Saturday, April 14, 2012

It's Official: Same Gender Blessings planned for Saturday, April 14, in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

Official Same Gender Blessings in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia will take place at St. Paul's Memorial Church in Charlottesville, on Saturday, April 14. The Same Gender Blessings will be the centerpiece in a public Eucharist service at St. Paul's located adjacent to The Rotunda at the University of Virginia. From here:

St. Paul's Memorial Episcopal Church
An Invitation from Deborah Healey and Margaret Mohrmann - The covenant relationship between Deborah Healey and Margaret Mohrmann will be blessed in a Holy Eucharist at St. Paul's on Saturday, April 14, 2012, at 11 a.m. Deborah and Margaret invite all who wish to affirm this covenant and participate in its blessing to be present, in witness and support, at the service and to attend the celebratory reception in the Parish Hall immediately afterwards

Bishop Shannon Johnston is also slated to do confirmations as well as hold a Q& A at St. Paul's the following Wednesday, April 18.  A story from October including a letter from Bishop Johnston is here.


Anam Cara said...

This is so sad. St. Paul's the the church I attended right after we we married. It was an easy walk from our apartment on Elliewood Ave. Yes, people once lived on Elliewood.

Anonymous said...


Dale Matson said...

"The covenant relationship between Deborah Healey and Margaret Mohrmann will be blessed in a Holy Eucharist at St. Paul's on Saturday." What is meant by the term "covenant relationship"? Is this a transitional phrase?

Anonymous said...

Don't know about St. Paul's now, but when I was a student, it was the typical upper class, aloof Episcopal church. I think I received a letter from them just before my first year and that was it. I went to a few services and was not impressed. That was back when we indicated religious preference on our paperwork and the University passed it on to the appropriate local church. Being an Episcopalian from New York, my information got forwarded to St. Paul's.

Actually, other than Fr. Stickle, the Catholic chaplain, I didn't see much of any religious impact for first year students. Fr. Stickle would regularly come by the first year dorms to see the Catholic students. His opening line would go something like "Hello Mr. X, I haven't seen you at Mass for the past few weeks and I wanted to stop by and see how you are feeling..."

After I graduated I settled in Richmond and got to enjoy the Spong years at St. Paul's in Richmond. That permanently put me off affiliating with the Episcopal church in Virginia.

jschwarz42 said...

[Part 1 of 2] What a joyful - and "blessed" - occasion for this couple - and for their wonderful community at St. Paul's! But how sad that so many still seem unwilling simply to take joy in this sacramental celebration of two people's love and lifelong commitment to one another before God and their community.

I am unclear why this announcement is news ("It's Official")? This is certainly not the first such ceremony in the Diocese. Already, since last year, several churches in the Diocese of Virginia have been (within certain parameters) approved to celebrate liturgical blessing ceremonies for same-gender couples (and there are many more churches at various stages in the process).

My wife and I were blessed to attend a blessing ceremony of friends at our own parish last September. It was a beautiful occasion - for the couple, their family, us, and for the whole parish community who already knew and loved the couple, who had already witnessed for ourselves in our parish life together (in our "being-church" together) the "blessedness" of their love and covenanted relationship over the years, and who were now (finally!) "allowed" to celebrate liturgically and sacramentally the inherent blessedness in God's eyes of their union (and those of other couples like them). That day there was throughout the church a palpable sense of God's Spirit present there, smiling joyfully among us.

I understand that some people and some churches continue to oppose the blessing of same-gender unions (or marriages). But I confess (despite extensive reading of what they say) I still do not really understand why.

Having followed most of the arguments on both sides for many years now, I am convinced that ultimately (when subjected to analysis, and despite various conservative assertions to the contrary) there is no coherent, reasoned basis (in theology, scripture or experience) for NOT recognizing the inherent possibility for blessedness in the committed, loving, covenanted relationships of couples we find all around us among family and friends. These are couples whose relationships TEC has well described as "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God." [continued]

jschwarz42 said...

[Part 2 of 2] Limited as is my ability to understand the basis some have for opposing blessing ceremonies in their own church communities, and even while I accept the sincerity of their convictions, I completely fail to understand why anyone would object to seeing such ceremonies take place in OTHER churches, in those parishes where the community for years has favored them and longed to be able to celebrate them. Bishop Shannon (and every other responsible Episcopalian leader) has throughout been clear that opposition to same-gender unions would be fully respected, and no church and no person would in any way be required to accept or participate in such a practice. (By contrast, it would seem that it is the opponents of blessings who lack such "respect" for the convictions of churches such as mine.) But WHY, I still wonder, do you care - when no imposition has been made (or even suggested) on your own way of living out your faith in your own churches?

