The Church of England has announced outline plans for same-sex couples to “be able to come to church to give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership and receive God’s blessing”, and the Bishops will be issuing an apology later this week to LGBTQI+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” that they have faced in churches and the impact that this has had on their lives. Full details, including the bishops’ paper, prayers and background information, will be published on Friday 20 January *.
The detailed proposals, which follow the six-year period of listening, learning and discernment known as Living in Love and Faith, will be outlined in a report to the General Synod. They
“will offer the fullest possible pastoral provision without changing the Church’s doctrine of Holy Matrimony for same-sex couples through a range of draft prayers, known as Prayers of Love and Faith, which could be used voluntarily in churches for couples who have marked a significant stage of their relationship such as a civil marriage or civil partnership”.
There will be a commitment to produce new pastoral guidance in relation to the discernment of vocation, replacing the 1991 statement “Issues in Human Sexuality”, to which all clergy currently are asked to assent. Drawing from the feedback received through Living in Love and Faith, the bishops also identify a number of key areas for further reflection and work.
Under the proposals, same-sex couples would still not be able to get married in a Church of England church, but could have a service in which there would be prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or for God’s blessing on the couple in church following a civil marriage or partnership. The formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorised liturgies – that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life – would not change. The prayers would be voluntary for clergy to use and could be used in different combinations reflecting the theological diversity of the Church.
The proposals for the Church of England follow a discussion at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops from around the world last year on topics including same-sex marriage and blessings. During that discussion, the Archbishop of Canterbury made clear that the majority of the Churches in the Anglican Communion continue to affirm traditional teaching on marriage, but that some have already come to a different view on sexuality “after long prayer, deep study and reflection on understandings of human nature” and now bless or celebrate same-sex unions.
Alongside the published report, the bishops of the Church of England will be publishing a letter in which they apologise to LGBTQI+ people. The letter will also speak honestly about their ongoing disagreements over the possibility of changing the Church’s teaching on marriage itself. But they will emphasise a clear and strong desire to continue to “walk together” amid their differences.
Synod will be asked to discuss the proposals in detail during its meeting from 6 to 9 February, with the main debate on the proposals due to take place on 8 February.
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* On Friday, the Church of England published the papers for next month’s meeting in of its General Synod, which meets in London on 6-9 February.