Earlier this year we reported that at its Annual Conference on 30 June 2021, the Methodist Church voted by 254 to 46 to adopt a provisional resolution on same-sex marriages conducted on Methodist premises or by Methodist office-holders. On 20 September, the Church updated its Guidance and Resources for Same-Sex Marriage which now includes information on:
- Holding pastoral conversations on whether to register or make Methodist church buildings available for same-sex marriage;
- Applying to register or make a Methodist Church building available for same-sex marriage (England and Wales only);
- Appointment of Authorised Persons who wish to conduct same-sex marriage; and
- Marriage liturgy for the marriage of any two persons.
This Guidance deals with the situation in England and Wales. Each of these sections contains a number of downloadable files, extracts from which are reproduced below.
Whether to register or make Methodist church buildings available for same-sex marriage
This section includes: suggested a session outline for Church Councils when making decisions about same-sex marriage; a Flowchart to support the decision-making process of the Church Council; guidance for group discussion; and background material.
Guidance for managing trustees about how to register a Methodist church building for same-sex marriage
The Guidance states that when making the decision, Church Councils should consider three specific resolutions:
- Whether to consent to and register the church building for the solemnization of marriages of same-sex couples.
- Whether to consent to services of blessing for same-sex couples who are already married to take place in the church building, whether or not the Church Council also resolves to register the building for the solemnization of marriages of same-sex couples.
- Whom to nominate as the Authorised Person to be appointed by the Registrar to be present at the solemnization of same-sex marriages conducted in the church building.
Suggested wording for each of these resolutions can be found here.
Once a church council has resolved to apply to register its church building for the solemnization of same-sex marriages, this Guidance explains the practical steps to be taken when making the application. A checklist as to what is required can be found here.
There are specific considerations where church buildings are shared with another Christian church or congregation which uses the building for public religious worship, by a formal Sharing Agreement, Schedule 14a licence or otherwise; the consent of the other congregation’s governing authority to same-sex marriage ceremonies taking place in the church building will also be required, and the Church Council should engage in conversation with that congregation as part of its overall decision whether or not to register.
Appointment of Authorised Persons who wish to conduct same-sex marriage
Guidance for Methodist Church Councils regarding the appointment of Authorised Persons for same-sex marriage outlines the three steps that are required:
- Checking whether the existing Authorised Person for the building is willing to be the Authorised Person in relation to same-sex marriages, noting the provisions in Standing Order 011B(2) protecting any individual from being required to act, in relation to any marriage, contrary to their conscience.
- Passing a resolution by the Church Council nominating the relevant Authorised Person. There are various forms of resolution depending on the circumstances.
- Completion of Form AP1 on which further guidance is given.
The new Authorised Person cannot act as such until their authorisation arrives from the General Register Office, which usually takes about a month. Following the new legislation in force in May 2021, the functions of an Authorised Person are quite limited: these primarily concern the administration and tasks involved with registering the marriage.
Marriage liturgy for the marriage of any two persons
Two forms of Methodist liturgy are available: Marriage of any two persons and; Blessing of a marriage of any two persons previously solemnised.
“it is required by law in England and Wales that the words of declaration [at #5 in the service] and the words of contract [at #13] (or the permitted alternative forms, set out in the Appendix) should be said in the presence of the Authorized Person (or the Registrar) and two witnesses. The full names of the parties should be used”.
With regard to the pronouns used:
“This service includes the suggestions of pronouns her/him/them for those being married. Some being married may prefer the use of other pronouns and the preference of the person should always be followed. However…in England and Wales the use of the word husband or wife (according to the legally recognized gender of the person) is required by law [at #13 in the service].”
Blessing of a marriage of any two persons previously solemnised
This form of service is not be used for the solemnization of a marriage; it is also not suitable for those who wish to reaffirm or renew marriage vows. It includes suggestions of pronouns her/him/them for those whose marriage is being blessed, and “the preference of the person should always be followed”. There are, however, no specific legal requirements on the use of husband or wife.