On 20 January 2023, the Church of England issued draft texts of prayers asking for God’s blessing on same-sex couples as they give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership. Proposed by the Church’s bishops, these will be considered by General Synod next month alongside other proposals in response to a six-year process of listening, learning and discernment on questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage known as Living in Love and Faith.§.
Also published was a book of draft worship resources – Prayers of Love and Faith including a range of prayers and readings which could be used in a church service, such as a Service of the Word or a Service within a Celebration of Holy Communion. The note on the status of these resources states (p 2):
“Prayers of Love and Faith has been commended by the House of Bishops for use by ministers in the exercise of their discretion under Canon B 5 of the Canons of the Church of England. The prayers and forms of service commended here are ‘neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter’ (including, but not limited to, the definition of Holy Matrimony in Canon B 30). Any adaptation of these resources must meet the requirement of Canon B 5”.
More detail is provided in the Legal Note (p 22), edited extracts of which are reproduced below.
Prayers of Love and Faith has been commended by the House of Bishops for use by ministers in the exercise of their discretion under Canon B 5 Of the discretion of ministers in conduct of public prayer. Canon B 5 states, in its entirety:
- The minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of service authorized by Canon B 1 Of conformity of worship according to particular circumstances.
- The minister having the cure of souls may on occasions for which no provision is made in The Book of Common Prayer or by the General Synod under Canon B 2 Of the approval of forms of service or by the Convocations, archbishops, or Ordinary under Canon B 4 Of forms of service approved by the Convocations, Archbishops or Ordinary for use on certain occasions use forms of service considered suitable by him for those occasions and may permit another minister to use the said forms of service.
- All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.
- If any question is raised concerning the observance of the provisions of this Canon it may be referred to the bishop in order that he may give such pastoral guidance, advice or directions as he may think fit, but such reference shall be without prejudice to the matter in question being made the subject matter of proceedings under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963.5. In this Canon the expression ‘form of service’ has the same meaning as in Canon B 1.
The prayers and forms of service commended here are ‘neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter’ (including, but not limited to, the definition of Holy Matrimony in Canon B 30 Of Holy Matrimony).
As with all forms of service commended by the House of Bishops, any variations to the sample services or to the prayers in the Resource Section must be in conformity with §3 of Canon B 5.
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With regard to liturgical blessings, Paul Roberts has written two blog posts, here and here, in which he discusses the concept of blessing and analyses the new texts, comparing them with those used by the Church of England and the Church in Wales. In a subsequent post he explored the concept of “Holy Matrimony” in relation to this legal advice*.
Further to a point of order raised by Ben Bradshaw (Exeter, Lab} on 18 January 2023, Mr Speaker granted an Urgent Question to the Second Church Estates Commissioner on Equal Marriage: Church of England on 24 January 2023. Mr Andrew Selous will answer further Oral Questions on Thursday 26 January.
§ Thinking Anglicans has posted comprehensive links to the Initial responses to the LLF statement indicating individuals/organizations supportive of the statement, and those opposing it; and What bishops have to say about the LFF proposals.
* These posts have “http://” encryption which some browsers may identify as “not secure”.
Updated, 29 January 2023 at 19:46.
Not being a thinking Anglican myself, but rather a “mere Christianity” believer who has made his home-church home in an Anglican church in the recent past and may do so again, the thing I don’t understand, is this: What has hitherto stopped anybody at all, anywhere, at any time of day or night (including a deacon, a priest, or a bishop, whilst inside a consecrated Anglican church building, on a Sunday), blessing or praying for or about anything or anybody at all, using any prepared or spontaneous words they wish (within reason)? If nothing has stopped them, then what is to be gained by these particular bishops drafting written prayers and blessings now, for themselves and certain nearby others (such as more junior Anglican clergy in England) to recite in one or more particular sets of (some might think) potentially controversial circumstances?
Similar issues have arisen in Australia where some bishops proposed to allow a “same sex blessing”, and the Appellate Tribunal here ruled that this was not contrary to Anglican “doctrine”. For a paper where I argue that the Tribunal was wrong, see https://works.bepress.com/neil_foster/143/ .
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