A Form of Benediction for Married Persons

Well, the change in the law last week makes quite a difference for clergy in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Oh, I know that you don’t think it makes any difference unless the Scottish Episcopal Church opts into the legislation to allow same-sex couples to get married but that’s where you are wrong.

You see, for quite some time, there have been couples entering into civil partnerships who have turned to sympathetic clergy in sympathetic congregations for services to mark their joy in getting hitched.

Now, in Scotland there has been no great demand for a new liturgy for blessing same-sex couples because we had a brilliant new marriage liturgy in 2007. One of the things that this service emphasised was the mutuality and equality of the couple – There was no giving away of brides, for example. In this service, the gender of the couple was not emphasised hugely and indeed one could perform the service without mentioning the gender of the couple even though until last week that was quite illegal under Scots law. (Oh yes, really!)

Now at the time that this service was introduced we were encouraged by the liturgy committee to see it as a resource for a number of different situations – for example, bits and bobs could be lifted out and used to make a splendid service for blessing a couple having a golden wedding ceremony. We were encouraged to experiment with it.

We were also encouraged when one of my colleagues helpfully pointed out that if one chose option A at every point then the service made no mention of the gender of the parties to the marriage whatsoever and that it was tantamount to being an ideal service for marrying a same-sex couple. (This version of the service has been known locally around here as the McCarthy version of the service ever since, in homage to my neighbour at St Silas who was the person who pointed it out).

Last year the bishops of the church formally acknowledged that these informal blessings were taking place. (Got that? I know it is difficult to make much sense of that but there you go). They effectively said that they didn’t want such services happening without their knowledge and that clergy were to let them know and work collaboratively with their bishops. They also said that bishops themselves were free to attend such informal services formally. Or was it that the bishops were informally able to attend these formally recognised services? I can’t for the life of me work it out any more. Anyway, the point is, the bishops knew that the services were taking place, wanted to know that they were taking place and said that they might or might not turn up to them but that this was a matter for each bishop.

Now the thing is, people were getting civil partnerships and we were using the marriage liturgy to put together an appropriate service which looked very much like a wedding. All you needed to do was substitute “Loving and lifelong partnership” instead of “lifelong marriage” for example and Bob’s your aunt – you had an appropriate service.

However, the wordings we have been using are not going to be appropriate for couples who are going to be getting married. You can’t have a couple getting married in the morning and then declaring they are entering into partnership in the afternoon in church. They are not entering into a partnership when they are already married. Neither can you simply recite the marriage liturgy over a couple who have been married earlier in the day because that would be naughty. Again, I have to admit that the reasons why this would be naughty escape me but I know naughty when it comes to liturgy and that would be it.

So, what to do?

One might hope for guidance from the church in this situation yet where is that to come from? I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has had a note from their bishop illuminating them as to what service to use for such couples. Yes that’s right – those services which the bishops have formally acknowledged happen informally (or informally acknowledged happen formally, I don’t know) and to which they might turn up. After all, one doesn’t want a bishop turning up to a service and getting sniffy about the liturgy. That would never do.

Fortunately, we have several sources of authority in the church. These include the liturgy and the Code of Canons.

The Code of Canons says this in Section 5 of Canon 31

A cleric may use the form of Benediction provided in the Scottish Book of Common Prayer (1929) to meet the case of those who ask for the benediction of the Church after an irregular marriage has been contracted or after a civil marriage has been legally entered into, provided only that the cleric be satisfied that the marriage is not contrary to Sections 3 and 4 of this Canon.

The point of this is that you can’t use the service of Benediction for a couple who are related to one another too closely and can’t do it if the marriage itself has been forbidden in church because if one party has been married before and a bishop has refused permission for a second marriage. (Refusal is possible but rare).

Thus – the canons seem to suggest that a form of Benediction is the right thing to be offering.

I don’t think that the letter of the law is very helpful suggesting that it be the service of Benediction from the Scottish Prayer Book 1929 but that service does have a very lovely prayer which I’ve rendered here in modern English:

God the Father,
God the Son,
God the Holy Spirit,
bless, preserve and keep you;
the Lord look upon you with favour and mercy
and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace,
that you may so live together in this life
that in the world to come you may have life everlasting.

