Triduum : Trials and Triumph from Glasgow Cathedral

What a joy to be in this place today celebrating the resurrection. We began on a high last Sunday and have made our way though this Holy Week. People sometimes call that a journey, a waymarked path, a pilgrimage.

But for me, that doesn’t begin to describe it. For me it is more like being on a rollercoaster of emotions.

  • The glory of processing on Palm Sunday. Local pipes and drums somehow taking us right into the holy city of Jerusalem here in the West End itself.
  • The intimacy of washing feet on Thursday Night – an exercise that somehow always confirms for me a deep theological truth which is that I have the ugliest feet in all of Christendom.
  • The brutal reality of the stripping of the altar – somehow as all the beautiful things are violently removed from the church we find ourselves taking part in the arrest and trial of Jesus.
  • The stark reality of a bare church on Good Friday –the one day when the Scottish Episcopal Church somehow turns Free Presbyterian and likes it.
  • And the spruce and polish yesterday when we try to make sense of the awful things we have seen and get ready.

And through it all – people and stories from the passion of Christ 2000 years ago interweaving with the people and stories of right here and right now.

Every year I learn something new about the story.

I remember one year I was working in a church which had just appointed a new sacristan before Easter – that’s the person who looks after all the kit in a church.

This person was a great support. And like so many people at this time of year, very keen to help.

At this particular place the stripping of the church was particularly effective. Just like here, everything that could be moved was hauled out of the church. Here we drag out the choir pews, steal the cross from the altar and remove everything that shines and glitters.

Doing it in any church results in two things – firstly a church just right for Good Friday. Stark and plain. The bitter, stark reality of the cross represented by a plain undecorated building. Shocking. Moving. Bewildering. You want the whole church on Good Friday to feel empty. To be still.

Secondly, the stripping of the altar results in a sacristy absolutely full of the rubble of the night before. Carpets and pews and silverware and statues and goodness knows what all upended in a hurry into a small room. And there it stays to keep the church plain and pure for the devotions.

On this particular year, I remember getting a phone call from the new sacristan at 9 am on Good Friday when we had a service at 10 am.

She came on the phone and told me that she’d been in church since 7.30 am. I have to admit that I was pleased and awed by her devotion. Sitting praying in a plain church all that time is surely commendable.

Until she said the words that no priest wants to hear on Good Friday – “Don’t worry Rector, I’ve been into the sacristy and the church and managed to get all the stuff back. The church is looking lovely.”

That year the church was stripped twice and I pulled muscles I never knew could be pulled.

There is a truth there though – Jesus won’t stay dead.

By the time I get to the end of Good Friday – one service after another where we go through the agony of the crucifixion I find myself at the last service of the day hoping that if we crucify him properly then maybe this time he’ll stay dead.

But of course…

But of course, he won’t stay dead. And our message today is very much that nothing will keep him in the grave.

Death has been vanquished. The grave has lost its sting.

Christ the Lord is risen from the dead not simply long, long ago but here and now and in our lives and in our world.

What we celebrate today is that the seed of hope grows in the human heart.

What we celebrate today is that the grave – the place of destruction, violence, decay, boredom and pain is ultimately empty.

What we celebrate today is that life is stronger, yes stronger than death.

Our God has conquered. For love, true love will always win.

I stand here because I believe goodness is always stronger than evil. Because love is stronger than hate. Because the joy of resurrection power is the new life that belongs to us to share with all people of goodwill.

You don’t have to go far to find Good Friday.

But love wins out in the end.

I remain in Good Friday though if I accept that violence is the best way to solve differences.

I remain in Good Friday if I do not challenge prejudice when it comes from any man, woman or archbishop in the street.

I remain in Good Friday if I do not share my belief that a better world than this is not only possible but essential.

This week there has been yet more sickening violence and terrorism in Nigeria and in other places around the world.

Well we as God’s people believe in a better way and are committed to a better world. We stand against the tyrant, the bomber and the bully.

And, this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury has once again tried to link in the public mind the action of terrorists in Africa with the acceptance of gay and lesbian people in the West.

Such careless disregard for gay lives has the stench of Good Friday all over it.

Love wins in the end. And love will win an end to discrimination in the church just as we’ve been winning it in the life of the state.

And this week, the Prime Minister has been courting Christian opinion by speaking about his own faith.

I’m pleased that Mr Cameron can speak of his own connections with church life.

But, Mr Cameron – if you want to court Christian opinion and make Christian people think better of you then help this country build a society far, far away, a resurrection world away, from the food-bank Britain we currently seem to find ourselves living in.

I believe in love. I believe in compassion. I believe in resurrection. And I believe we can build a better world than this.

Jesus won’t stay in the grave. Beauty won’t stay locked away in a sacristy for long.

Jesus won’t stay buried in the tomb. Justice won’t be subdued by violence but will leap up and dance and cry to the heavens for change.

Jesus won’t stay buried in the tomb.

For love wins. New life wins. Joy wins out.

And Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.

For if Christ were not risen, we would not be gathered here.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The post Easter Sermon 2014 appeared first on What is in Kelvin’s Head?.


Yet another post from the web-site of Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth, Provost of St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow. We, at St. Michael and All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand, resonate with the great mixture of Sorrow and Joy accompanying the practise of the liturgical rituals of Holy Week and Easter in the Anglican Catholic Tradition.

We did not have to endure the ‘Double-Stripping’ of the sanctuary that Fr. Kelvin experienced in his former parish, but we did have all the gravity and excitement of walking with Jesus on his pilgrim way from Palm Sunday jubilation to his vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane on Maundy Thursday, after the Last Supper Mass and Foot-washing – at which our dear Diocesan Bishop Victoria Matthews was present incognito.

On Good Friday, after the altar party had prostrated themselves on the floor of the empty sanctuary, we heard the Sung Passion Gospel of St. John, followed by the wonderful chanting of the Vittoria Responses during the Solemn Veneration of The Cross, and the silent Reception of Holy Communion brought from the Altar of Repose. It was lovely to see our beloved Bishop also with us in the congregation – we were one of the very few N.Z. Anglican Churches to follow the Great Triduum liturgical ceremonial.

On Holy Saturday morning, after Morning Prayer with the Franciscan Brothers who had shared Holy Week with us this year, preaching at the daily Eucharist and at the Solemn Liturgies; many helpers came to polish brass, iron linen, sweep and clean the church, and generally make the building ready for the Easter Vigil, which began outside in the church-yard at 7-30pm with the lighting of the First Fire, the Blessing of the Paschal Candle – representing the Risen Light of Christ, which was then processed through a darkened church, gradually lit by the candles of the congregation as we re-assembled indoors.

I was given the privilege of chanting the ‘Exsultet’ – the Song of Praise to the Light of Christ represented by the Paschal Candle – interspersed with choir and congregation singing “Glory to God for ever”. We then settled down to hear the reading of the Prophecies of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, leading up to the announcement of the Resurrection by Fr. Andrew, the principal Celebrant of the Mass, before the singing of the Gloria, preceded by the ringing of the tower bells, together with bells brought by choir and congregation to celebrate the beginning of the Festal, concelebrated High Mass. But first, came a procession to the Font, where the Blessing of Water took place, before the affirmation of our Baptismal Promises, and the sprinkling of the whole congregation with Holy Water – symbolising our cleansing from sins committed.

Renewed, forgiven and sanctified, we settled into the beauty of the Solemn Mass, interspersed with shouts of “Christ is Risen” by the chief celebrant, and the congregational response: “He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!” The sense of joy was palpable as we dispersed after having met with the Risen Christ in Holy Communion together, thanking God for another Holy week and Easter pilgrim journey with our Blessed Saviour and Redeemer.

This time, our Bishop had to be elsewhere in the diocese, conducting other Celebrations before presiding in her Transitional Cathedral in Latimer Square on Easter Day.

So, I can heartily agree with the sentiments expressed in Fr. Kelvin Holdsworth’s Easter Sermon quoted above, as he relates his desire for the Church to become a gathering place for everyone – especially the unloved and the marginalised of our world.

Christ is Risen, Alleluia!  He is Risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

ABC Comments on Same-Sex Marriage in the U.K.

Archbishop of Canterbury claims he’s powerless to bless gay marriages because it would create split in global Anglican Church

  • Most Rev Justin Welby said it was ‘impossible’ for some worshippers in Africa to support homosexuality
  • He said the Church, which has 77 million followers globally, must not take a step that would cut these groups off
  • ‘I do believe passionately that unity is something we have to maintain’, he says


The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (pictured in Kent on Friday) has suggested he cannot allow the blessing of gay marriages because it would split the global Anglican Church

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (pictured in Kent on Friday) has suggested he cannot allow the blessing of gay marriages because it would split the global Anglican Church

The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested that he cannot allow the blessing of gay marriages because it would split the global Anglican Church.

Although sympathetic to calls for the Church to honour same-sex relationships in public, the Most Rev Justin Welby said it was ‘impossible’ for some worshippers in Africa to support homosexuality.

Speaking after the introduction last month of gay marriage in England and Wales by the Government, the Archbishop said that the Church, which has 77 million followers globally, must not take a step that would cut these groups off.

‘I do believe passionately that unity is something we have to maintain,’ he told The Daily Telegraph as the Church embarks on a consultation into the introduction of informal blessing-like services.

‘I may be wrong, but I also believe that to take a step that means that people who desperately need our help – and who we can help – can’t take it, feel in their own culture that it is impossible to be helped by us, is something that we can’t easily do.’

He said the Church must listen to the world’s ‘victims of oppression and poverty’ who ‘find that issue an almost impossible one to deal with’.

He added: ‘How do you hold those two things [in balance] and do what is right and just by all?’

The Archbishop said he visited the scene of a massacre of Christians in South Sudan and had been told by religious leaders that they would not accept the Anglican Church’s help in future if blessings of gay marriage were allowed.

The Archbishop insisted he was not giving into ‘moral blackmail’ but could not easily take a decision that would cause further deep rifts within the Church. But the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, said it was ‘wrong’ to relate gay marriage in the West to ‘warlords and people who practise genocide in central Africa’.

Although sympathetic to calls for the Church to honour same-sex relationships in public, the Most Rev Justin Welby said it was 'impossible' for some worshippers in Africa to support homosexuality

Although sympathetic to calls for the Church to honour same-sex relationships in public, the Most Rev Justin Welby said it was ‘impossible’ for some worshippers in Africa to support homosexuality


In this article from the Daily Mail in the U.K., we are treated to another re-run of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s equivalence of any Church Blessing of Gay Marriage in England with the murder of Christians in Africa. Despite criticism from many quarters in the U.K. about this assertion that; for the Church of England to add any form of blessing to legal Same-Sex Marriages would cause grave danger to members of the Anglican Church in, for instance, the Sudan; the ABC still insists on making this consequentialism, which seems to lack credibility. Same-Sex Marriage is already happening in the U.K. and there have been no reports of mass murder in Africa as a direct result of that legislation.

Homosexuals , including Christians, are being killed in Africa already because of stringent local laws against them in countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Sudan; so what worse plight could face Christians in those countries where homophobia is rife? Instead of tackling the problem of homophobia in former colonial Anglican Churches on the African Continent, it seems that the Church of England is more intent on making an excuse for the sad continuance of homophobia at home.

Here, also, is a quote from a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, linked in the same article from the mail, comparing his own marriage with with that of the later Sir Winston Churchill, as paradigms of Christian virtue:

“My wife and I are fast catching up Winston and Clementine, with nearly 54 years on the clock. We, too, need no convincing that marriage is the absolute heart of human love and the building block of society. In saying this, I am not condemning other forms of family life, but I am firmly convinced that marriage is the best and most stable of all.”

Read more:

On this premise alone, surely Lord Carey might concede that for Same-Sex Couples to enter into a monogamous, faithful, and life-long commitment to one another in Marriage – similar to that of heterosexual couples – rather than evade commitment to the bond of marriage, would be preferable, especially when the concept of marriage seems not to be considered as necessary nowadays for a stable relationship in today’s world by every co-habiting heterosexual couple. Same-Sex Marriage in such circumstances might rather be an encouragement, rather than a discouragement, for similar heterosexual commitment to marriage.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Fr. Jim Cotter, R.I.P.

The post RIP Jim Cotter appeared first on What is in Kelvin’s Head?.

Posted: 17 Apr 2014 07:24 AM PDT

In the middle of the busy days of Holy Week comes the news that Jim Cotter has died.

Jim was a poet-priest – someone for whom words were as important as breathing. He wrote prayers in which unicorns danced.

He was also I think the first out gay priest I ever met, coming to preach in St Andrews about 25 years ago. I met him too in his house in Sheffield. I know also that he spoke here in St Mary’s many years ago and must have been part of the story that has led us to be the congregation that we are.

Jim was talking about gay clergy being out and living in the open years before anyone else did. Indeed, some of the things I talk about which people still think are rather radical, Jim was talking about a generation or more before. He was a visionary and a prophet and suffered a lot in life because of it.

Many, many people will have copies of his night prayers sitting beside the bed. I used them last night and thought about how many people have so much to be grateful for because of Jim Cotter.

God be in my gut and in my feeling
God be in my bowels and in my forgiving
God be in my loins and in my swiving
God be in my lungs and in my breathing
God be in my heart and in my loving

God be in my skin and in my touching
God be in my flesh and in my yearning
God be in my blood and in my living
God be in my bones and in my dying
God be at my end and at my reviving

May he rest in peace now at last.


List Price: £12.99 GBP
New From: £7.59 GBP In Stock
Used from: £8.83 GBP In Stock


I well remember Father Jim Cotter, priest, poet and teacher,a gentle, loving and gracious, openly-gay advocate of openness and acceptance of the LGBT community in the Church and in the world beyond the Church. Thanks to Father Kelvin Holdsworth (SEC) for this notification of his translation.

My parishioners of Hibiscus Coast were grateful recipients of a Visit by Fr. Jim at the time of the burgeoning legislation for the decriminalisation of the practise of homosexuality in New Zealand in the 1980s., when he addressed the parish, and others from the Auckland Diocese, on the need for the Church to support the new legislation. The Bill was passed!

I remember being bombarded at that time by some of the more evangelical pastors on the Coast, trying to get me to sponsor a parish-based petition against the legislation. Needless to say – encouraged by Fr. Jim’s eirenic theological presentation for radical inclusion in the Church – we in our parish resisted this call, believing it to be the right time for decriminalisation of Gays, who have no other way of being who they are, intrinsically, and who have been unjustly treated by both Church and Society in the past.

I thank God for the life, witness and ministry of Father Jim Cotter, and am happy to commend him to the loving care and mercy of the God he believed in. Rest eternal grant to him, O Lord. May light perpetual shine upon him, may he rest in peace, and rise one day with Christ in glory. Amen!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

St. Matthew’s, Westminster – Good Friday Reflection


Newsletter :

St. Matthew’s, Westminster

Good Friday

18th April 2014

Good Friday
12.00pm ~ Crucifixion on Victoria Street
2.00pm ~ Solemn Liturgy of Our Lord on the Cross
Holy Saturday
10.ooam ~ Morning PrayerEaster Day
6.00am ~ Dawn Mass and Easter Ceremonies
8.00am ~  Mass (BCP)
11.ooam ~ Solemn Mass of the Resurrection 
P S A L M   2 2
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.But I am a worm, and not human;
scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver – let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’
Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.

On you I was cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near and there is no-one to help.

This vision from Julian of Norwich roots the awe-inspiring and bloody vision of Christ’s crucifixion in the everyday, or at least the everyday that Mother Julian knew in fourteenth century Norwich.For her, the drops of Christ’s blood look like pellets, herring scales and raindrops falling from a gutter-less thatched roof. She describes Jesus as ‘courteous’ (a word that evokes medieval sensibilities) and as our ‘brother’ as well as being our ‘saviour’. In her vision we are invited to relate to Christ in our everyday lives and in doing so we understand that Christ’s suffering is not a remote, historical event intended for other people. Rather, it is for us, now, today and for all times.The great drops fell down from under the crown of thorns like pellets, as though they had come out of the veins; and as they came out they were dark red, for the blood was very thick; and as it spread it was bright red; and when it reached the brows it vanished, and yet the bleeding continued until many things were seen and understood. The beauty and vividness of the blood are like nothing but itself. It is as plentiful as the drops of water which fall from the eaves after a heavy shower of rain, drops which fall so thickly that no human mind can number them. As for the roundness of the drops, they were like herring scales as they spread on the forehead…This vision was alive and vivid, horrifying and awe-inspiring, sweet and lovely. And what comforted me most in the vision was that our God and Lord, who is so holy and awe-inspiring, is also so familiar and courteous. And this was what gave me most happiness and the strongest sense of spiritual safety…

[I]t seems to me that it is the greatest possible joy that he who is highest and mightiest, noblest and worthiest, is also the lowest and humblest, the most kind and friendly. And truly and certainly this marvellous joy will be made known to all of us when we see him. And this is what our Lord wants us to long for and believe, to rejoice and take pleasure in, to receive comfort and support from, as much as we can, until the time when we can see it for ourselves; for it seems to me that the greatest fullness of joy that we shall have is the marvellous courtesy and intimacy of the Father who made us, through our Lord Jesus Christ who is our brother and saviour.

 Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love,
The Long Text, ch.7 

P S A L M   1 3 0
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.

It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

P R A Y E R   F O R   G O O D   F R I D A Y
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen


St. Matthew’s, Westminster, an Anglo-Catholic citadel in London –  between Westminster Abbey & Westminster Cathedral (R.C.) – is one of the most impressive of London’s Churches. As an Inclusive Anglican Church community. St. Matthews welcomes all and sundry to its colourful liturgical worship – complete with both male and female clergy – in an incomparable setting.

The posting of the record of one of the Visions of the English Mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, gives evidence of her deep understanding of the ministry of Christ to all people – regardless of their situation in life. Her experience of Jesus as both brother and Saviour, helps us to understand the profound humanity at God’s disposal – in the Person and life of Jesus Christ, God’s Divine Son.

This makes the death and resurrection of Jesus so much more meaningful – especially to those who look to Jesus as available to us in the sacramental life of the Church. The gender of St. Julian was no barrier to her closeness to Christ. May our gender never be a source of separation from one another in Christ.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pope Francis Washes Feet of Women and non-Catholics

Pope Francis washes feet of women and non-Catholics at centre for elderly and disabled
17 April 2014 19:24 by Abigail Frymann, CNS

Non-Catholics and women were among the 12 disabled and elderly people whose feet Pope Francis washed and kissed when he celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper this evening.

Francis was visiting the Father Carlo Gnocchi Foundation’s Our Lady of Providence Centre, a rehabilitation and care centre on the outskirts of Rome for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Francis knelt down, washed, dried and kissed the feet of four women and eight men, some in wheelchairs, some with swollen and disfigured feet. They ranged in ages from 16 to 86. Two aides assisted the 77-year-old Pope to kneel and stand up again.

On Maundy Thursday last year he washed the feet of young offenders – including a Muslim woman – at a centre in Rome, surprising commentators and angering traditionalists because the 12 included women.

Previous popes have conducted the liturgy in St John Lateran or St Peter’s Basilica. Francis has frequently spoken about the need for the Church to go to those who are on the margins of society. Before he was elected pope, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio would celebrate the Maundy Thursday liturgy in prisons, hospitals or homeless shelters in Buenos Aires and often washed the feet of women.

The Vatican said that the 12 selected to take part in this year’s service came from various religious confessions and comprised nine Italians, a Muslim from Libya, a young man from Cape Verde and an Ethiopian woman.

He said they had all received support from the foundation to overcome the difficulties, marginalisation and isolation they often face on account of their age or a disability.

Francis told the patients, their relatives and the facility’s staff at the service that he was washing people’s feet to remind himself how to serve others, just as Jesus did when he washed the feet of his apostles.

“Jesus made a gesture, a job, the service of a slave, a servant,” he said. “And he leaves this legacy to us: We need to be servants to one another.”

“You, too, must love each other, be servants in love,” he said in a brief homily, which he delivered off the cuff.

He asked people to think of ways “how we can serve others better – that’s what Jesus wanted from us.”

Held in the centre’s large chapel, which was dotted with bright stained-glass windows, the Mass was the second of two Holy Thursday liturgies over which the Pope presided. The first was a morning chrism Mass in St Peter’s Basilica.

Medical personnel and other staff members did the readings while staff and patients, some seated in wheelchairs, provided the singing and music: one person played acoustic guitar, another beat time with a triangle.

Mgr Angelo Bazzarri, president of the Father Gnocchi Foundation, told Vatican Radio that the Pope’s decision to wash the feet of patients with different abilities, ages and religious convictions was meant to reflect the “universal gesture of a God who became man, who serves all of humanity”.

By choosing to visit the rehabilitation centre, the Pope was showing the kind of “evangelical mercy that he wants to embrace the entire world of suffering,” he said.


Officially, the Roman Catholic occupant of the Chair of Saint Peter has been called ‘Servant of the servants of God’. In  this item from ‘The Tablet’ – the premier R.C. newspaper in the UK – there is evidence that Pope Francis is extending this ministry of service to all and sundry- including women.

After, on last Holy Thursday, washing the feet of female and male prisoners in a Roman prison; this year the Pope washed the feet of elderly, infirm and disabled residents in a Roman rehabilitation centre. Again, there were women involved. Pope Francis is probably the first Pontiff to have extended this intimate ministry of Christ, to women.

Why is it that there is great enthusiasm among the faithful – including those outside of the Roman Catholic Church – for this follower of Christ and Saint Francis at the Vatican? Well, maybe because from the moment of his inauguration as Head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has repeatedly given evidence of his identification with the poor and marginalised – not only of his own faith community, but of the world at large. What better way of advertising the Love of God for every human being?

What a wonderful way to show the love of Christ for ALL people. Deo gratias!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The C. of E. Responds to Questions of C.P.s versus Marriage

Civil Partnership Review (England and Wales): Consultation- A
response from the Church of England

Q1 What are your views about abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership once same sex couples can marry?

This response to the Consultation is sent on behalf of the Church of England. The content of the submission is based on the views of the Archbishops’ Council and the House of Bishops.

We believe that civil partnership should not be abolished. When civil partnership was introduced, it addressed the widely acknowledged problem that same sex couples, many of whom were in long term, faithful relationships intended to be permanent, did not share the same kind of legal position enjoyed by married heterosexual couples, such as the rights of next-of-kin, inheritance and pension rights and so on. The Church of England
recognises that same sex relationships often embody fidelity and mutuality. Civil partnerships enable these Christian virtues to be recognised socially and legally in a proper framework. The introduction of same sex marriage now offers an alternative way for same sex couples to secure those advantages. It is, however, too soon to know what proportion of people currently in civil partnerships will wish to convert them into marriage and how many people may in future decide to enter a civil partnership rather than marry. And whatever the numbers turn out to be, abolishing civil partnership would pose an invidious choice for those who may, on grounds of
religious conviction or for other reasons, not wish to enter a same sex marriage.

Whilst civil partnership and marriage confer effectively the same legal standing upon a relationship, there remain important differences. The differences are especially important for many Christians who accept the churches’ traditional teaching both on marriage and on sexual behaviour. As civil partnership is not marriage and also involves no presumption that the relationship is sexually active, it offers an important structure for the public validation of the relationship of a same sex couple who wish to live in accordance with the church’s traditional teaching. If civil partnership was to be abolished, such couples would be faced with the unjust choice of either marrying (which might conflict with their religious beliefs about the nature of marriage) or losing all public and legal recognition of their relationship.

Q2 Once marriage is available to same sex couples, do you think it should still be possible for couples to form a civil partnership as an alternative to marrying?

Yes. For the reasons outlined above, we believe strongly that the option of civil partnership should remain open for same sex couples who do not believe that marriage is right for them. This is more than a matter of personal preference. In the debate leading up to the legislation on same
sex marriage, many of those who opposed the legislation did so on the grounds that, whilst same sex couples should have every legal entitlement that was available to heterosexual couples, the single word “marriage” was being used to denote two different kinds of relationship. That view did not prevail in Parliament, but it continues to be held by a significant number of people in the country and not just by Christians.

The retention of civil partnership will mean that Christian and other same sex couples who hold the traditional understanding of marriage as being between a man and a woman, will still have a social and legal framework in which their relationship can be honoured and recognised. We believe that this constituency for civil partnership extends beyond those who chose civil
partnership over marriage on religious grounds.

Q3 What are your views about extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples?

We do not believe that a case has been made for extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. Our arguments for the retention of civil partnership are based on the need to maintain an option for those same sex couples who wish for proper recognition of their relationship but do not believe that their relationship is identical to “marriage”. It is much less clear what comparable disadvantage arises from the absence of opportunity for opposite sex couples to form civil partnerships.

Q4 n/a
Q5 n/a

Q6 Are there any costs and benefits which are not included in this document linked to: a) Abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership and converting existing civil partnerships into marriages.

The abolition of civil partnership would in effect constitute coercion on the minority of same sex couples who have a right to the provisions afforded by civil partnership but do not believe that the concept of marriage should be extended beyond opposite sex couples.

b) Stopping new civil partnerships being registered, but retaining existing ones.

Retention of existing civil partnerships would imply that the state of being in a civil partnership has some intrinsic distinctiveness which is not captured in marriage. If this is so, then the distinctive nature of civil partnership remains into the future since it is a matter of conceptual definition rather than simply of demand. The potential cost of this option will be that the law surrounding relationships will be incoherent since a distinctive status available to a group of people in one year will be denied to those coming after them.

c) Opening up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.

Paragraph 3.15 notes that there would be significant financial costs associated with this option. We question whether additional claims should be made on public finances when there would be no clear conceptual, moral or practical advantage (or avoidance of disadvantage) associated with the proposed changes.

Q7 Are there any detailed implementation issues which are not included in this document linked to: a) Abolishing the legal relationship of civil partnership and converting existing civil partnerships into marriages. 

Paragraph 3.19 notes the question of couples in a civil partnership where one member undertakes gender reassignment. They would currently have to dissolve their civil partnership and then marry. We agree that it should be made as straightforward as possible for such couples to translate their civil partnership into a marriage, just as same sex couples currently in civil partnerships will be able to make the transition into marriage once the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act is implemented. Such a couple would have made the transition from being, in law, a same sex couple to being an
opposite sex couple, and we see no reason why the category of civil partnership should be  kept open for them, for the same reasons that we believe civil partnership should not be extended to opposite sex couples who currently have the option of marriage.

However, we believe that, because the relationship remains one between the same two individuals, and where their bonds of affection and commitment are untouched by the gender reassignment of one party, the transition to marriage should be made in such a way as to emphasise the continuity of the relationship.

b) Stopping new civil partnerships being registered, but retaining existing ones.

See response to Q6.

c) Opening up civil partnerships to opposite sex couples.

See response to (a) above.

Q8 Are there any proposals for changes to the legal terminology and processes for forming civil partnerships which are consistent with civil partnership being different from marriage?

As we have outlined above, we believe that civil partnership offers a distinctive form of publicly acknowledged relationship which same sex couples should be able to continue to choose because they do not regard marriage as appropriate to their case. In other words, it is precisely the
distinctive nature of civil partnership which makes it important that civil partnership is not abolished. When civil partnership was the only option available to same sex couples, the desire to make it as alike to marriage as possible was understandable and recognised, but with the advent of same sex marriage, the distinctive nature of civil partnership assumes greater
significance for those who may not wish to avail themselves of marriage.

It is therefore important that the definition of civil partnership, and the ceremony whereby it is entered into, remains clearly distinct from the provisions of marriage.

Q9 Are there other options for civil partnership which have not been raised so far but which are within the scope of the review and consistent with its principles?


Q10 Are there people who share a relevant protected characteristic other than those identified above who would be particularly affected by a decision to make, or not to make, one or more of the potential changes to civil partnership highlighted in section 3.1 of this document?

As outlined above, we believe that there will continue to be those, including some same sex couples, who believe on religious grounds that marriage is an institution which is defined as being between a man and a woman. This belief does not negate the fact that Parliament has decided, by large majorities, to extend the definition of marriage to embrace same sex unions.

But it is in the nature of a plural democracy that beliefs conscientiously held by minorities should be respected where they do not undermine the practice of the majority. The retention of civil partnership will do nothing to undermine the validity of same sex marriage but will serve to provide a structure whereby those who retain this conviction will not be excluded from the legal and public benefits of their union but will be able to do so without doing violence to their conscientiously held beliefs.

William Fittall
Secretary General
Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops
2 April 2014


In this statement of response to Questions asked of the Church of England by The Civil Partnership Review (England and Wales): Consultation, at least two parts of the response would seem to spell out the oddity of the situation in which the Church of England Commissioners and the General Secretary of the Archbishops’ Council and House of Bishops, William Fittal, have gotten themselves into in regard to their attitude towards Civil Partnerships vis-a-vis Equal Marriage for Same-Sex Partners:

1. After fiercely opposing the legislation which accorded Same-Sex Couples the right to enter into legal Civil Partnerships; and then consistently refusing to countenance any official Church Blessing of the same; it would appear that now – in the situation where Same-Sex Couples may actually Marry – the Commission seems, also, to find that situation intolerable – BUT, by reason of the fact that they now see Civil Partnerships as a good and proper way to celebrate Same-Sex, faithful and committed relationships!

