Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Some Facts & Thoughts About Marriage

Some Facts and Thoughts about Marriage

The Very Rev. Michael W. Hopkins July 17, 2011 A Work in Progress

What is the Biblical Witness?

  • Male/Female pairings in contract/covenant are certainly supported by both Testaments, although the norm is multiple wives, which is never clearly disallowed (except for bishops!).
  • Prohibition of adultery one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14). Men could divorce a wife for any reason by the time of Jesus. Women could not initiate divorce. Jesus forbids divorce except in cases of adultery (Mark 10:2-9) and seems to support monogamy (as most Jews had done by his time).
  • Wedding imagery has some importance in the New Testament: the Wedding at Cana as the setting for Jesus’ first miracle (John 2), Jesus identified as the bridegroom (Matthew 25), Jesus’ words about divorce (Matthew 19), the image of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5) and the husband awaiting his bride in Revelation (19:7, 9).
  • Instructions for husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 and Colossians
What Happens at “the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage”?

  • Two people are marrying each other. The priest is primary witness of the marriage, but it is not correct to say that the priest is “marrying” the couple.
  • The priest pronounces a blessing on the marriage, which in no way is required to make the marriage valid.
  • All this is done in the context of a “normal” Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist (ideally).
  • The priest also provides a service to the state and to the couple by signing their marriage license, thus making the marriage legal. In New York State, religious leaders may preside at weddings and sign marriage licenses. There is no mechanism for their certification.

What does it mean for two people to marry each other?

  • In the church’s language they are making a covenant with one another and with God. The terms of this covenant are contained in the vows. The Prayer Book also says that there are three purposes for this covenant: Mutual joy, Help & Comfort, Procreation (Generativity).
  • The 1928 Book of Common Prayer gave no purpose for marriage in the rite, but the earliest Prayer Books cited (in order): Procreation of Children, a Remedy for sin and to avoid fornication, and mutual help and comfort.
  • I tend to talk about fidelity, mutuality and service.
  • In the language of the state, the couple is making a legal contract that accords them a series of benefits.

What are the potential obstacles to marrying two men or two women?

  • In terms of the Bible and the Church’s tradition, one has to take the stance that revelation is continuing with the lead of the Holy Spirit.
  • The Marriage rite in the Prayer Book uses male/female language and says “Christian Marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God.” (p. 422).
  • The Canons of the Church say “Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman” [I.18.2(b)].
  • A resolution of the 2009 General Convention, however, says, “That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church.”
  • The Prayer Book also says “For special days of fasting or thanksgiving, appointed by civil or Church authority, and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion” (p. 13).
  • A rite for the Blessing of Same-sex Unions will be considered by the 2012 General Convention. This is being prepared by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Their work will have no bearing, however, on the definition of marriage.

What are some positive reasons for the church to marry couples of the same-sex?

  • The Episcopal Church has been on a forty year long journey with lesbian and gay people, who most people recognize, have always been members of the Church. In particular, we have been witness to their relationships and can testify that they are marriages in every sense of the word except for their common gender.
  • Christian response to outsiders in the early life of the church are instructive. The Ethiopian Eunuch asks, “What is there to prevent me from being Baptized?” (Acts 8:26-40) Peter accepts Cornelius, a Gentile, as a full member of the faith. “Who was I to hinder God?” (Acts 10 & 11).
  • We have come to believe that the difference between homosexual and heterosexual is not a difference between “unnatural and natural” or “sinful and holy” or “dysfunctional and normal.” The distinction is much more like the distinctions made by Paul in Galatians 3:27-28. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are capable of holiness in just the same way that heterosexual people are.

Do we believe marriage is a sacrament?

  • Marriage is “another sacramental rite.” In our tradition it is proper to call only Baptism and the Eucharist “sacraments.” Marriage as a “sacramental rite” flows primarily out of the vocational aspect of Baptism.

What is required of the Clergy concerning Marriage?

  • First of all, the Canons make it clear that no clergyperson is bound to preside at any marriage (I.18.4).
  • Criteria must be met: one member of the couple must be baptized, there be no coercion, that both parties may legally be married and understand marriage to be lifelong (a “Declaration of Intent” must be signed to this end).
  • Pre-marital counseling must be done.
  • At least thirty days must pass.
  • There must be two witnesses.

What about divorce?

  • The Canons say “When marital unity is imperiled by dissension, it shall be the duty, when possible, of either or both parties, before taking legal action, to lay the matter before a Member of the Clergy; and it shall be the duty of such member of the Clergy to act first to protect and promote the physical and emotional safety of those involved, and only then, if it be possible, to labor that the parties may be reconciled.” (I.19.1)
  • Re-marriage is allowed when there has been a legal annulment or divorce and the Bishop has passed judgment on the marital status as well. Nearly all second marriages are granted no matter what the cause of the divorce. Written evidence of annulment or divorce must be obtained.

What is going on culturally in a marriage?

Ah, now there’s the question!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy 194th Birthday!

Today, July 14, 2011 is the 194th anniversary of the founding of St. Luke's. By happy chance, at Morning Prayer this morning, among the hymns suggested by Marion Hatchett in his liturgical index to the Hymnal 1982 was 533, "How wondrous and great thy works, god of praise!" This text was written by Bishop Henry U. Onderdonk.

If we think of the founding of the parish, we naturally think of Col. Nathaniel Rochester. Henry Onderdonk deserves remembrance as well. Onderdonk was the priest sent by Bishop John Henry Hobart to assist Rochester and the many others who wished to found a parish in Rochesterville. At the time, Onderdonk was the Rector of St. John's Church, Canandaigua.

Onderdonk was an interesting figure in the early life of the Episcopal Church. He espoused "high church" views. In his day, "high church views" meant a valuing of the tradition of the church, worship strictly according to the Prayer Book, an an emphasis on the leadership of the ordained, in particular, bishops. It was opposed to the "low church" view which emphasized the principals of the reformation, especially those of John Calvin.

Onderdonk was elected assistant bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1827. His election was vehemently protested by a group of a low church sympathizers from Pennsylvania and elsewhere whose candidate had narrowly lost. It was, I believe, the first official protest of the election of a bishop in the Episcopal Church. The ten points of the protest and the response of the consecrators denying the objection can be found at http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/huonderdonk/decision1827.html. Rochester figured in all this because the protesters produced copies of letters by which Dr. Onderdonk appeared to be interfering in the election of a rector for St. Luke's.

Onderdonk was consecrated and eventually became the Bishop of Pennsylvania in 1836, but his detractors never let up. In 1844 he was accused of alcoholism and he was suspended from the ministry by the House of Bishops. They reinstated him in 1856, two years before his death. The veracity of the charge against him has always been in doubt.

Ironically, Onderdonk's brother, Benjamin, was Bishop of New York from 1830-1861, so our bishop until the creation of the Diocese of Western New York in 1839.

Just some interesting historical tidbits!

How wondrous and great thy works, God of praise!
How just, King of saints, and true are they ways!
O who shall not fear thee, and honor thy Name?
Thou only, art holy, thou only, supreme.

To nations of earth thy light shall be shown;
their worship and vows shall come to thy throne:
thy truth and they judgment shall spread all abroad,
till earth's every people confess thee their God.
(this is a paraphrase of "The Song of the Redeemed," Canticle 19 in the Prayer Book, which is Revelation 15:3-4)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Annual Rochester Pride Parade

for the

New 2011 Diocesan Pride T Shirts at D. House 16 July

1 pm Gather at Diocesan House – 935 East Ave – Plenty of Parking
1:45 pm to Parade Assembly Site – Argyle & Brunswick (between Park & East)
2 pm All Welcome Street Eucharist
3 pm Parade Steps Off (Route: Park – Goodman – College @ 1.5 Miles)

(Diocesan sponsoring via Oasis Rochester, our LGBT Ministry)

Questions: Rev Kit Tobin kitt_789@yahoo.com 607 377 7467