Of love and liturgies
It must be wedding season - because we're getting regular enquiries at the OneBody office from ministers and couples wanting help with services for couples in love - couples getting married in church, couples getting married or entering a civil partnership and wanting the church to bless their union, or to say prayers with them after their civil service.
Back in the day, before anyone had even conceived of the idea of civil partnerships, much less marriage equality, LGCM helped scores of couples to find a sympathetic (and courageous!) minister to conduct a blessing for them. With no proper legal recognition for their relationships, gay and lesbian couples turned to the church to make their commitment to one another, before God. You can read about one of those early pioneers, Tony Crowe, on our Christian Voices Coming Out page, and hear him speaking about some of the first ceremonies he conducted at Charlton in south London.
Although times have changed, we still find people seeking advice on ceremonies, so here are some of our thoughts.
- Same love, same liturgy. Why look for a different liturgy and different words if you believe in the same love? Consider tweaking the pronouns in the established liturgies of your own tradition, and make the service special - like any straight couple would do - with your readings, poems and perhaps special promises to one another. It's not rocket science - but it's poweful and subversive; own it!
- on the other hand.... You might feel strongly that you want to reflect something of what's distinctive about the lives and loves of non-hetero, non-cis, non-binary and queer people. You might want to critique marriage as it's been received and understood from a feminist or queer perspective, or you might want to incorporate and honour some of the writers and activists who have been part of our struggle down the years and on whose sacrifice, determination and courage our current freedoms are built. Go right ahead!
So here are some of our favourite source books:
The Service of My Love, by Jim Cotter (LGCM's first General Secretary) is a beautiful little book based around his own expereince being asked to bless a gay couple. He reflects from a variety of perspectives and offer a number of liturgies and thoughtful notes. The book is immaculately produced and would make a great gift for a couple approaching and planning their ceremony. It's still in print and available from the publisher, Canterbury Press, as are others of Jim's books which may be of interest.
Daring to Speak Love's Name edited by OneBody's longtime friend and supporter Elizabeth Stuart has long since entered gay Christian folklore after its initial publisher ran into trouble with the then Archbishop of Canterbury and withdrew from its commitment to publish - Liz speaks about this as part of the Christian Voices Coming Out project. The book is now out of print but available second hand quite easily. It contains a number of lovely prayers and liturgies, and should really be part of any gay Christian's library!
Human Rites: worship resources for an age of change by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild is a substantial source book of alternative liturgies and prayers, arising in part out of the women's theology movement of the 1990s. It covers a wide range of material for occasions as diverse as affirming relationships, partings, healing, grieving and house blessings. The writers seek to 'enable others to construct their own liturgies, rituals, blessings and prayers' - and this book more than succeeds in achieving this. Available as a print on demand title, but well worth the investment.
All Desires Known, edited by Janet Morley for the Movement for the Ordination of Women is available in a new edition as a print on demand title. Not a book of liturgies as such, but liturgical resources and prayers embracing inclusive language and a range of images for God, this book is worth buying for the final poem, and you held me, which is a beautiful piece for a special marriage service.
Finally if you're looking for poems or readings, you could do much worse than get your hands on Mark Oakley's recent book, The Splash of Words. Mark writes passionately about the spirituality of poetry and offers a range of pieces with thoughtful and insightful commentary. There could well be something in there for you. The Splash of Words is available from Canterbury Press.
What we can't yet do is provide guidance for Church of England clergy on the kind of service they're permitted to conduct - although Methodist and Baptist ministers whose churches solemnise marriages might like to seek advice from Dignity and Worth and Affirm respectively. Whilst we wait in hope and anticipation for changes and clarity in the CofE which will enable clergy to respond to the couples turning to them once more, seeking to bring their loving relationships before God for blessing and affirmation, we're happy to speak individually with anyone who'd like to talk through their particular circumstances in confidence.