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Monday, October 01, 2007

Oops! I did it again!

On Sunday afternoon at 3 PM, I blessed the Covenant of a relationship between two people.

It was not private. In fact, it was very public.

I did it in front of God and everybody - approximately 125 people, and at the altar of the Lord at The Episcopal Church of St. Paul, Chatham, NJ.

I am absolutely resolute and defiant. I've done it before, and I'll do it again.

One member of the couple is a dear friend of mine, one I've known since, oh, about 1993. She has had a very difficult path for the past 15 years or so. The way I figure it, she's had just about one surgical procedure every 12 - 18 months for the past decade and a half. Her last one was just about a year ago when she had a corneal transplant, which, after some difficulty, finally took. She's scheduled for the other corneal transplant early next year.

Even so, she lives with constant pain. When she goes to the hospital for (yet) another surgical procedure, she simply hands them two sheets of paper: One with the history of her surgeries and one with the medications she's on. Quite frankly, I don't know how it is that's she's still alive.

I just recently met her partner, who seems like one of the most decent, kind, compassionate, strong and generous people I've known.

My friend had asked me several months ago, "Elizabeth, do you do blessings for heterosexual people?"

"Covenants," said, "I bless covenants. So, it doesn't matter the sexual orientation of the people. I'm blessing the vows they make in the context of their relationships - just as I do in marriage."

"So," I asked, "who are we talking about?"

"Me," she said, "Well, me and this wonderful man I met about a year ago who is crazy enough to love me and want to spend the rest of his life with me."

"How wonderful!" I said, "But, I don't understand. Why don't you just get married?"

"Because, if I do," she explained sadly, "I lose all my health and disability benefits. I just can't afford to be without health insurance and, since I am, by any one's definition, disabled and can't work, I can't be without my disability income. I'll lose all that if I get married, even though he ain't no way rich."

"Right," I said. So, let me meet him, we'll talk, and we'll do this."

We did just that.

It was a lovely ceremony. Her daughters were her witnesses. His son was his witness. Her friends and relatives all came - including her sisters and her mother. The music was lovely. The food at the reception was delicious.

And, the service? It was the same one I use for same sex couples. You know. The one that isn't supposed to be 'authorized' - or used.

Oops! I did it again! In fact, this was the fourth heterosexual couple for whom I've used this service, originally designed for couples of the same sex, to bless the covenant they make and the vows they take before God in the church.

As I said, I've done it before and I'll do it again. I am absolutely resolute and defiant on this point as a privilege of my position as a priest ordained in the church. I do it as an authorized agent of God as a pastor to those God has sent me to serve. Near as I can figure it, that's the only "authorization" I need.

Allow me to say this again and out loud so we all get this straight, as it were. We've all talked about this in short hand and we think everyone knows what we mean, but I think it's part of what gets everyone all excited on both sides of the issue.

What the church is doing is blessing COVENANTS - not RELATIONSHIPS.

We are blessing the relationships within the vows people make in their COVENANT to live their life together in a relationship marked by love, respect, faithful. life-long monogamy, trust, honesty, mutuality and fidelity.

Saying that we bless "same sex relationships" sounds very different from blessing a covenant between people of the same sex.

No wonder the conservatives go nuts. To them, it probably sounds like we're blessing one night stands.

No wonder LGBT people take it so personally. To us, it sounds like a rejection of us as people.

We are blessing "Covenants." We can - and do - bless covenants (usually of marriage or renewal of vows) between couples of the opposite sex. We should be able to bless the covenants made between couples of the same sex.

It's the COVENANT we bless. Got it?

I've done it before, and I'll do it again - no matter the sexual orientation of the couple in the relationship.

I've always been impressed by this Apache Blessing, which I have included below. You will notice that it does not assume the gender of the couple to be different. Which is why I love it so.

Kip and Kitty, as you begin your new life together, may this blessing be yours.

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be the shelter for each other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be the warmth for the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before.

Go now to your dwelling place to enter into the days of your life together. And may your days be good and long upon the earth.

Treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together. Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves.

When frustration, difficulty and fear assail your relationship - as they threaten all relationships at one time or another - remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part which seems wrong.

In this way, you can ride out the storms when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives - remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there.

And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together, it will be marked by abundance and delight.


DBW said...

you are a very naughty lady

susankay said...

Elizabeth -- when my (heterosexual) partner and I got married in 1998, we used the "liturgy proposed for same sex blessings" at the prior GC. Why?: Because it "made all things new" in its breath-taking and non-sexist awe at holy union

Alice C. Linsley said...

And indeed defiant.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You bet, Alice.

And do tell, how is it that you can recognize it when you see it?

psalm37 said...

If your God asked, would you stop?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Psalm 37 (AKA "Anonymous" - there seem to be so many of you!),

Let me be clear: You are asking that if "God" asked me to stop blessing the covenants people make between each other, would I do it?

Here's my question: Why would God ever do that? Covenants are pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

psalm37 said...

Please help me understand. Why is the answer to my question not 'yes'?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Psalm 37,

Please help me understand: Why are you asking the question?

psalm37 said...

I am sorry if the question is difficult. You do not need to reply. Thanks anyway.

Perry Lee said...

I find it interesting that there is no mention of God -- or any "Higher Power" for that matter, -- in your "Apache Blessing;" that in times of travail the covenanted pair are only enjoined to look to each other and not to God for help and sustenance.

There doesn't appear to be any loophole in the Bible for their circumstances i.e. "Thou shalt not commit adultery, unless thou art in danger of losing thy health insurance."

What kind of a path did you lead these people down?

Malt Viquor said...

What a beautiful Apache prayer! I hope someday to have the chance to use it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Your question is in no way difficult for me.

Apparently, the situation is quite reversed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Just to be clear: The Apache Prayer was not part of the service. It was something I found as I was writing the essay which I decided to use to close the essay.

The service itself pretty much follows the prayer book outline of service. We used the story from Ruth and Matthew 5:13-16.

The Blessing was Trinitarian.

The path? Well, it was, you should excuse the expression, pretty "straight"forward.

Perry Lee said...

Fair enough. Because you addressed Kip and Katie before the poem, I assumed that you were addressing the poem to them in the context of the ceremony. As the kids say, "my bad."

I do want to ask, if inclusive is inclusive: if - and when - three people come into your office and say they have lived in a committed, sexually exclusive relationship for the last five years and now want a public Blessing... Will you do that as well?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


I think you are hung up on the word "inclusive". It's really become a false idol that the Right has made of its image of the Left.

I am Christian who is an Episcopalian who is an Anglican.

I am not a Mormon. Neither am I from a culture, like some in the Global South, which actively practices polygamy (but winks and nods when the White people are around).

On the other hand, I have blessed the non-sexual covenant of FRIENDSHIP between four people who considered themselves to be family.

Each had been abandoned by their families for various reasons: addiction, rebellion, gender identity, sexual orientation.

They had come to know a sense of real family in their (let me say it again, boys and girls, wo we're all REAL clear) non-sexual relationships with each other.

Hear me cleary: I bless COVENANTS.

As Jesus said, "What is bound on earth is bound in heaven . . ." and I think Jesus is well pleased when we make - and the church blesses, in his name - sacred vows of honesty, love, mutality, fidelity, and respect.

Don't you?

psalm37 said...

I don't understand. Why is the answer to Pilgrim's question not 'No'?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Oh, you poor dear. You really are confused, aren't you?

Read my response again. Slowly. Clear your mind of any judgement or preconcieved ideas or images before you begin.

It's awfully hard to read for an answer to a question when you already have one formulated in your head.

Or, ask Pilgrim. You both probably hang out together at another uber-Christian blog.

He seems like a reasonable sort. Ask him.

I think he may be able to explain it to you in a way that you will understand.

He may not agree with my answer, but he does "hear" it.

You seem incapable of hearing anything I say.

Ah, and there it is, hiding in plain view: the microcosim of the macrocosim.

KJ said...

I don't undersand. Why do so many people professing to be Christian have such little insight into the nature of God, his desire to be in relationship with us, and through us, with others?

It's as if Jesus never was.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


The capability of abstract thought is a skill, apparently, which is not uniformly achieved by all.

Perry Lee said...


I did not ask if you were Mormon, nor did I ask where you are from. I know you are not from the Global South. I did ask that if three people walked into your office and asked for a public blessing for their relationship, would you perform the ceremony, and if not, why not? What cultural, moral, or scriptural terms would you couch your denial in?

I, too, along with Psalm 37, like to see an answer to his question. Many liberal Episcopalians say that the Holy Spirit is driving the changes in TEC today, that when the general convention votes, the Holy Spirit guides the delegates' hearts and minds. So Psalm 37 - and my - question is:

If you were praying on an evening, and that overwhelming conviction came to your heart that the Holy Spirit was talking directly to you; telling you to stop same sex blessings: would you submit? Yes or no.

Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Pilgrim asks: "If you were praying on an evening, and that overwhelming conviction came to your heart that the Holy Spirit was talking directly to you; telling you to stop same sex blessings: would you submit? Yes or no."

Absolutely, positively, without a whisper of question or a nano-second's worth of hesitation: YES.

psalm37 said...

Thank you for the clarity of your response, Elizabeth.

I read your post on 10/4, the same day we read 1 Corinthians 9:1-15 from the Daily Office. What struck me (and prompted my question) was the contrast between the two. Do you see the difference that I saw?

Perry Lee said...

Ms. Kaeton responded:

"Absolutely, positively, without a whisper of question or a nano-second's worth of hesitation: YES."

Okay, thanks. That's one question. Now, as to the three people who want a public blessing for their relationship: Would you? And if not, on what moral, legal, or scriptural grounds would you refuse?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Pilgrim and Psalm,

Okay, enough. If you really have to ask if I would bless a "menage a trois" you insult the integrity of my priesthood.

As I said, you folk on the extreme Right have made a false idol of the image of "inclusivity" you have of the Left.

Your false idol has blinded you from seeing the full picture of our humanity and dignity and integrity and has ruined some of your brain cells so you can no longer think logically or reasonably.

This is a blog, not an interactive blackboard. I have answered your questions to the extent I'm going to.

I am the pastor of 300 family congregation. This is a holiday and the office is closed. Even so, I am getting ready to drive for an hour with a man who was confirmed at St. Paul's, who has finally, in the past 7 years, conquered his addiction to alcohol.

He says he is "spiritual" but not "religious." "Too many people get hurt in church," he says.

But, his mother is dying. She moved away about 15 years ago and hasn't really been to church much, having not found a 'home' like St. Paul's.

But, her son wants to make funeral plans. It's his way of dealing with the fact that she's dying. He knows he will be in collapse when she does die, so he thinks, for many reasons, it's time do this now. This is a holiday, and this is the only time he really has. So, I'm going with him to visit his mother.

We got to the part about scripture and hymns for her funeral service and that's when he decided that he really needed to include his mom in the process (I knew he would. They always do at this point.)

So, you'll excuse me for not taking time to answer your bibical inquires.

I don't think they are sincere anyway. You ask questions in the same ways the Parisees and Scribes asked them of Jesus - looking for a way to trick him.

If you are serious about studying scripture with me, I suggest you sign up for a course at the Theological School at Drew, where I am adjunct faculty.

Or, you could move here near Chatham for a year and take part in my weekly Bible Study.

Or, you could simply hear the answer you want by asking your own pastor.

Me? I'm off to do my Mother's work. Nice talking with you. Have a great day. God Bless you.