Lambeth Palace letter suggests ‘indistinguishable’ blessing after same-sex marriage

03 March 2017

RICHARD EDWARDS

“Blessed”: Matthew and Richard Edwards on their wedding day last year. The couple went on to have a service at St Paul’s, Birmingham

“Blessed”: Matthew and Richard Edwards on their wedding day last year. The couple went on to have a service at St Paul’s, Birmingham

A LETTER from Lambeth Palace has said that a church service after a same-sex marriage can be “almost indistinguishable from a wedding”.

The letter was written to Dr Richard and Matthew Edwards, who married last year in Birmingham Register Office. Both are members of the PCC at St Paul’s, Birmingham. Dr Edwards is the treasurer, and Matthew Edwards the vice-chair and a churchwarden. They have been together for five years, and got engaged in 2015. Before they married, they wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury for guidance.

The letter they received in response, written by the Archbishop’s correspondence secretary, Andrew Nunn, demonstrates the Church of England’s ambivalence on the question of same-sex marriage. He states: “marriage in an Anglican church is not an option for you.” On the other hand, he describes the practice of having a blessing in church after a civil ceremony. “The church ceremony can be arranged so as to be almost indistinguishable from a wedding, but without the legalities.”

A Lambeth Palace spokeswoman said on Wednesday: “The correspondence secretary was intending to refer to marriages and blessings which take place in denominations other than the Church of England.”

Mr Nunn writes that Archbishop Welby had been “shaken” by the reaction in the House of Lords to the Bishops’ opposition to the same-sex marriage legislation. Same-sex marriage had “become something of a shibboleth for those opposed to homosexuality more generally. . .”

He continues: “I am really sorry that you cannot have the church wedding that you want so much. However you get around the issue, I very much hope that your wedding is a happy and joyful occasion, and that your lives together are everything and more that you dream of.”

Dr and Mr Edwards went on to have a service at St Paul’s, conducted in front of 170 guests, in June last year (News, 17 June). It was, Dr Edwards said last week, “as close to the real deal as it could be, and we enjoyed every moment. I hope it encourages other gay couples to do the same — particularly whilst we wait for the day when they can do the legal bits, too. . .

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“We wanted a church service for all of our family and friends, and for the choirs in which we sung and conducted to be involved, and to be able to sing sacred music. We wanted my mother, a lay reader, to lead some prayers, and we wanted Bible readings, not secular poems. The register office could offer none of this.” Tim Knight, a friend and composer, was commissioned to set to the text Ubi Caritas.

The service — “A service of thanksgiving following the marriage of Richard and Matthew” — was designed with the help of the Vicar, the Revd Mary Gilbert, and included a blessing of the rings.

Dr Edwards said that on the wedding day, Ms Gilbert put a rainbow flag up on the church flagpole, prompting another churchwarden to request its removal. The churchwarden resigned, and left the church shortly afterwards. It is understood that a complaint was made to the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, who said at the time that he was “in the process of establishing what occurred”. Dr Edwards said that he had been “shocked to the core” by this, having been unaware that any member of the congregation was unhappy about the service.

He has heard nothing from Bishop Urquhart, but understands that he wrote a brief letter to Ms Gilbert, passing on his good wishes. Neither the Bishop nor Ms Gilbert could not be reached to confirm this.

Both Dr Edwards and Mr Edwards were listed on OneBodyOneFaith’s Rainbow List, launched last week. Last week, Ben Franks, a member of the PCC at St Paul’s and a lay representative for Birmingham at the General Synod, said that the current guidance put clergy in a “very difficult situation, pastorally”. They were being approached by “faithful committed Christians” in same-sex relationships who wanted to “feel welcome and affirmed in the eyes of the congregation, and in the eyes of God”.

Clergy would like to be able to offer prayers, but, he said, “there isn’t really a definition of what that means”. While he thought it was unlikely that an authorised liturgy would be forthcoming, he believes that there is “room for a commended liturgy”.

In October, St Paul's launched a monthly "Rainbow Eucharist" service.

Dr Edwards believes that the current guidance from the Bishops, which prohibits a blessing in church, is “homophobic. It does not recognise the love which we share. . . It saddens us, but we were very blessed to have such a caring and understanding priest in Mary.”

He welcomed the Archbishops’ recent letter, but said that it “seems a bit late. I will, however, take them at their word, and watch the next stages closely. . . I do hope there will be tangible and valued involvement of real gay people.”

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