He Who Died, Heaven’s Gates to Open Wide

The title of this month’s article comes from the second verse of one of the most beloved children’s songs, “Jesus Loves Me” (vs. 2 ELW#595).  These words capture the implications of the Easter story.  Jesus suffering and death have reversed the direction of the gates of heaven.  Instead of the entrance to eternal life narrowing, the righteousness of Jesus enables those heavenly doors to swing wide open. As we continue focusing on the Easter story this month, we will better understand this change of direction, and encourage people to move in step with it.

By the grace of God, our door at St. Mark’s has been opened wider to accommodate the needs of God’s people who seek the church’s blessing in civil unions; folks who have heretofore been locked out of access to the church’s blessing.  Last August in national assembly by a 2/3 majority, the ELCA passed a policy which allows congregations and synods (at their discretion) to bless “life-long committed relationships” between people of the same gender.  (Social Statement, “Human Sexuality:  Gift and Trust”).  Since this is a new ritual for our church, I asked the church council to establish a policy which would guide us in the implementation of this rite of blessing. At their April meeting, the council did. They voted to adopt a policy regarding the blessing of marriages and civil unions by a vote of  9 “yes” and 1 “no”.  I myself initially authored the policy.

Let me share  the policy here and give some context to its purpose and authority.

Policy Regarding The Blessing of Marriages and Civil Unions
That the performance of marriages and the blessing of civil unions at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church continue at the discretion of, and under the authority of, the pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran church;
That the pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church’s discretion and authority to perform marriages and the blessing of civil unions, be guided by the authority of the bishop’s office of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA, and the ELCA’s constitution, bylaws, and social statements.

Both statements in this policy recognize that the church only has the authority to bless life-long committed relationships.  The sole authority to marry people resides with the state.  Because the State of Illinois does not allow same gendered people to marry, our policy is relegated to the rite of blessing those unions.

As reflected in the council vote, I know some of you support opening our door to bless same gendered relationships, and some of you do not.  I hope that all of us will respect the direction our church has taken and that you will bring any concerns or need for clarification of this policy to me.