“RITES relating to marriage” was the subject under study by 56 Anglican liturgists at the biennial meeting of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC) earlier this month in Canterbury. Continuing work that was begun two years ago in New Zealand, a report on this topic will be completed by December.
Participants came from 19 Anglican provinces, including Brazil, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and the Southern Cone. Topics included theology, cultural contexts, and the shape and elements of ritual. Papers were delivered by the Bishop of Central Tanganyika, the Rt Revd Mdimi Mhogolo, and by the Revd Dr Simon Jones, of Merton College, Oxford.
Dr Jones drew attention to the particular issues faced by Church of England clergy who frequently have to deal with couples presenting themselves for marriage in church, neither of whom are baptised, or attend church regularly.
Bishop Mhogolo explained that Christian missionaries who came to Tanzania had paid no attention to traditional Tanzanian marriage-customs, in which washing and anointing rather than rings and vows were the principal symbols.
As a consequence, Christian marriage rites now appear alien to most Tanzanians.
In addition to the regular sessions, there was a separate presentation by members of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) of the Episcopal Church in the United States on their development of a theological rationale and liturgical principles for same-sex blessings. Those who attended were asked to give feedback by considering specific questions in small working groups.
The chair of the IALC, Dr Eileen Scully, from Canada, said on Thursday of last week that the purpose of the IALC meeting was to work on rites related to heterosexual couples only. In countries where civil-marriage laws were changing, however, to allow either civil unions or same-sex marriage, Churches faced challenges. They needed to reflect on the parallels with traditional marriage.
The Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Revd Dr Ruth Meyers, said on Saturday that the 2009 General Convention had directed the SCLM both to inform, and to invite reflections from, the rest of the Communion. The IALC meeting was an ideal opportunity to discuss the matter.
The Episcopal Church’s request for such a session was made according to existing IALC norms, she said, and had been unanimously approved in advance by the IALC steering committee. It was a coincidence that marriage was the main topic this year; the request would have been made in any event.
Dr Meyers also noted that the Episcopal Church’s request conformed to the Windsor report’s recommendation that “provinces engaged in discernment regarding the blessing of same-sex unions [should] engage the Communion in continuing study.”
The feedback was enormously helpful, and the delegates from the Episcopal Church felt honoured by the respectful hearing that they had received, she said.
Should blessings of civil partnerships be modelled on the marriage service?