This, it seems to me, is a wonderfully helpful resource in determining what to do with couples approaching the church for Benediction after a civil marriage ceremony. And all the more useful as the number of straight couples wanting this is surely destined to rise if the church forbids same-sex couples to wed in church. I expect that thoughtful straight couples will say, “Well, what’s good for the gander is good for the gander as the old gay proverb goes. If our gay friends get offered Benediction after getting married in a civil service then that’s what we want too.”

So, it seems apposite to look again at the modern marriage rite to see whether it has any useful resources that could flesh out a service of Benediction for Persons who are Married that would serve whatever the gender of the couple.

I’ve put this together for that purpose and hope that it is the beginnings of something useful for everyone.

I’d be interested in hearing feedback both on the content presented here and any use of this service by anyone in the future. Remember, this one is for straight people too.

You can download it here:
Service of Benediction

If you think I’ve made any mistakes and allowed the M word to remain in places where it would be naughty for the M word to be, do please let me know.

And if, in the future, we get to a situation whereby straight people can enter a civil partnership and then want that partnership blessed in church, you can be sure I will have just the thing right up my sleeve.

Are all these distinctions not becoming rather silly?


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    If it is proof reading you have got ‘those who are to be married’ p 13 when the liturgy earlier told us they were married. Same p 15.

    As to the situation – plainly it is nuts. I assume it is a softly softly approach designed so that in fifteen years time somebody can say ‘But we have been marrying people in all but name for fifteen years, and nobody has ever objected’ – the not wholly unreasonable belief being that people tend to just-come-round to things. Not wholly unreasonable as this appears to have happened in British society. It takes no account of the difficulties and miseries these fifteen years will cause. Largely because they will not be caused to those formulating the policies, I imagine. And because many of those involved are, in fact, of the generation which has most struggled with the (to me) blindingly obvious that gender is irrelevant to love. That marriage is aobut love, and not gender roles (and women are not subservient in society) (which is what those who actually do believe that marriage is only for the straight all seem to me to believe).

    • Thanks Rosemary. That’s exactly the kind of correction I need. I’ve amended the document.

      I think the worry about waiting for 15 years before finding that we’ve been doing this all along is that vast numbers of people are presuming the church to be poisonous simply because they hear a public message which is that church isn’t for you if you have decent views about gay people.

  2. Anyone wanting to see the Scottish Episcopal Church’s actual marriage liturgy to see how completely and utterly different, oh its so different you wouldn’t believe it, you really won’t be able to comprehend how different, it is from what is posted above can find it here:

  3. Marnie Barrell says

    I’m puzzled by this expression in one of the prayers – never heard the word.
    “Together we now handsel them.”

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    Oh yes, I quite agree it it a poisonous situation. But ‘all’ it causes is slow death. People believe that is inevitable (I do not, but they do) and they can face that. What they cannot face is a row. Others in their faces saying things which they have to reply to.

    At least, I assume that is the reason for delay, for the policy of attrition. If anybody can thing of anything else, do tell me.

    Handsel – gift or positive good wish given at the start of an enterprise, or at a significant stage upon it, to wish it well upon its way. Scots word.

  5. Rosemary Hannah says

    I am afraid both working for managed decline and the idea that loving somebody of one’s own gender is in any inferior are both ideas which I have no sympathy with or understanding of. We all have out limitations.

  6. Rosemary Hannah says

    ‘in any way inferior’ sorry.

  7. Bro David says

    The US or Canada would be a great Honey Moon destination and the happy couple could easily find a number of Anglican parishes in either nation where they could celebrate their wedding nuptials in style!

  8. Bro David that’s a welcome suggestion. Also welcome is the offer of a good friend on many of us at St Marys who is a minister of the United Presbyterian Church of America (apologies if not exact title) who is now legally and ecclesiastically empowered to conduct marriages between any two persons and intends to do so here in Scotland. Methinks that all this silly shilly shallying about may come to an end when the powers that be realise that where there’s a calenderfull of nuptials there’s noodles of cash. And what church will say no to a sizeable contribution to the roof or organ fund?

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