The bottom line for me is that I (together with an increasing number of faithful Christians in all denominations) have come to regularly experience and discern the marriages and unions of the same-gender couples we know as possessing the very same sacramental character of love, commitment and blessedness that my wife and I are blessed to experience in our own marriage. (And all true theology is ultimately based on experience.) While, obviously, not all marriages "succeed", and clearly we see some covenanted relationships growing more fruitfully than others (and becoming more - or less - "blessed" than others), experience shows that this is equally true of mixed-gender and same-gender couples.

Peace, John

Dale Matson said...

I missed, in your 655 word response the answer to the question. "What is meant by the term 'covenant relationship'"?

SometimesWise said...


In your searching for the answer as to why anyone would object to a Christian blessing of a same-sex sexual relationship, were you able to find a passage - in Scripture, or a sermon by a church "father" or any reference older than the last 50 years - that called such a relationship "blessed"? I haven't, and would be genuinely intrigued if you did.
Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

You can't bless what is unnatural, unhealthy and unchristian. Empty words don't count except that they are misleading and compound the problems.

jschwarz42 said...

SometimesWise: Your question illustrates the essential point. You ask if I can find a passage in Scripture etc that "called such a relationship 'blessed'". The more important question, however, is: can you find a passage which calls it "UN-blessed"?

The critical phrase in your question is: "such a relationship". Scripture and other early witnesses, in considering sex-gender sexuality (or relationships with a sexual dimension), simply do not ever consider these in the context of the kind of committed. loving, covenantal relationship that is (in every meaningful way) what we today understand as the sort of blessed relationship that exists (or should exist) between loving spouses in "blessed" ("happy") marriages.

To anyone who reads them with an eye to context and understanding (rather than simplistic "proof-texting"), the scriptural witnesses all unquestioningly conceive of sexual relationships between same-gender persons solely in the contexts familiar to them: as paradigmatic examples of licentious and/or predatory-exploitative activity (see, e.g., the passage in Romans).

The idea (which we have today) of "such a relationship" consisting primarily of faithfulness, commitment and loving selfless care was not even on the radar screen for ancient thinkers - or, in many ways, for hardly any mainstream thinkers prior to the last 50-100 years.

Our understanding and ways of thinking (in this as in all things) gradually evolve from culture to culture. (That is why "truth" is fundamentally a progressive and evolving thing.) Our very understanding of a "relationship" or a "marriage" (at least in the West) has today (post Freud, the Romantics, popularized psychology, etc) evolved into something radically different from any understanding that existed in the past - even if we use the same words as they did.

Thus the real answer to those who point to the (quite scanty) scriptural witness on s-g relationships is simply that the scriptural writers had nothing to say about what we mean by a same-gender "relationship" - because they simply had no understanding of "such a relationship" (although there is an incipient glimpse of the possibility of such a future understanding in the story of Jonathan and David).

So most writers, prior to very recent history, really had nothing RELEVANT to say SPECIFICALLY about the "blessedness" (or anything else) of "such a relationship". (And, BTW, the ancient Hellenistic cultural values placed on man-man and man-boy love, often pointed to, and of which ancient writers clearly WERE aware, were not really comparable analogues for our modern understandings of a "same-gender union" - for reasons too complex to discuss here)

OTOH, however, there IS much in the scriptural (and traditional) witness that DOES affirm broadly the value or "righteousness" in God's eyes (the "blessedness"?) of other stories (in contexts that WERE known to the ancients) of human relationships characterized by such covenantal qualities as faithfulness, love, selfless steadfast caring ("chesed"), lifelong commitment, etc: i.e., those same qualities that we today value (and count "blessed") in the "relationships" of married couples - both mixed-gendered and same-gendered.

From a theological perspective, these relational qualities are valued (and are "blessings") precisely because they reflect, within the realm of human relationship, the specifically "godly" qualities exhibited in God's own faithful "covenantal" relationship with God's people. And so they are "blessed" precisely because living in such relationships allows our humanity to flourish and grow - and brings us closer to God (whose very nature has revealed itself as relating to us in just such life-giving and life-affirming ways).

Peace, John

Julia Duin said...

John -You can't find anywhere in the Bible where these relationships are "unblessed"? Read Romans 1 lately?

jschwarz42 said...

Romans is a good example of what I was saying in response to SometimesWise. The relationships that Paul finds unblessed (and sinful) are NOT "these relationships" (i.e., our contemporary phenomenon of faithful, loving, committed, covenantal relationships between 2 persons of the same gender). Paul is operating within the cultural presuppositions of his era and his context.

As such, the only kind of same-gender sexual activity he knows of (and what he is talking about in Rom. 1) is that which consists entirely of licentious and experimental behavior. His primary concern (if you read the text carefully) is clearly not specifically to condemn same-gender sexual activity as such, but to use such activity (as it exists in his experience) as an example to make a general theological point about of all kinds of licentious rebellion against God. He is talking about what we would call indulging "unnatural" sexual appetites "just for kicks". The sin of the people he is talking about is that they are acting "contrary to their nature". (Paul and contemporaries had no modern understanding of a person's inherent "sexual orientation": that, for some people, their "natural" sexual attraction could be for a person of the same gender, and that this natural attraction could be the basis for a loving, committed relationship between persons of the same gender.)

It is not possible to know what Paul's attitude might have been, had he been able to conceive of sexual activity taking place, not as a form of "unnatural" licentious sexual indulgence (which, as Paul well understands, is a form of idolatry), but within the context of a loving committed relationship, such as the mixed-gender marriages with which he was familiar. But, as it is, his views in Romans 1 are simply not relevant specifically to the issue of whether a modern committed same-gender relationship can be a blessed one.


Dale Matson said...

"Our understanding and ways of thinking (in this as in all things) gradually evolve from culture to culture. (That is why "truth" is fundamentally a progressive and evolving thing.)" So the truth that makes us free brought to us by Jesus Christ was only a partial truth in your eyes.
"To anyone who reads them with an eye to context and understanding (rather than simplistic "proof-texting"), the scriptural witnesses all unquestioningly conceive of sexual relationships between same-gender persons solely in the contexts familiar to them: as paradigmatic examples of licentious and/or predatory-exploitative activity (see, e.g., the passage in Romans)" And that is my major complaint against liberals such as you John. Your basic attitude toward conservatives is that they are either stupid or ignorant and in need of your enlightened thinking. That is why conservatives need to be continually listening and will eventually be convinced of the NEW truths you have discovered.

RalphM said...

The argument that scripture can only be relevant within the context of the culture leads to the conclusion that any or all scripture can be irrelevant if the culture deems it so.

Paul addresses this situation very well: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear." (2 Timothy 4:3)

SometimesWise said...

John, your views and attitudes are certainly very loving, but you seem to be implying that perhaps (just perhaps) God Himself had no idea that, in the past century, relationships would change in such a drastic way. Do you think that an all-knowing and all-powerful God would not give us SOME indication, even through the imperfect vessels of the prophets and apostles, that the relationships that we are now asked to acknowledge as blessed are indeed in the middle of His will? Was He asleep at the switch, or perhaps not able to get His point across?
Paul was an educated and cosmopolitan fellow, and had many dealings with Greeks and their culture. Are you saying that he was ignorant of the existence of culturally sanctioned same-sex relationships?
I truly understand your desire to celebrate long-time, loving relationships, no matter what the circumstances. In this world, it is a wonderful thing to see. However (you knew it was coming), is it truly loving to announce that we know better NOW, and God was wrong? How does that track?

Undergroundpewster said...


I am going to quote Robert Gagnon on the point you appear to make that committed life long same sex relationships were unknown to the ancients. (

"It is important to bear in mind also that semi-official marriages between men and between women were well known in the Greco-Roman world (even the rabbis were aware of such things, as also Church Fathers). The notion that adult-committed homosexual relationships first originated in the modern era is historically indefensible. Consequently, it cannot be used as a 'new knowledge'argument for dismissing the biblical witness. Even Louis Crompton, an historian and self-avowed 'gay' man, has drawn the proper conclusion from this historical data in his highly acclaimed book, Homosexuality and Civilization (Harvard University Press, 2003):"

"According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian. (p. 114)"

jschwarz42 said...

[Part 1 of 2] Dale: No, I am NOT saying that "the truth that makes us free brought to us by Jesus Christ was only a partial truth in your eyes." The truth revealed by Jesus through his life and words WAS not simply "brought to us", but IS always continuing to be brought to us through the ages through the ongoing presence of the Spirit (and therefore of Jesus) among us.

In John's Gospel [16:12-13], Jesus says "I still have many things to tell you, but you are not now able to understand them [literally, 'lay your hands on them so as to carry them']. But when he, the Spirit of Truth, has come, he will guide you along the way in every truth." The fundamental truth that God reveals does not change, but our limited ability to understand that truth evolves and develops, particularly in its application to our specific contexts. These change, because our finite world changes.

God's truth, in its fullness, is and always will be too deep and rich for us to "receive" fully. It is not that God has revealed (or given) truth "partially" in the past. It is that the truth can only be partially "received" (understood and "carried") by us (for our part) in any historical time. Truth can be given only to the extent it can be received. God is always in the process of "giving" us as much "truth" as we can "receive" in our own historical and cultural moment of development; but there is always more to God's truth than we can (or ever will be able to) encompass (take up and carry) within our own context. And this was as true for the scriptural writers (with all their inspiration) and for all the later "tradition" as it is for us today. Revelation is not something that "happened"; it is something that "is always happening."

From age to age, the "meaning" of the "truth" that is "given" continues to be revealed to the living faith community in ever greater fullness. This community (the "church") progressively continues to be "guided along the way of truth" through the ongoing presence, action and "inspiration" of the Spirit. (And in and through the action of the Spirit the risen Jesus himself continues to dwell as a living presence within that community - and the community thereby constitutes the "Body of Christ").

Under this "guidance" of the Spirit, God's revelation of truth develops, evolves and deepens over time, as different cultural contexts and different ways of philosophical/theological understanding open up new possibilities for insight. [continued]

jschwarz42 said...

[Part 2 of 2] God's revelation of truth is thus something that dwells and lives among us. And so, like all that lives (and gives life), it necessarily also grows - and sometimes it even seems to change.

That is why God is always "doing a new thing among us" [Isaiah]. Paradigms shift. The truth remains; but our understanding of it evolves. This seeming "change" in truth (which, when it is espoused, many find so troubling and so needing to be opposed) is simply growth: a healthy sign that the truth is "alive" (just as "living water" is freely flowing water, not still water).

I, having grown to be a 65-year-old man, seem (and in many ways am) "different" and "changed" from when I was a 4-year-old child. But I am fundamentally still the same person - and there is a continuity in the growth from who I once was to who I now am. I could not have been the person at 4 that I am now. It is the same with our understanding of God's truth. What is fundamental does not change. What is valuable and life-giving and leading to "salvation" is still fidelity, covenant-faithfulness, commitment, love, justice, compassion, etc, etc.. - just as it always was. These are still what God "expects of us". And things like licentiousness, selfishness, exploitation, hurtful and predatory behavior, etc. are still recognizable as "sinful" - as they always were.

But, as in the example of sexuality (and specifically same-gender sexuality, which we are discussing in this thread), changes in our cultural contexts can change the specific ways - the "frames of reference" - within which we come to understand what these "godly" fundamentals like fidelity, love, commitment, etc can MEAN and imply: specifically for us, within our own context. New possibilities for new kinds of faithful relationship, for example, open up new possibilities for seeing and discerning "blessedness" - even in areas where a past era might have been unable to see possibilities for anything but sinfulness.

And that seems to me to be essentially what has been happening in the contemporary "journey" of TEC (and other churches) toward an understanding of the blessedness of same-gender unions (or marriages).


The Rev. James Richardson said...

Sorry you missed our Blessing of Deborah and Margaret on Saturday. It was truly joyful and wonderful. For those of you open minded enough, you might have seen God's amazing grace with all.

As for the put downs of my parish, they are really not worthy of who you purport to be.

Rector of St. Paul's Memorial Church

Undergroundpewster said...

Excuse me, but was I just called closed minded by an Episcopal priest?
I don't want to get banned from your site B.B., but if I read his comment correctly, then that would not be worthy of who he purports to be.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Dear Pewster,
Re-read what I wrote.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

P.S. I was not aware that I had mentioned you.

Anonymous said...

John - You apparently have not studied the history of Rome. Nero (ruling when Paul was in prison), and who had a SSM, would be a good place for you to start. But people have been pointing out that the "cultural context" argument does not hold water, and rather only shows the limited historical knowledge of the person repeating it, for years. I believe even Griswold stopped making that argument for that reason. Most of what people learn about ancient Rome in high school is very cleaned up. The actual historical sources are totally NSFW.