A pragmatic turn-around on the part of the Church? But still without Blessings!

2. Having once rejected Civil Partnerships for Same-Sex Couples – on the ground of their reckoned incompatibility with the Scriptures – and now going back on that opinion; the Church now admits that, for those couples who may not want to enter into the married state: 

but with the advent of same sex marriage, the distinctive nature of civil partnership assumes greater significance for those who may not wish to avail themselves of marriage.”

Does this mean that  the Church accepts that any couple – gay or straight – who ‘may not wish to avail themselves of Marriage, ought to settle for Civil Partnership as an acceptable alternative to Marriage? What’s going on here, I wonder?

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

First Anglican Priest in Equal Marriage Ceremony in England

Gay priest defies Church of England ban on same-sex marriage as senior vicar warns of ‘crisis’

Hospital chaplain Canon Jeremy Pemberton, 58, becomes the first Church of England priest to marry person of same sex

The pair would have been unable to marry in an Anglican church as the Church of England refused to support the Government’s legalisation of gay marriage last month. As well as banning clergy from marrying a person of the same sex, priests are not allowed to direct same-sex marriages.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby last week claimed that if the Church of England accepted gay marriage,Christians in countries where homosexuality is illegal would be killed.

Following the change of law, The House of Bishops’ guidance on same-sex marriage, signed by Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, said: “We are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.”

“That’s what I want. It is the same as anyone who wants to get married.”

Following the wedding, Canon Pemberton took to Twitter to express his delight, describing the ceremony as “very moving and very happy”. He said that being the first was “accidental”, adding that “we just wanted to get married”.

The couple have received floods of well wishes on social media, including from some corners of the Church, including LGBT activist Rev Stephen Sorby, who said: “Congratulations lovely. Every blessing. We stand with you”, and the vicar of Sedbergh in Cumbria, Drew Mac, who wrote: “Congratulations and best wishes – and may God bless you too!”

Support also came from Rev Colin Coward, director of the Changing Attitude campaign group and Dr Giles Fraser, the former canon chancellor of St Paul’s.

But Rev Rod Thomas, chairman of the conservative Reform group and member of the General Synod, told The Telegraph that Canon Pemberton should be reprimanded, warning that inaction could trigger “crisis” in the Church of England.

He said: “If there is not clear discipline then it is the equivalent to saying ‘we really didn’t mean what we said.’ It will precipitate a crisis.”

The Bishop of Lincoln, the Right Reverend Christopher Lowson, said he spoke to Canon Pemberton, who is a chaplain of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, after he informed him that he would be getting married, but did not say if he would now be taking disciplinary action.

He said:  “I am aware that a member of the clergy who works in the Diocese of Lincoln has married a partner of the same sex.

“The priest concerned wrote to me in advance to explain his intention and we had a subsequent meeting in which I explained the guidelines of the House of Bishops.”


This article from the pages of the ‘Independent’ newspaper in the U.K. gives the story of the first Marriage of a same-sex couple involving a clergy-person of the Church of England.

Despite the opposition of the Church of England’s Bishops to any of its clergy taking advantage of the newly created law which allows same-sex couples to marry; it could have been predicted that there would be some clergy who would take up their civil rights to marry – despite the very real threat of disciplinary action from their local bishop.

In the case of Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who is a priest resident in the Diocese of Lincoln, but employed by the N.H.S. as a Hospital Chaplain; the Bishop of Lincoln – once he had been made aware of imminent plans for the wedding – advised Canon Pemberton of the guidelines issued by the House of Bishops of the C.of E., without, however, issuing any outright ban for the marriage, which is now legal for same-sex couples in England and Wales. What discipline, if any, will be meted out to Canon Pemberton is yet to be decided.

There can be no doubt that this first marriage under the new law, of a clergy-person of the Church of England, will be keenly followed by both the media and the membership of the Church of England. Any statement on behalf of the Church of England hierarchy that seeks punishment of Canon Pemberton will be resisted by those in the Church who believe that clergy should have the same rights as the laity to be married under the new law.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment