The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago has published its Guidelines for the Solemnization of Holy Union, effective June 1 of this year. The document is available via Scribd here. This is in light of the 2009 General Convention resolution (C056) recognizing “the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality,” and permitting a “generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”
In his introductory theological reflection to the Guidelines, The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Bishop of the Diocese of Chicago, asserts that
the faithful, loving, and lifelong union of two persons of the same sex is capable of signifying the never failing love of God in Christ for the church and the world. Such unions can be sources and signs of grace, both for the couple and for the wider community. It is appropriate therefore that they be surrounded by the prayer of the Christian community. A further conviction is that just as Holy Matrimony is a vocation leading a man and a woman to practice disciplines of holiness, so should the gift of a similar, publicly committed discipline be available to gay and lesbian members of the church. Both marriage and faithful unions can be schools of holiness, ways of ordering our lives so that we might learn to be more faithful servants of Christ.
Perhaps of greatest interest to readers of this blog will be the Q & A section of the document, particularly (but not exclusively) the third question-and-answer, addressing the sacramentality of a same-sex union, and the rite included in the document. Speaking personally, and apart from the contentious issues that surround the topic of same-sex union generally, I find the arrangement of the elements of the rite — most notably the location of the intercessions in relation to the Consent or “vows” — to be most satisfactory. This rite has a structural coherence with the other sacramental rites that is heretofore unprecedented in marriage rites generally, and those in the Book of Common Prayer tradition specifically.
Chicago is not the first diocese to authorize such guidelines and rite; nor will it be the last. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church maintains a blog documenting “Resources for Same-Gender Blessings” and opportunities to gather information as it studies the liturgical and theological questions surrounding such rites, working toward a uniform proposal for the whole church.
For those that are dying to know where I stand. . . I think a single, uniform rite with some variables for use in both traditional heterosexual marriages and same-sex unions will best serve The Episcopal Church: the entire marriage rite needs to be overhauled to express the reality of marriage and holy union as it is actually experienced as a sacrament in the real lives of real couples and families today.