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When is blessing not a blessing

blessing same sex couples

When is blessing not a blessing? When the blessing is done by Anglican clergy.

It sounds like a joke, but it isn’t. Because it comes from the befuddled Church of England House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage:

Acts of worship following civil same sex weddings

19. … As with civil partnership, some same sex couples are… likely to seek some recognition of their new situation in the context of an act of worship.

20. The 2005 pastoral statement said that it would not be right to produce an authorized public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships and that clergy should not provide services of blessing for those who registered civil partnerships. The House did not wish, however, to interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances. …

21. The same approach as commended in the 2005 statement should therefore apply to couples who enter same-sex marriage, on the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.

In short: the “Church offers prayers after same-sex weddings” but “no blessings“.

How do Christians bless? We bless by giving thanks to God. That’s what we have done for thousands of years. We learnt that from our Jewish older siblings.

How do we bless bread and wine for Communion? We do it by giving thanks. That’s why we call it “Eucharist” (Greek for “Thanks”). How did Jesus bless bread and wine? He did it by giving thanks. How do we bless water for baptism? By giving thanks. How do we bless people and ordain them? By giving thanks.

When we “Bless the Lord” we are not tracing a sign of the cross towards God, or invoking some magical formula, we are thanking and praising God.

Bishop holds a non-triangleThere are people who have been advocating having a service that acknowledges the relationship of a committed same-sex couple, but not allowing for their marriage or blessing. When I have asked for even a draft or sketch towards such a rite, no one has ever produced one for me. The problem is, of course, that it seems unusual for a Christian rite to be proposed in which any thanking of God is forbidden.

Anglicans are well-known for eirenic mumbling, producing texts that are so equivocal that a broad spectrum of Christian positions can affirm them. But in this case the bishops have said you can have a three-sided figure as long as you do not call it a triangle.

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24 Responses to When is blessing not a blessing

  1. My reading of this is that the Anglican Church does not allow a formal service of blessing same sex couples, which I take to be a public liturgical ceremony in a Church building, but that a private blessing would be acceptable ?

    The line between prayers for a same sex couple, which I take to include public liturgical prayer eg as part of a Sunday liturgy, and a public blessing does seem somewhat fuzzy. I take it that the Anglican church wishes to present a clear distinction between same sex unions and sacramental marriage ? But doesn’t the distinction between the full marriage rite and a simple blessing achieve that ?

    I’m not sure about the Anglican tradition, but in the Catholic Church we give all sorts of blessings, including of inanimate objects such as water, salt, oil, candles, cars, houses. If one can bless inanimate objects, it’s hard to see why one cannot bless couples who have made a commitment of love and fidelity to each other, especially if that is done in a way which is clearly distinct from the marriage rite.

    God Bless

    • Thanks, Chris. I do not see anything forbidding prayers for a particular committed same-sex couple in the context of a “public liturgical ceremony in a Church building” – but maybe I am misreading the text? Blessings.

    • Bosco, that seems to be explicitly allowed. I would be interested to know if the Anglicans have composed suitable prayers for this ?

      God Bless

      • As far as I am aware the Church of England has not produced any officially recognised prayers for such celebrations, even though other parts of the Anglican Communion have.As in the Roman Catholic Church, such celebrations tend to take place as ‘private’ events.Nevertheless, you may wish to know of Jim Cotter’s excellent ‘The Service of My Love’, Cairns Publications, 2009.

  2. I think all it’s saying (at least in CofE terms) is that you won’t find a service in Common Worship (see pp173-194 of the Pastoral Services) and that even without any specific liturgy, clergy should not be providing a ‘specific’ service in the frame of those two different services where the liturgy would therefore have to be ‘made up’ thus contravening the declaration of assent (using only those forms of services authorised or allowed by canon).

    It is very much a fudge of an issue but, in time, and God willing, as with women bishops we will wake up, smell the coffee, and realise that the worlds real evils centre around poverty, greed, intolerance and injustice and not gender, sexuality or any other such things.

    D.G.

  3. I’m increasingly saddened to watch the Anglican Church in England rip itself apart on gay marriage and women bishops.
    I had many happy hours with Anglican Sunday School and Youth Group, but left after hearing the bitter struggle over the ordination of women (and fortunately found Quakers with their long held testimony on equality).
    I’m aware that there is a divide between the hierarchy and the lay community, but an ageing latitude can not fight this battle to save their church

  4. Maybe it’s just the word blessing that is not allowed? So if you don’t specifically ask for God’s blessing on the couple you’re ok?

  5. But if each partner in a same-sex marriage each had a cat, who now by virtue of the marriage, would be living in the same household – could the priest bless the animals and their new life together?

  6. As a member of the Anglican clergy myself. I have to admit that I could do without the house of bishops muddy statements. Yep no sense at all, How can they encourage us to be sensitive while tying our hands also by making the most insensitive statement. and yes I agree about the Thanks giving/blessing. We so this with divorce and remarriage too. we can bless them but we can’t marry them in certain circumstances. The service is so similar that it is only the paperwork that we are not doing. “headdesk”

  7. The statement of the House of Bishops is simply disgusting. (It is identical to the one of the United Protestant Church of France.)

    Which couple would be at ease, the day of their wedding, to go to church for an “unblessing”?

    What will happen when a priest (already ordained) marry his husband? Will he be deposed?

    I hope that:
    ° the women bishops that will come in the nearest future will change the things;
    ° there will be enough disobedient clergy, that the bishops won’t be able to sanction them.

  8. Thus far, the interpretation has often been that it’s OK if you offer prayers of thanksgiving for a same-sex couple during an otherwise normal, scheduled service, like evensong on a Sunday for example. The other approach was taken by turning the legalism in on itself: the question was asked about the service commonly referred to as a “blessing”: isn’t its official name “A Service of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage”? Yes, came the official answer, for the heading in the book cannot be denied. If this service is not officially, but only colloquially, a “blessing”, isn’t it then a suitable pattern for use after a civil partnership? Well, er, yes, then!

  9. In my following observation I am not trying to undo the knot or knots which the C of E has or is or perhaps will turn out not to have tied itself in! But is not the dilemma of the C of E at this point in its history the difficulty that if (1) blessing is about giving praise and thanksgiving, (2) significant parts of the C of E do not think same sex partnerships are something that one can praise God for (God being understood to have forbidden them), then the C of E is not in a position of common agreement to authorise a service of blessing for such relationships?

    As best I can understand the knot or knots the C of E is tying itself in, they are the knot(s) of a church trying to retain common ground between divided parts. Perhaps the break up of this once great church is imminent?

    • Thanks, Peter. As I understand it, this is not about announcing there is no authorising of a service of blessing for a committed same-sex couple, this is announcing that clergy cannot bless such a couple, full stop. And that if they do so they are more likely to suffer consequences than if they are flexible about other grey areas.

      In blessing the bread and wine we do not praise God for the bread and wine.

      It is interesting that this once great church can stay together about blessing weapons of war, and second or third marriages (which some would not see as being a marriage, but place that in scare quotes), but the much smaller percentage of homosexual couples is an issue that you see as threatening to break up this once great church.

      Blessings.

  10. Historically, Bosco, as you know, the C of E has not managed to stay together, with folk peeling off in Puritanical, Methodical, Plymouth Brethrenical ways, or reuniting with Rome or with Constantinople.

    Hasn’t the C of E managed to stay together re remarriage? Their ‘discipline’ on that is stronger than ours!

    I would need to think a bit more before so clearly distinguishing as you do between ‘praise’ and ‘thanksgiving’ in the matter of ‘blessing.’ For instance I am not sure that I can give thanks for something I could not also praise God for; nor take part in blessing something I do not understand God to also bless.

    • Yes, Peter, the CofE has stayed together whilst allowing a variety of approaches to remarriage. Remarriage, statistically, will be much higher than the marriage of people of the same sex. [I am leaving to one side all variations of where to put scare quotes in those two sentences]. I was just noting your suggestion of “breaking up” over this.

      It is not my intention to make the hard distinction your last paragraph suggests. I think a pacifist would struggle to find wording that blessed weapons of war…

      Blessings.

  11. Tobias Haller has posted an amusing prayer of non-blessing that is, as he puts it, “in keeping with the Pastoral Guidance of the Church of England’s House of Bishops”:

    http://jintoku.blogspot.ca/2014/02/a-form-of-prayer-for-same-sex-marriage.html

    I must admit, as perhaps the last man in the Anglican Communion to profess agnosticism on this controverted subject, that I find the whole rigamarole bizarre. I may frequently be guilty of speaking at length when I have nothing coherent to say, but when I do I don’t expect anyone to listen to me, still less obey me.

    • Thanks, Jesse. One also wonders what Archbishop Rowan thought he was doing in his rite following the “marriage” (with or without scare quotes) between Prince Charles and Camilla. And how that differed from what they, and others, thought he was doing. In the eyes of the CofE were they married or not?! Did the Archbishop bless that marriage or not? Further confusion in the Bishops’ statement is pointed to here. Blessings.

  12. “Blessing” is a particularly English word. Etymologically, it is based on “blood/bleeding” and refers to the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice over the assembly in pre-Christian worship. It is not related to the Latin word “bene-dicere,” meaning to say good things about; nor to the Greek “eucharistia,” which refers to giving thanks. It does not mean to praise God, like “berakhah.”
    Even though the English word has been used to translate all these ideas, one must understand it as a handy, pre-existing term, pressed into use because of its sacred background in common use when the first translations of Christian teachings were needed, about fourteen hundred years ago. Presumably, an immediate and understandable set of Christian words for the Angles was more important to the missionaries than any academic precision of language.
    English usage moves ever onward without rules, however, and what has happened to the word “blessing,” since it was first adopted for Anglo-Saxon Christians, has produced a rather normal jumble of overlapping meanings.
    We use “blessing” to mean giving approval, as a superior for the mission of a subordinate or child. “Your undertaking has my blessing.” This, I think is the meaning which the Anglican Communion is trying to control regarding marriage.
    We use it to mean well-wishing, as in benedictions. “I hope you are blessed with happiness.” This, I think, is the meaning held in mind by those who see no problem being kind or charitable regarding the lives of anyone or any couple.
    We use “blessing” to mean that something is set aside for Church use, similar to consecrating.
    We use it to mean some good thing which has come about.
    We even use it in a sort of magical way, as if the blessing of a cleric can confer some particular good upon a person.
    We also speak of “blessing” God, which has so little connection with any of the other uses that it sounds strange on occasion. “Blessed are you, oh God,” as if we are witnessing something God did to God’s self. “Of course,” we explain to confused children of limited acquaintance with the dictionary, “here it means ‘praised be’ “ hoping they don’t ask, “Why?” or “How are we supposed to know that?”
    “Blessing” is such a confusing word that it might be best to ban it from liturgical texts for a century or so, until we can find out how the language has evolved and whether it might have a singular and appropriate use which would not need explaining or disambiguation in Church use.
    In the meantime, we can work on some of our other problematic English Christian words, such as “angel,” “apostle,” “church,” “disciple,” and “grace.” Perhaps you have other English words used in the Christian churches which you would recommend putting to rest, at least for a while.

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