‘The Telegraph’ comments on the ‘Hereford Motion’

Church of England to debate services for same-sex couples after bishop backs diocese call

The “potentially controversial” change could “increase pressure” on the Church to change its rules on marriage. 

The Church of England will debate blessings for same-sex couples after a motion was passed by one diocese, with the support of the local bishop, calling for a formal liturgy.

The Bishop of Hereford, who spoke in favour of the change and voted for the motion, said he thinks clergy should be helped to carry out a more formal service with recently married gay couples.

Hereford’s diocesan synod has voted to support a motion calling on the House of Bishops to “commend an Order of Prayer and Dedication after the registration of a civil partnership or a same sex marriage

The vote means the Church of England’s governing body, General Synod, will debate the issue at a future meeting. 

The motion adds that “no parish should be obliged to host, nor minister conduct, such a service”, and says that the service should also be “neither contrary to, nor indicative of, any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England”.

The motion, which was proposed by a group of local deanery synods, was passed by 41 votes to 18 against, with four abstentions.

The Bishop of Hereford, the Right Reverend Richard Frith, said it was raised after local clergy were inundated with requests from parishioners to carry out such services, adding that he believed that informal versions were already widespread at churches across the country.

Clergy can use their “pastoral discretion” to informally pray with couples.

The bishop said: “It is happening right across the country – sometimes people are consulting bishops and I have no doubt that sometimes it’s just happening anyway.”

He added: “It’s about exploring – what are the acceptable limits, how far can we go? Some people would want to go the whole hog and say we should have same-sex marriages in church.

“This motion is not saying that and I’m not saying that either. But I am saying go further than just leaving it to individual clergy to do something informal.

“So it’s moving things forward whilst remaining sensitive that we can’t rush these things.”

Commenting on the motion before the vote the Hereford Bishop’s Council warned that the “potentially controversial” change would “increase pressure” on the Church to change its rules on marriage.

IFebruary General Synod voted to reject a controversial report which upheld traditional teaching on marriage. A committee is now working on a “teaching document” on the subject, due to be finalised in 2020.

The vote is likely to cause controversy among conservative members of the church, both in the UK and abroad.

Earlier this month the international Anglican Communion resolved to implement “consequences” upon the Scottish Episcopal Church after it voted to allow same-sex marriage in its churches.

But progressives welcomed the move, with pressure group One Body One Faith saying it was “delighted” with the vote. 

“Support for such a motion in a predominantly rural diocese like Hereford reflects what many of our members and supporters know to be true – that in communities across the country, in all kinds of contexts, there is widespread support for affirming same-sex couples, and being alongside them as they experience the joy and blessing of their relationships,” it said.

The wording of the motion is modelled on a similar provision made in the 1980s for couples who had divorced and re-married.

In 2006 Bishop Frith re-married following divorce, becoming the first serving bishop in the modern era to do so.

“The diocesan synod’s decision does not change the teaching or practice of the Church of England, whether in Hereford or anywhere else in the Church.

“Under the Standing Orders of the General Synod, the motion will fall to be debated at the Synod at a time to be decided by its Business Committee.

“Clergy of the Church of England are unable to marry couples of the same sex and, under the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Same Sex Marriage, ‘services of blessing’ should not be provided for those who enter into civil partnerships or same-sex marriages.

“It is recognised, however, that there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality and the House of Bishops has recently embarked on the preparation of a major new teaching document on marriage and sexuality.

“We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God.”

___________________________________________________________

Now that the Church of England Diocese of Hereford has asked the General Synod to consider the provision of an authorised text for the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, this contentious issue will no doubt be on the minds and hearts of the people gathered for the upcoming Meeting of the Church of England General Synod in November.

Although an unofficial statement from the C. of E. casts doubt on whether the issue will be debated at that Synod, there is an admission that the reality of Same-Sex Marriage in the U.K. will impinge upon the national Church to make an official response on pastoral grounds alone: Here is a part of the C.of E.’s first response:

“We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’, but as a person loved and made in the image of God.”

The article in The Telegraph could be a little misleading, though, implying, as it does in the Title,  that the decision of the Hereford Synod to back a liturgical form of Blessing for Same-Sex Unions will automatically bring the matter onto the agenda of the November Session of the General Synod. It is entirely up to the Standing Committee of the G.S. to decide what will actually appear on the Synod Papers.

However, if other Church of England dioceses – depending in which of them has its own Diocesan Synod in the interim – make a similar request of General Synod – it could be possible that by the scheduled July Meeting of General Synod, sufficient dioceses could have made a similar request for a liturgical form of Blessing for the General Synod to be moved into a ruling – either for, or against, such a provision.

Considering the fact that the Church of England has already discussed the possibility of a pastoral provision of un-official prayers for Same-Sex Couples – after their Civil Union or Civil Marriage ceremony by The State – for the Church to then refuse to offer a more public affirmation of what the State has already recognised might seem profoundly unChristian.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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