Church of England’s General Synod backs standalone services for same-sex blessings

By David Paulsen
Posted Jul 10, 2024

The Church of England’s General Synod discusses the latest proposal for Living in Love and Faith on July 8.

[Episcopal News Service] The Church of England’s General Synod this week backed a revised plan for blessing same-sex couples as the church moves closer to full LGBTQ+ inclusion while accommodating Anglicans with conservative theological beliefs on human sexuality.

General Synod, the church’s primary governing body, has wrestled for years with whether and how to offer the blessings as part of an ongoing Church of England initiative, Living in Love and Faith. Same-sex couples still cannot marry in Anglican churches there, but the blessings, known as Prayers of Love and Faith, were first authorized in February 2023. Anglican churches began offering the blessings for the first time in December.

Those first blessings, however, were only allowed as part of congregations’ regular worship services, such as Holy Eucharist on Sunday. The revised plan that General Synod approved July 8 authorizes same-sex couples to receive the blessings in standalone services. Church leaders still need to work out the details for how to offer such services.

The revised plan also affirms that no Church of England clergy will be forced to offer the blessings, and General Synod committed the church to developing a system of “delegated episcopal ministry” when bishops do not share the same theological beliefs on human sexuality as those wishing to offer or receive the blessings. (Such arrangements have become more common in The Episcopal Church since General Convention passed its 2018 compromise resolution, B012, on same-sex marriage.)

“No parish, no priest has to offer these prayers but once the detail has been worked out – not yet done, we’re still on a journey – standalone service can take place,” Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell said during General Synod’s debate on the proposals. For “those who for reasons of conscience and theological conviction cannot support this, delegated and extended episcopal ministry for pastoral care, sacramental care and teaching ministry will be put in place.”

Cottrell underscored this was a compromise solution. “What’s before us isn’t what everyone wants,” he said, “but it is an Anglican way forward.”

General Synod also alluded to but did not yet take up calls to lift the church’s prohibition on clergy who are in same-sex civil marriages, which have been legal in England since 2013.

The plans that advanced at this General Synod followed an earlier meeting, in February, that exposed persistent divisions over human sexuality in the Church of England, which plays a central leadership role in the wider Anglican Communion.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby previously has said he will not personally bless same-sex couples, though his openness to greater LGBTQ+ inclusion has led to deep rifts with other interdependent, autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion that all have roots in the Church of England.

Some Anglican provinces, including The Episcopal Church, have gone further by allowing same-sex couples to marry in their churches, though this is still rare in most other provinces.

Conservative Anglican bishops, particularly those from provinces in the region known as the Global South, have strongly objected to the blessings. Because of these developments in the Church of England, they have said they no longer can accept Welby’s role as a historic “focus of unity” in the Anglican Communion.

General Synod’s actions this week drew praise from an LGBTQ+ inclusion group, Together for the Church of England, for providing “a new welcome” in the church, “especially for those in committed same-sex relationships, but which will not oblige anyone to act against their conscience.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with all concerned on refining the detail of the proposals in the coming months,” the group said in its written statement. “In supporting this vote, we recognize that the outcome is only a small step in one area towards the full inclusion we seek, and pay tribute to all those who are faithfully waiting for change.”

Conservative Anglicans, on the other hand, called it “deeply disappointing.” The Church Times quoted John Dunnett, the national director of the Church of England Evangelical Council, calling the compromise “insufficient” and a symptom of “bad process.”

“We are committed to remaining within the Church of England, and hope that the bishops will come to the table to negotiate an acceptable settlement,” Dunnett said.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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