Church of England finds temporary solution for same-sex unions

same-sex unions

The Church of England General Synod has agreed to run a pilot programme offering stand-alone services for blessing same-sex couples.

The motion came from the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally.

Last week, the Church’s General Synod voted to move ahead with implementing special prayers of thanks and dedication for gay couples.

The vote followed the House of Bishops’ agreement last month to commend “Prayers of Love and Faith” for same-sex couples.

These may be used in existing church services and as the basis for stand-alone services, the bishops agreed.

Uncertainty, tension and division

The vote to go ahead with the pilot programme followed hours of ardent debate.

Synod members — bishops, clergy and lay representatives — reportedly became “emotionally charged” when considering the church’s pastoral responsibilities toward gay people.

Mullally highlighted the uncertainty and tensions in the Church of England regarding same-sex unions.

There is particular concern over the content of prayers for same-sex blessings, she told the General Synod.

Some synod members said the test might affect the “optics” surrounding the blessings, suggesting that they are weddings in all but name.

Tentative agreement

It was the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, who proposed an amendment calling for a stand-alone services’ trial period.

His proposal was carried by one vote in the House of Laity, and 25-16 among the Bishops.

The House of Bishops’ meeting in mid-December will discuss the best way to authorise the services.

Mullally hopes the House will also commend the Prayers of Love and Faith for use and will “reflect” on how to implement the trial period.

Once these have been decided, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will put the plan into action.

Discerning, not dividing

While Croft says he is he relieved his amendment and the final motion had been carried, he is “concerned about the fracturing of collegiality among the Bishops”.

He also says the bishops should “attend to” the mistrust expressed by people on both sides of the debate.

Support for prayers and blessings for same-sex unions came from the archbishops of Canterbury and York.

Opponents say once the blessings have been implemented, they would be hard to retract.

The bishop of Chichester wants more study on the idea.

“Like all doctrine, the doctrine of marriage is practical, but it [also…] shows that what we do now is linked to eternal reality. How we use our bodies matters … the rationale for using these prayers needs far more elucidation.”

The Bishop of Lancaster, Jill Duff, also opposed Croft’s amendment and voted against the final motion.

Croft’s amendment and its “one-vote knife-edge” would make it difficult to implement anything she says.

While the Archbishop of York is concerned the disagreements “appeared to be stretching us to breaking point,” he also says “there should be no place for homophobia in our church.”

Moving forward – together

A “better way that will help us keep united, help us flourish” is needed, Duff says.

She suggests a “consensus” on same-sex unions akin to the one that enabled the legislation on women bishops to be carried by a two-thirds majority in the Synod.

Mullally is convinced the “difference of views” can be resolved.

“What we’re trying to model is how do you … seek to try and find a place we can occupy together,” she says. The process is “iterative”, involving listening and attempting to discern a way forward.


Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , , ,