Friday, 4 April 2014

Prayers after (Same Sex) Marriage: A suggested order of service

 You've all seen Rev episode 2, haven't you? That's why I've written this...

A Suggested Draft Order for Prayer and Dedication after the Civil Marriage of a Same Sex Couple*

*NB: The Church of England has a recognised Order for this purpose when the couple concerned are a man and a woman, and that Order should be used in those circumstances. There is no analagous provision for couples of the same sex: instead, clergy are encouraged to make appropriate pastoral provision. This draft order draws heavily on the existing Order (copyright Archbishops Council), and makes some suggested adaptations, but it is not an official or authorised liturgy. It is suggested, however, that it may be of use as a basis for discussion with the couple concerned as to what would be appropriate pastoral provision in their particular circumstances.


God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

A hymn may be sung here, or after the next section.

The minister welcomes the couple and their family and friends, using these or similar words:

N and N, you stand in the presence of God having contracted a legal marriage earlier [today], to dedicate to God your life together. We pray with you that God may empower you to keep the vows you have made to one another.

Edited: Personally, I  might want to include the next bit, an adaptation of the Preface. However, as Peter O points out below, it could be construed as illegitimate under the present guidelines. Since the point of this draft is to offer a contribution that should be fully acceptable, I offer an alternative below. I don't commend this bit as above reproach, but am keeping it here for honesty, as its what I'd like to say - and frankly, I'd prefer to use this version at opposite-sex marriages....

[The Bible teaches us that marriage is a gift of God's grace, a holy mystery in which two people become one flesh. It is God's purpose that, as two people give themselves to each other in love throughout their lives, they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with the Church.
Marriage is given, that two people may comfort and help one another, living faithfully together in need and in plenty, in sorrow and in joy. It is given that with delight and tenderness they may know each other in love, and through the joy of their bodily union may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives.]

An alternative paragraph could be:
[We thank and praise God for bringing you together,
God is the creator of all joy and gladness,
pleasure and delight, love, peace and fellowship.
God loves all that God has made, and declares it to be good.
God's Holy Spirit is known by the fruit of love, joy and peace.
In Christ, God shows his love for us in that while we were still far off,
God met us in His Son and brought us home.]
Is it your wish today to affirm your desire to live as followers of Christ, and to come to him, the fountain of grace, that, strengthened by the prayers of the Church, you may be enabled to fulfil your marriage vows in love and faithfulness?

The couple reply: It is.

A hymn may be sung here.


Almighty God,
You have taught us through your Son
that love is the fulfillment of the Law.
Grant to these your servants
that, loving one another,
they may continue in your love until their lives' end.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,

At least one Bible reading should be used, and other readings, poems, may also be used here.

The Dedication

The couple face the minister, who says

N and N, you hve committed yourselves to each other in marriage
And your marriage is recognised by law.
The Church of Christ understands marriage to be a lifelong union
For better, for worse
For richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish
Til parted by death.
Is this your understanding of the covenant and promises that you have made?

The couple reply: It is.

Have you resolved to be faithful to one another,
forsaking all others,
so long as you both shall live?

The couple reply: We have.

The couple will already be wearing their wedding rings: it would be appropriate for them to keep them on their fingers, since they are already married, and for this prayer to be said over their hands:

Heavenly Father,
may these rings, we pray, be to N and N
symbols of unending love and faithfulness
and of the promises they have made to each other:
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

The minister says to any family and friends present:

Will you, the family and friends of N and N
support and uphold them in their marriage
Now and in the years to come?
All: We will.

A hymn may be sung here

Prayers: these might well be said by a friend or family member, or even by the couple themselves.
Prayers in a church context should usually include the Lord's Prayer.

A hymn may be sung here.


A final Bible reading (in the manner of a dismissal gospel) or poem may be read here.

A blessing of the whole congregation would be usual here, but may be considered contentious in case it is misinterpreted as a blessing of the couple per se, which is contrary to the Bishop's guidance at this time. It may be advisable to use a form that makes the congregational nature of the blessing explicit, for example by using the inclusive 'us' form:

God the Holy Trinity make us strong in faith and love,
defend us on every side, and guide us in truth and peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with us [you all] and remain with us [you all] always.

If even this is considered inappropriate, I would suggest a form of the Peace:

We have celebrated the love of N and N
and we now celebrate God's love for us all.
Peace, in Christ, to all of you.
All: and also with you.

The exchange of the peace may follow, and form an informal end to the service; or the service could end on those words, and the minister and couple process out.


  1. Can I be picky?

    "The Bible teaches us that marriage is a gift of God's grace, a holy mystery in which two people become one flesh. It is God's purpose that, as two people give themselves to each other in love throughout their lives, they shall be united in that love as Christ is united with the Church."

    By applying this to the same-sex couple you change the Church's doctrine of marriage. You'll get a hand slap from your Archdeacon.

    "Heavenly Father, by your blessing
    let these rings be to N and N
    symbols of unending love and faithfulness
    and of the promises they have made to each other:
    through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    All: Amen."

    Dodgy, very dodgy. You're blessing the rings that are a sign of the marriage. By definition you're blessing the marriage.

    Apart from that, can't see the problem.

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  2. Thats why that bit is n brackets!

    Personally, i think blessing the rings is OK. It is setting them aside as reminders of the marriage vows made in the civil ceremony.

  3. Actually, I have edited the post to include an alternative, Peter. Thanks.

  4. Glad to see I am of some help!

    I think even if you include the first bit from the Marriage Service preface in brackets, it's still being offered as viable acceptable liturgy, and therein lies your problem. Remember, the preface of the CofE service goes WAY beyond the legal understanding of marriage and so to borrow from it is to apply the same theological reasoning that the preface makes.

    The alternative you provide is much better!

    As for the rings, I stand by what I said.

    For what it's worth, I have no problem with using a proper blessing at the end UNLESS you specifically at that point single out the couple.

    My normal practice at the end of a wedding is to ask every married couple in the church to hold hands and to point out that if there are some couples in the church who feel a bit left out by that, my number is on the door of the church. Then I do the final blessing.

  5. I stand by what I say about the rings too. The prayer is quite clear: God's blessing is invoked on the rings (as objects), in order that they might be signs to the couple of the understanding of their legal marriage that they have expressed in the service. That isn't blessing the couple or their union, it is blessing the rings.

    1. Yes, I get that, I just think it's perilously close to the line. Remember, the same preface that we referred to above says,

      "N and N are now to enter this way of life.
      They will each give their consent to the other
      and make solemn vows,
      and in token of this they will [each] give and receive a ring."

      So the ring represents the solemn vows of marriage, and to bless them in the same way is to equate the marriage in front of you with the same marriage described by the CofE Wedding Service preface.

      Do you see my point?

    2. Mmmm. Ok, since the aim is to suggest something relatively uncontentious, I've slightly altered the wording to remove the word blessing!

  6. I'm glad this is getting edited by discussion - shows it is a proper draft discussion document!

    1. Frankly, there's still an underlying problem that it looks like the Blessing of a Marriage (because that's what you've basically taken and altered)....

  7. 'Prayer and Dedication after Civil Marriage' is what its called,Peter, not Blessing.

    1. Yes, but you take my point.

    2. Yes, and the intro is very clear that that is what I have done.
      That is because the context - a couple wanting prayers after a legally binding civil marriage that for whatever reason they or we felt it would be inappropriate to hold in church - seems to me to be very similar indeed.

  8. I guess there is a problem with anyone saying... the Bible teaches us...if it wasn't teaching us different things would be so much maybe "The Bible teaches some of us....?

    1. Would, "The Biblical witness is..." or "The Bible witnesses that..." help at all?

  9. As you're enjoying the editing process so much, Miranda, here are my comments.

    You mention twice vows that have been made. Is it not the case that with registry office weddings, there is only the phrase "I take you to be my husband/wife?" Vows are a distinctive the church gives. You might be better talking about covenant, which is a true description of what the couple has entered into regardless of one's theological view.

    I feel uncomfortable with your revised preface (probably shouldn't call it that). The fall is missing. The word "pleasure" (fallen as our pleasures are) and the phrase "God loves all that God has made, and declares it to be good." particularly stick out. God did declare it to be good, but lots of bad stuff has happened to it and I don't think God still calls all of creation good by a very long way.

    Somewhat picky: in the collect "love is the fulfillment of the Law" is a teaching of Paul, not Jesus (Romans 13:10). Although πλήρωμα is difficult to translate in this context. What I am driving is towards the twitter conversation we recently had where I was saying that we cannot take the modern understanding of the word "love" as a short-cut to bypass all else that the Bible says. How about "You have taught us through your Saints that love is the most excellent way"? (Alluding to 1 Cor 12:31-13:end, of course).

