SAME-SEX couples who enter a civil partnership or marriage in Wales can now have prayers said in church, but there will be no change to the Church in Wales’s canons to allow same-sex weddings.
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, announced the decision of the Bishops at the meeting of the Church’s Governing Body in Llandudno last week.
In a pastoral letter released at the same time, the Bishops wrote that it was clear that there would not be a two-thirds majority in each House to permit a change to the law. As such, they “believe that it is appropriate to offer prayers in response to the pastoral need of those gay and lesbian persons who are making profound commitments to friendship or partnership”.
These prayers do not constitute a service of blessing, they insist, and are not mandatory, but instead are commended to anyone who might find them “suitable or helpful”.
Responding to questions from members of the Governing Body, Dr Morgan said: “We want to affirm homosexual people. I realise that what we have done is limited in scope, but we have done the best we can, given the constraints upon us constitutionally. We have tried to square a circle, and we are caught in the middle.”
A survey at the last meeting of the Governing Body had revealed that, although more than half of the members favoured permitting lesbian and gay couples to marry in the Church in Wales, there was not the two-thirds majority required to pass such a Bill (News, 25 September).
The pastoral letter includes one section addressed directly to lesbian and gay people in the Church. “We recognise that you have often been persecuted and ostracised by the Church for your sexuality; that you have been mistreated by the Church, and forced into secrecy and dissimulation by the attitudes of prejudice which you have faced,” it states.
“We too commit ourselves to offering you the same loving service and pastoral care to which all humanity is entitled, and we commit ourselves to acting to provide a safe space within the Church in which you can be honest and open, respected and affirmed.”
After the meeting, Dr Morgan said in an interview that the Bishops had gone as far as they believed they could to welcome same-sex couples.
“We knew, for some people, this would be a step too far, and for other people this would not go far enough,” he said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and some of his fellow Anglican Primates will probably send letters to rebuke him for these actions, Dr Morgan said, and a TV interviewer had accused him of cowardice for not going further.
“It’s not a question of being cowards. If you bring a Bill, you are raising expectations, and you know they are going to be dashed,” he said. “And that’s cruel, it seemed to me.”
Some members of the Governing Body had criticised the issuing of prayers as disingenuous. Susan Last, a lay representative of the diocese of St Asaph, accused the Church of indulging in “homophobic doubletalk”.
“It is ambiguous, to say the least, to offer pastoral support, but refuse to bless their relationships. We strongly believe that the Church in Wales is strong enough to uphold what its majority believes,” she told Dr Morgan.
The Archbishop rejected the suggestion, although he did concede that there was a fine line between supporting prayers and a service of blessing.
“We are praying with people and for people, and technically not blessing them, I suppose,” he reflected. “We can issue prayers; we cannot issue prayers of blessing.”
The debate on same-sex relationships was not over, he said. The pastoral letter affirmed that there were a wide range of “legitimate differences” in opinion within the province.
“The issues around human sexuality that are being debated will not go away, and the pain is not over,” Dr Morgan concluded. “We do believe that we are called to live in love and charity with one another, whatever our experience or convictions on this issue.”
Dr Morgan approves ACC’s welcome of US delegates. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) is right to ignore the Primates’ strictures and allow the Episcopal Church in the United States to take part in this month’s meeting in Zambia, Dr Morgan said.
“The Primates can say what they like, but the ACC is a totally separate body, ruled by its own constitution, and therefore American and Canadian delegates have a perfect right to be there,” he said last week, after the Church in Wales’s Governing Body meeting.
“The Primates’ Meetings were initially set up for godly counsel, friendship, and discussing problems,” he said. “There are some archbishops who say not only do we believe this, but you must also believe it, [even though] we live in very different provinces.”
Allowing others to live as they saw fit was the “essence of Anglicanism”, Dr Morgan said. “I was on the Primates Standing Committee for eight long years, and I gave it up in 2011 because I didn’t want to waste my life arguing about this one issue.”