The Solemnization and Blessing of a Marriage
Liturgical and Pastoral Policies and Guidelines for the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina
Effective the first Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2015
All Christians are called to bear witness to the good news of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are empowered for such witness by our covenantal relationship with God.
Baptism initiates us into that covenant, making us Christ’s own forever and members of Christ’s Body, the Church. The Eucharist sustains us in that covenantal life and strengthens us to be Christ’s witnesses in the world.
Our covenantal life with God is expressed in relationships of commitment and faithfulness, including those of same-sex couples. It is the Church’s joy to celebrate these relationships as signs of God’s love, to pray for God’s grace to support couples in their life together, and to join with these couples in our shared witness to the gospel in the world.
Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing
In accordance with the resolutions on marriage passed at the 78th General Convention, the marriage canons of The Episcopal Church are now gender neutral. The requirements for marriage preparation and participating in the authorized rites for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage are the same for all couples seeking the sacramental rite of marriage from a member of the clergy of this Church. Church Publishing has published the Rites of Marriage now available to those seeking to wed in The Episcopal Church.
- While there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, there remains deep and painful differences about marriage in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We continue to hold one another in tender regard as we gently and respectfully move forward as a church.
- Every member of the clergy retains the right to decline a request to officiate a marriage according the Church's current marriage canons.
- The Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina encourages our parishes and missions who have not yet engaged in a thorough process of studying marriage in light of welcoming same-sex couples into full inclusion in the rites of the church to do so using the resources that have been provided in our diocese and by the General Convention Task Force on Marriage over the past several years. Our regional canons remain available to help facilitate this work.
- The Bishop of North Carolina grants our clergy permission to use the trial rites of marriage authorized by the General Convention. This permission was extended at the 79th General Convention.
- The liturgy for blessing a same-sex couple is available only to those dioceses outside of the U.S. where marriage equality is not yet the law of the land.
Our reflections and prayerful deliberations over matters of sexuality, human intimacy and right relationships within the Body of Christ are not over. This should not surprise us. These are mysteries about humans connection with one another and with the Divine. How the two become one, how we all become one in Christ, how God chooses to draw close to us: all these are all bound up with the ultimate scandal and mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh.
POLICIES AND GUIDELINES
Under provision of the authorization provided by the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (A054), permission is granted to clergy and congregations of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina to exercise the sacramental ministry of solemnizing and blessing the marriages of same-sex couples in accord with the policies and guidelines outlined below.
THE APPROVED LITURGIES
The 78th General Convention authorized three liturgies for use beginning Advent I 2015. As is the case with the Book of Common Prayer, faithful adherence to the rubrics of the liturgy is expected of all clergy.
- The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant (intended for same-sex couples in jursdictions where same-sex marriage is not legal)
- The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage (intended for use by all couples)
- The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2 (intended for use by all couples)
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage," along with "the Blessing of a Civil Marriage" and "An Order for Marriage" remain liturgies for use with different-sex couples.
MARRIAGE POLICIES AND EXPECTATIONS APPLY EQUALLY TO ALL THE BAPTIZED
The same theological and moral values, pastoral care, liturgical, and other parish policies and practices apply equally to all couples. This includes, but is not limited to, expectations and provisions for:
- Who may be married in the church
- Premarital preparation
- Signing of the Declaration of Intention by the couple
- Request of the bishop for remarriage after divorce
- Signing of the marriage licenses by the officiating minister
- Entry of the marriage in the parish register
- Parish policies with regard to use and availability of facilities.
SPIRITUAL DISCERNMENT BY THE COMMUNITY OF FAITH
The sacramental ministry of blessing a marriage or a lifelong covenant is a ministry of the community of faith, not just of a priest and a couple. It is intended to be a liturgical and sacramental way for our faith community to provide pastoral care and spiritual support for members of the Church in their relationships.
This sacred ministry should be entered into only after wide and extended communal prayer for discernment; prayerful and thoughtful biblical, theological and pastoral study; holy conversation; and listening to the spiritual needs and voices of the community of faith and of the world. The bishops are always available for consultation as needed.
The ultimate decision – to offer blessings or not to offer blessings for marriages and lifelong covenants– rests with the rector/vicar in consultation with the vestry. As a result, the vestry must experience a similar process of discernment before engaging the congregation. While the congregational process of discernment is conducted, vestry members must be obviously present and listening and engaging people. (79th General Convention A086 Authorize Rites to Bless Relationships)
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen