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House of Bishops votes to commend part of Prayers of Love and Faith

12 December 2023


BLESSINGS for same-sex couples can take place within existing church services from this Sunday, after the House of Bishops formally commended the Prayers of Love and Faith at a meeting on Tuesday.

A statement on Tuesday afternoon revealed that the Bishops had voted 24-11, with three recorded abstentions, in favour of commending the collection of prayers, which were first published in draft form in January (News, 18 January)

Two marathon debates in the General Synod, in February and November, ended with votes approving the Bishops’ plan to commend the blessings, despite threats of legal action if they were to go ahead (News, 5 July).

The blessings have only being sanctioned for use within regular services, and not as a stand-alone service. In the Synod in November, an amendment calling on the Bishops to consider a trial period for stand-alone services was carried, albeit narrowly (News, 15 November).

Tuesday’s statement, however, makes little mention of this, and merely says: “The House also continued to discuss separate proposals for special standalone services for same-sex couples to be formally authorised under canon law.”

As the next meeting of the House of Bishops is not due to take place until some time in the new year, it seems unlikely that such a trial period for the prayers, permitted under Canon B5(A), will be in place before the Synod’s next group of sessions.

Alongside their planned experimental use, the stand-alone services are to be considered for authorisation by the Synod, under a two-year process under Canon B2.

Tuesday’s statement made no mention of new pastoral guidance for priests, which is widely expected to permit priests to enter into same-sex civil marriages.

Leaked voting figures from the College and House of Bishops suggest that there is majority support for this move. Documents shown to the Church Times show that the guidance has been drafted (News, 26 October).

In October, however, the Bishop of London, who was chairing the Living in Love and Faith implementation process, said that “further work” needed to be done on the guidance before it could be published (News, 20 October).

It is understood that there is still no date for this work to be completed.

Pastoral guidance for the use of the Prayers of Love and Faith has, though, been published, and is available on the Church of England website.

It recommends that a PCC, churchwardens, and incumbent of a parish discuss whether to use the prayers, although their use is formally a matter for the priest’s discretion.

The publication of the voting figures in the House of Bishops may be regarded as a slight increase in transparency, after accusations during the November meeting of the Synod that the Bishops were not sufficiently accountable.

The size of the minority opposed to the commendation of the prayers is not, however, a surprise: leaked voting figures from a previous meeting of the House of Bishops, as well as votes in the Synod and letters of dissent published by groups of bishops, have indicated the existence of a two-thirds split on the issue.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, who is one of the new co-chairs of the group overseeing the introduction of the prayers, said on Tuesday: “We know not everyone in the Church of England agrees on these important questions which go the heart of who we are — about people’s lives, their love, and our shared faith. This is reflected in the House of Bishops, where there remain different views on the best ways to proceed.”

But he endorsed the prayers as “pastoral provision”: “It is our prayer that they can be used with grace and understanding. Sharing them will be a blessing to the whole Church.”

The other co-chair, the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, said: “The Prayers of Love and Faith are resources to pray with and for a same-sex couple who are committed to one another in faithfulness and love. They are intended to enable those who wish to give thanks for and joyfully mark that commitment before God and their community of faith.”

The motions approved by the House of Bishops were:

  1. That this House, having agreed at its meeting of 9 October to commend the PLF Resource Section (”PLF RS”) for use in the minister’s discretion under Canon B 5, now resolve that the PLF RS be commended with effect from December 17 2023 and published accordingly
  2. That this House, having agreed at its meeting of 9 October to commend the Prayers for a Covenanted Friendship for use in the minister’s discretion under Canon B5, now resolve that the Prayers for a Covenanted Friendship be commended with effect from December 17 2023 and published accordingly.

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