    The not-vows also feel very close to the line. Particularly, using the word "marriage" without qualification is definitely problematic as the church definition of the word does not describe what the couple have entered into. If you collapse the first and second line into "... in a marriage recognised by law", that is much clearer. Apart from that, the not-vows contain a few typos: "hve" and "Til".

    The question to the family and friends also uses "marriage" in an unqualified way. It might also be asking more from some present than they can offer. I have been praying privately for same sex married couples that they would be blessed "with all the fullness God has for them". We should all be able to agree with that prayer even if we differ on what the fullness of God might be. I wonder if you might ask family and friends to do something similar?

    I agree with Peter that the blessing at the end is fine as long as it is clearly blessing of all gathered. The words "you all" cover that and I would generally prefer them to "us" - never lose the opportunity to give a priestly blessing to anyone who is happy to receive it. I'm a bit up the candle on that one.

    One key thing I find missing is any sense that Godly covenant relationships are outward-looking. In the Common Worship liturgy this is found in the bits about children and family and the "unity and loyalty ..." lines in the preface. It is also in the prayers for children and for the hospitality of the home and discerning God's word in the couple's lives. If you are correct about Christian marriage being able to be same sex, I think this would be a very important part of what God is calling the couple to.

    1. Thanks Tom. As I said at the top, this is a discussion doc, to form the basis of a conversation with the couple. My experience of most civil weddings is that, in addition to the legal promises, the couple tend to write or choose vows to say to each other, and it is those I am referring to; obviously if they hadn't done so, they would want that to be changed.

      Generally, I think my view is that if someone has agreed to do 'pastoral prayers' after a civil ceremony, they should be positive about the legal marriage that has been contracted. That is what is being celebrated and dedicated: if you can't do that in good conscience, better to do nothing (or we are back to Rev!). So yes, I use the term 'marriage', as that is what the couple and their family and friends are here to celebrate.

      You are right, the outward-focus would come in the prayers, which it seems to me it would be silly to even attempt to provide a text for. And I suggest it would be best for these to be done by one of the couple's supporters, who would write something fitting to the couple.
      (I did wonder about including a sermon to do this, but since this is not a formal liturgy but the provision of pastoral prayers, that seemed inappropriate.)

  10. Sorry, couldn't resist:

  11. I'm intrigued by the discussion in your comments on how to produce a service that prays for a couple and celebrates them in church while seemingly refraining from blessing them. Can you bless the rings that symbolise a marriage and *not*, at least by inference, bless the marriage itself? And if you can, by using philosophical loopholes, why would you want to? People don't come to church to have the rings blessed but not their marriage. And they don't come to church to be prayed for on the understanding they will *not* receive the blessing of the church. So--skilful though your writing is, Miranda--I'm back to asking what the point would be in trying to slide between the desire to offer affirmation, and the wish to avoid breaking rules that--if you obey them--deny you that opportunity.

    I'm reminded of a comment John Sentamu made some years ago when he was my parish priest. At the time it was unusual for divorcees to be remarried in church, and the common practice was to hold a civil wedding followed by a blessing in church. Sentamu's words were to this effect: "To bless, in church, a marriage you cannot hold in a church because the church cannot bless it, is a syllogistic fallacy. Either marry them, or don't bless them. You can't bless it and not bless it at the same time."

  12. "Heavenly Father, by your blessing
    let these rings be to N and N
    symbols of unending love and faithfulness
    and of the promises they have made to each other:
    through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    All: Amen."

    Just remove "By your blessing." Simples.

  13. Best to go to a church that will give a marriage when the gay couple wants a marriage. Then one can say what it means and mean what it says.

  14. This conversation thread just makes me incredibly sad, but thanks Miranda for trying in your own way to make things better.

  15. Biblical marriage, eh??

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  20. Here's a suggestion. Use prayers of the adelphopoiesis, especially the long one found in the Grottaferrata («Aνθηρóν ημíν και πολυπóθητον η της αγάπης ευωδία...»). This one is very beautiful; it has the shape of an anaphora (just like the Exultet, or the consecration of palms on Palm Sunday, or of candles in Candlemas etc.).

    Thus, nobody could accuse you of creating something. You would be using a very old prayer, with the same intention as the generations past who have been using it for centuries.

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  22. What ever happened to biblical marriage?