THE Kyrkomötet (General Synod) of the Church of Sweden approved a recommendation that the Swedish Church should conduct weddings in church for both heterosexual and same-sex couples last week. The marriage liturgy will be amended slightly to reflect this.
The changes will take effect from Sunday 1 November. No individual cleric will be obliged to perform such a service, but every parish will be required to make provision for the liturgy, and to use visiting priests if necessary. The voting was 176 in favour with 62 against, and 11 abstentions.
In May, new civil legislation repealed the separate provision for registered partnerships which had been in force since 1995. It provided that same-sex couples should now have the same legal marriage status as mixed-sex couples (News, 17 July). Existing civil partners are able to convert their relationship into marriage if they wish.
The Church of Sweden has provided a formal liturgy for the blessing of same-sex registered partnerships since January 2007, although informal blessings approved by the bishops began in the 1990s.
The 14 Swedish bishops have a voice in the synod, but they are not voting members. Many of them spoke during the full day of discussion that preceded the vote. Afterwards, seven bishops published a letter that criticised the decision, saying that it “puts at risk the unity of the Church”.
Representatives of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Sweden also issued a statement saying that they disagreed with this action, but they emphasised that it would not disrupt ecumenical conversations.
In June, the chairman of the Council for Christian Unity (CCU), the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, and the chairman of the Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG), the Bishop of Chichester, Dr John Hind, sent a strongly worded letter on behalf of the Church of England to the Archbishop of Uppsala and Primate of the Swedish Church, the Most Revd Anders Wejryd. They expressed great concern about the proposal, which had been outlined in a letter that the Archbishop had sent in March to all Porvoo Communion members.
In this letter, Archbishop Wejryd had said: “Since the ’90s, the bishops have for theological reasons unanimously supported the right of homosexuals to live together and have also maintained that the church can support and pray for these couples.”
Last week, a spokesman said that the C of E “will have to consider how to respond to this development, which is clearly at variance with the theology and practice of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion as a whole. The definitive statement of the Church of England’s position remains the letter [sent] in June this year.”
Bishop Hill confirmed on Tuesday that the matter would be discussed at the CCU meeting on 30 November. It also added urgency to the next Porvoo consultation, already being planned for 2010, on the subject of the theology of marriage, he said.
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, said: “Those of us who attended the Primates’ Meeting of the Porvoo Communion two weeks ago understand that this decision will bring tension among our Lutheran partners — as well as between Anglicans and Lutherans.
“We hope that we can explore with our partners the limits of the diversity which we can experience while still being able to celebrate our communion.”
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