Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Intercession or Blessing: Theological Reflections on a Swedish Liturgy for Homosexual Couples

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Intercession or Blessing: Theological Reflections on a Swedish Liturgy for Homosexual Couples

Article excerpt

A prayer for homosexuals living in partnership:

God, you give us life. To you we come with our longing for wholeness

and fullness in our lives. We come to you with our joy in human

persons who can love each other and transform the world in your light.

We pray for... and... Let their life together be marked by trust and

respect for each other's uniqueness. Help them to live in openness and

in fellow ship, so that your will may be visible.

When they encounter adversities, bring them closer to you and to each

other. Help them to forgive each other and let them, day by day, receive

joy and strength from your hand.

God, you give us life and the power to love. Help us to live close to

you always.

Amen.

There are two reasons why the Church of Sweden decided to address the issue of homosexuality in the 1970s. One was the abolition of certain legal prohibitions against homosexual practice, with the result that homosexuals became visible in Swedish society. The other was a growing demand from homosexual Christians to be accepted as members in good standing of their parishes -- which was understood to include having their life together blessed by the church.

The bishops' meeting assigned the task of examining the Church of Sweden s view of homosexuality and homosexual partnership to a group headed by Professor Holsten Fagerberg. In 1974 they published their findings in the book Homosexuals and the Church. However, it was too early for the bishops to make any decisions or comments regarding the practical proposals put forward in this book.

Towards a liturgy for homosexual couples

In 1986 Archbishop Bertil Werkstrom asked me to be in charge of a new group to discuss homosexuality and the Church of Sweden. The results of our work were published in 1980 in the book A Question of Love: Homosexuals in the Church. That same year a motion was presented in the general synod proposing that a liturgy for the blessing of homosexual couples be drawn up. The synod decided to form a committee to look into the implications of the Church of Sweden's attitude towards homosexuality for counselling, preaching and education. Rev. Arne Th. Soderstrom, second vice president of the general synod, chaired the committee and I served as secretary. Our report -- The Church and Homosexuality: A Report from a Committee -- was finished in 1994. Since publication of this report the bishops have made a policy statement on marriage and life together as well as a proposal for a liturgy of blessing for homosexual couples living in registered partnership. While there were recommendations of a liturgy for the blessing of homosexual couples in A Question of Love, it will be the recommendations in the 1994 text which I shall discuss in what follows.

Let me comment at the outset on the name of the liturgy in question. While the term "blessing" had seemed obvious at first, it soon became evident that many people. including some bishops, had reservations about using the term, since it seemed to remind them of the term "marriage". Although the committee itself saw no obstacle to using the word "blessing", we chose instead to speak of "intercession" or "prayer". Many Christians might find it difficult to accept a liturgy for the blessing of homosexual couples, but we assumed that they would accept the word "intercession". To pray for people whose opinion differs from one's own has always been natural in church. However, in the group we saw no difference of principle between the two words; and it is usual that a service of intercession ends with a blessing.

The committee did not draw up a complete liturgy but only recommended a prayer and suggested that parish priests should then work out a complete service. The proposed liturgy set forth in A Question of Love was already being used by many priests; others had drawn up their own proposals. …

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