long-term committed relationships have discovered these gifts in your relationship and whether you have noticed those gifts in the covenantal relationships around you. How else might you describe the gifts offered by committed relationships to your own faith community and to the wider world? What signs of divine grace – or “fruits of the Spirit” – do you discern in those relationships?

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We invite your participation in this dialogue about blessing same-sex relationships. Your responses and observations here will help inform the work of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in our work of developing theological and liturgical resources for such blessings. We hope that this conversation will also be a way to renew and enliven a shared vision of the church’s mission in the world.

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