The Church should be a place where gay and lesbian people can be “honest and open, respected and affirmed”, say the bishops of the Church in Wales.
They are issuing a joint pastoral letter in response to consultations and debates on same-sex marriage across the Church in Wales last year, as well as to a statement from the Primates of the Anglican Communion in January.
In the letter, the bishops acknowledge that while the consultations showed that the Church is not yet ready to allow or bless same-sex marriage, the debate is not over. They commit to working for a Church in which gay and lesbian people are “fully affirmed as equal disciples” and to praying with and for them.
They also apologise to gay and lesbian people for the persecution and mistreatment they have endured at the hands of the Church and they commit themselves to providing a safe place within the Church for all gay and lesbian people.
Alongside the letter, the Bishops are also publishing a series of prayers which may be said with a couple following the celebration of a civil partnership or civil marriage.
Introducing the letter, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said, “We are not ready, as a Church, to take the step of authorising same-sex marriage. There is no point in bringing forward a Bill for it to fail. That I know will be a disappointment to those who voted for change and will be a deep disappointment to same sex couples within the Church in Wales who long for the opportunity to make their vows in one of our churches….
“We, as bishops, feel that this is the right thing to do at this time. I realise that some people will regard these prayers as too little too late and others will regard them as a step too far. No one is compelled to use them, but they are provided for those who would like to do so. These prayers do not constitute a service of blessing.”
In their statement affirming Same-Sex couples’ right to be acknowledged, respected and accepted by the Church in Wales, the bishops of that Anglican community have expressed their opinion that the C. in W. is not yet ready to either Bless or Marry Same-sex couples in their churches. However, they have provided a collection of appropriate prayers that might possibly be mistaken for at least a ‘Blessing’ by the Church for those Same-Sex couples who wish to be recognised by their Church community as ‘welcome in the midst’.
However, in the meantime, the bishops promise that there will be ongoing efforts to normalise the presence of gays in the Church: “They commit to working for a Church in which gay and lesbian people are “fully affirmed as equal disciples” and to praying with and for them.”
Though this may fall short of what many people maty expect of the Church – to express some sort of willingness to ‘Bless’ legally contracted Same-Sex relationships; the Bishops’ Statement does admit past homophobic and sexist treatment of its own people in the Church who wish to declare publicly their relationships.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand