As a church that has, after study, prayer and deliberation, designated itself a Reconciling Congregation--in ministry with lesbian and gay people and their families -- we continue to grow in our understanding of equitable and inclusive ministry.
Through the Bible, we have come to know that Jesus Christ calls us to love both God and our neighbor. The church community is one place where we grow in relationship to God and our neighbor. When two people come together in life and spirit and develop a primary, committed relationship, the church is often asked to celebrate and bless the "wedding" of their lives and spirits.
Weddings: Licensed by the State, Blessed by the Church
For heterosexual couples, that celebration takes place in Christian marriage. Marriage is licensed by the state, and the clergy who officiates is authorized to act as an agent of the state.2 As Bishop Spong notes, however, "The church does not, in fact, marry anyone. People marry each other. The state, not the church, defines the nature of legal marriage. It does so by giving to the married couples the right of joint property ownership.3 Legal ramifications of marriage involve inheritance, legitimacy of children, custody rights, taxes, insurance, social security benefits, etc.
The clergy who officiates also acts as an agent of the church, and in that role is witnessing a couple's public vows to love each other, to live in a faithful relationship, and to be mutually supportive and caring in all of life's vicissitudes."' Once the clergy person has heard the covenant vows that the couple makes "before God and this company," s/he then adds blessings, prayers, and the promise of supportive community. This is a gift from the church to the couple.
Holy Unions: Neither Licensed nor Offered Blessing
For same-gender (gay or lesbian) couples, the state refuses to issue licenses or recognize legal rights or obligations. Some same-gender couples undertake legal paperwork--"living together" contracts, wills, powers of attorney, guardianship, documents of joint ownership, joint insurance policies, etc.--to duplicate some of the benefits of marriage. Some benefits, however--such as social security, income tax, and child custody--can only be granted by state laws and licenses.
Similarly, most Christian Protestant communities deny same-gender couples the opportunity to celebrate the wedding of their lives and spirits within the church. The gift has not been offered.
Dumbarton joins the growing movement of Christian churches that wish to offer the gift. We affirm the need for the church to celebrate with a "blessing of covenant" or "holy union," commitments that lesbian/gay couples wish to make--and to celebrate them with the same serious and pastoral support that are afforded heterosexual couples in the service of marriage.
Definition of Holy Union
A holy union is a religious celebration in which two persons ask for God's blessing; declare and affirm their faith, love, and commitment before God and the community; commit their common journey into the hands of God; reconcile themselves with God and with each other; and join their lives to the fullest of their capacity.
Elements of Pre-Union Counseling
The blessing of a gay or lesbian covenant should entail the same pre-union counseling that would accompany any other wedding. Although the content of such counseling would vary depending on the pastor's style and the couple's history, the same issues should be covered that one would cover in pre-marriage counseling sessions with heterosexual couples: communication, finances, household responsibilities, sexuality, relationships with children and extended family, careers, the meaning of covenant, etc.
Content of Services The elements of a holy union are basically the same as any service of marriage: a time of gathering with or without music; a declaration of intent; appropriate prayers, scriptures, readings, and interpretation of the Word; the involvement of family and friends; covenant vows; an option on the exchange of rings or some other token of commitment; prayers of blessings: and the option of communion. The service can be as traditional or as contemporary as the individuals involved.
Celebrant Holy Unions are entirely a blessing and should be performed by a celebrant who understands and affirms the loving commitment being undertaken by the couple. Due to the controversial nature of celebrating holy unions, the pastor appointed to Dumbarton may choose not to be involved in the service him/herself but is encouraged to help the couple find a suitable celebrant.
In sum, it is the spirit of the Dumbarton congregation that the celebration of holy unions are a part of the ministry this congregation can offer to persons who otherwise have been denied the full ministry of the church. This means two things: (1) For those within the Dumbarton community, we offer holy unions as part of our community life; (2) for those not within the community, we offer use of church facilities on the same basis as we offer them for services of marriage.
1. The following persons contributed to the preparation of this resolution: Chip Aldridge, Ann Thompson Cook, Jessma Blockwick, David Cook, Roger Gilkeson, Jane Hull Harvey, Randy Miller, Cindy Peterson, and Rev. Man-King Tso. --March 1990
2. In many European countries, the legal (justice of the peace) procedures are handled separately from the religious celebration.
3. John S. Spong, Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality, p. 200.