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Re: Rwandan Blessings


While in Mozambique last August, Bishop Shimpky and I attended the
wedding of Mozambique's ambassador to Portugal.  Bishop Sengulane
performed the rite in the parish in the bride's home village, and well
over a thousand invited guests came, plus all the folks in the
village.  At the feast afterwards, Bishop Shimpfky and I were seated
at the head table.  On my right was the President of Mozambique and on
my left the Portuguese ambassador to Mozambique...

The two children of the bride and groom (about 10- and 12- years old)
played important roles in the procession.

The couple had married in a civil ceremony years ago, but now wanted
to move into the sacramental dimensions of marriage.  Bishop Sengulane
noted that this pattern is quite common in Mozambique.

It is my understanding of marriage that it is done solely by the
couple themselves.  The BCP calls the service a service of
Solemnization of Holy Matrimony. The celebrant only 'pronounces' the
two husband and wife; he does not make them so.  The state and the
church alike acknowledge that no matter how much solemnized or
pronounced, some marriages never existed, were null and void, because
the couple had not themselves married.

When Ernest and I plighted our troth in 1974, using the 1928 BCP (the
only one available to us at the time) we were fully aware of the
presence of our only guest, God; and we understood the fearsome
pledges we made before God that night.  In no way can ECUSA put us
asunder.   We have been amused through the years when supportive
priests have offered to 'marry us.'  Thanks, but no thanks:  been
there; done that.  It is not we who have been living in sin for the
last 26+ years.   Nevertheless, we were surprised at how much it meant
when so many joined us last year as we renewed the vows which we had
taken a quarter of a century before.  It gave me a clearer glimpse of
why such a public solemnization would bless lesbigay couples now
denied such blessings.  But be don't have to wait for the church to
act:  God is able to have the very stones to speak God's will if human
beings refuse to do so.   God has blessed Ernest and me full measure,
pressed down and running over.

I'm distressed by some of the rhetoric surrounding the approval of
blessing lesbigay unions.  Some talk about blessings as something
somehow lesbigays deserve because we are 'good enough.' Yet with
straights, even those who have known each other a few hours, we assume
that the institution is good for them whether or not they have yet
grown fully to understand it.  

I don't experience marriage as an affirmation of my 'goodness.'  
God's redemptive presence with us has been confirmed more powerfully
not when each is nice to the other (which is most of the time) but on
those occasions when each falls into his worst self.  At those times
the other has always responded with love that cannot be exclusively of
our own making, but God's love working through us.  The church is not
now a safe place for such holy candor.

In time it will be, with God's help.

I rejoice in your ministry of love and kindness.


Louie Crew, 377 S. Harrison St., #12D, East Orange, NJ 07018-1225
http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew   973-395-1068

> Subject: 
>           Re: Rwandan Blessings
>     Date: 
>           Tue, 14 Mar 2000 11:00:32 EST
>    From: 
>           CircaK@aol.com
>       To: 
>           epdionwk@andromeda.rutgers.edu
> Dear Companions,
>     In 1989 I served the church at St. John's Cathedral in Denver as Canon 
> Liturgist and Adult Education director.  
>     In the Springtime of that year a wonderful woman and a fine young man 
> came to my office.  They were originally from Rwanda and had been married in 
> a civil ceremony there.  They also had been very active Anglican Christians.  
> After they moved to Denver they worshipped with us at the Cathedral for some 
> time before they asked their new faith community and me as their priest for 
> guidance as they prepared to ask for God's blessing for themselves as they 
> prepared for Christian marriage.
>     They told me that they intended to live in the USA for many years as he 
> was in graduate school studying Geology and Chemical Engineering.  The 
> Cathedral was to be their spiritual home.  He was preparing to work in the 
> oil business for the Nigerian government and for OPEC.  It was interesting to 
> me that only after worshipping with us for a few years did they finally ask 
> to receive God's blessing in the Church to strengthen their marriage.
>     They related to me that the following customs were commonly followed in 
> Rwanda -- 1. The state issued the marriage license.  2. The state provided a 
> civil ceremony.  3. After civil ceremonies were held -- those couples, who 
> were truly interested, could seek the guidance of the Church and ask for 
> God's blessing to strengthen their marriage.  Let me add that this seems 
> preferable to the system that we have in this country where we clergy are 
> deputized to act as agents of the state in the performance of marriages.   
>     The day of the nuptial blessing on their marriage was spectacular.  
> Hundreds of guests were gathered in the Cathedral.  Outside, goats were being 
> roasted and a sumptuous and lavish feast was prepared on the Church's lawn.  
> The scent of this was spectacular!  What a colorful and gorgeous procession 
> was held as we finally spilled out of the Cathedral and onto the grounds.  
>     This couple held a classical and mature understanding of Anglican 
> Sacramental Theology as it relates to the sacramental rite of marriage.  That 
> is to say -- they specifically asked me to help them prepare for God's 
> blessing on themselves as bride and groom.  They never asked for a blessing 
> on their marriage!  They asked for God's blessing in this way because they 
> each wanted to be strengthened for Christian marriage.  This is classical 
> Anglican theology.  
>     The rubrical note on page 430 of the American Edition of the B.C.P. not 
> withstanding -- in the Episcopal Church our sacramental tradition calls us to 
> bless PEOPLE NOT MARRIAGES OR RELATIONSHIPS.  A careful reading of the 
> nuptial blessings found on pages 430 and 431 reveals this very clearly 
> "...pour out the abundance of your blessing upon this man and this woman..." 
> or the following "...Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, 
> that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other..."  Nowhere does it 
> read "bless this marriage". 
>     Let me add here that I do not believe -- that Anglican priests are called 
> to bless "Gay Unions".  Some may take a measure of comfort in that.  However, 
> let it also be said, that we are not called to bless "Heterosexual Marriages" 
> either.  If it is appropriate, WE WILL ASK FOR GOD'S BLESSING ON INDIVIDUALS 
> who come seeking the presence of God in their lives in order to strengthen 
> their committed relationships whether they are Gay or Straight.  
>     As a priest with 21 years of service in the church and as a married man I 
> stand in solidarity with Hank Dwyer, Elizabeth Kaeton, and many others who 
> demand justice.  Elizabeth said it well...
>     <<YES -- We want our civil rights -- which we have as adult citizens of 
> the US, and are being denied to us -- to enjoy all of the benefits which the 
> state confers on those who are legally married.  Especially, we want freedom 
> from discrimination in housing, employment, pension, health care benefits, 
> treatment during hospitalization, schooling, taxes, and hereditary laws.
>     NO -- We do not -- will not -- deny the sacrament to anyone, gay or 
> straight, black, brown, yellow or white, male or female, old or young, rich 
> or poor, orthodox, conservative, liberal, radical, evangelical, 
> Anglo-Catholic, or free-spirit.  We are simply tired of functioning as agents 
> of the state.  We believe that by putting the emphasis back on the 
> sacramental nature of marriage, we will increase the spirituality of 
> committed relationships, and, maybe, just maybe, begin to have an effect on 
> lowering the divorce rate.>>
> Yours in faith,
> Ken Near, Rector
> St. Paul's Church, Englewood, NJ

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