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Blessings are a big step forward, insist emotional Archbishops

20 January 2023

Church of England

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York

THE personal effect of the proposed changes to allow clergy to bless same-sex unions in church was apparent in Friday’s press conference at Lambeth Palace Library.

Both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York used personal anecdotes to emphasise the significance of the change that the Bishops are proposing — in the face of criticism that they have failed to recommend equal marriage in church for same-sex couples (News, 18 January).

In answer to a question from the Church Times, Archbishop Welby recounted his memories of a parishioner — a single man — from his time as a parish priest. “Some years after I left, when he [the parishioner] came out as gay, it wasn’t a huge surprise. But the next thing I heard was that the pressure of living with the Church’s attitude had led to his suicide,” he said.

“I still mourn him, and I wish he was here today, because I think he would be able to to feel that, perhaps it wasn’t everything he wanted . . . but that what we’ve done, and are doing, and will go on doing, says he’s not lesser, he’s not excluded, he’s not unloved, he’s not unwanted, but he’s as much a valuable, loved, saved member of God’s people, because he’s put his trust and life in the hands of Jesus Christ, as any other person who has done that.”

Archbishop Cottrell also spoke with emotion about the impact of the Church’s approach to the LGBTQ+ community hitherto, including the prohibition of Bible readings in civil partnership ceremonies. “One of my dearest, oldest, closest friends,” he said, who died two years ago and was a priest, had “rather naughtily tried to smuggle” a reading from the Song of Songs into his civil partnership ceremony, but the registrar noticed, and they had to remove it.

“I was heartbroken that here are these people who love each other, whose relationship so exhibits all that I would want and expect from a relationship, who taught me so much about love and sacrifice, and they couldn’t even have this little reading from the Bible,” Archbishop Cottrell said.

“Don’t misunderstand what’s happening today: all that changes. And I’m really pleased it’s changed.”

Archbishop Welby accepted that the Church’s “long journey” was not at an end. “I’m sure the last word hasn’t been said, and I’m sure that discussions will continue. But this is an enormously important point, not only within the Anglican Communion and the Church of England but also across the global Church, in which we seek to recognise and to celebrate the love that all people have for one another, regardless of who they are and where they’re from — and I’m filled with joy about that.”

 

THE two Archbishops were upset at how the news of the Bishops’ proposals had been leaked. Friday was supposed to be the big reveal, giving them the opportunity to brief others in advance. (Archbishop Welby said that he had been in touch with Primates worldwide about the proposals.)

On Tuesday night, however, only hours after the Bishops’ meeting had concluded, the BBC ran a story that only blessings would be on offer in church and not same-sex marriage, citing four anonymous bishops as their source.

On Wednesday morning, recognising that the news had broken, Church House issued a press release confirming the story and giving basic details of the plans (News, 18 January).

At the press conference on Friday, Archbishop Cottrell said that the bishops were “really sorry the news leaked, because it meant that the people who would be hurt most by the news, those who are most vulnerable, [heard it] not in the way that we want to tell the story, and we’re really sorry that happened”.

 

THE canon law on which the new prayers and services rely is understood to be contained in Canon B5, which governs the discretion of ministers in conduct of public prayer.

Paragraph two of the canon states that a minister may “on occasions for which no provision is made in The Book of Common Prayer or by General Synod under Canon B2 or by the Convocations, Archbishops, or Ordinary under Canon B4, use forms of service considered suitable by him for those occasions and may permit another minister to use the said forms of service”.

This is subject to the proviso that “all variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.”

The materials published on Friday morning contained an explanation of why the Bishops believe that their proposals do not affect the Church’s doctrinal position on marriage. “It can be argued that a same-sex couple entering into a civil status which does not claim to be Holy Matrimony should not of itself be regarded as challenging or rejecting the Church’s doctrine of marriage as expressed in Canon B30 (Of Holy Matrimony) and that those who do so should not, therefore, be regarded as acting in disobedience to that doctrine.

“On that basis it would be possible for same-sex couples who are in a civil marriage — like those who are in a civil partnership — to have a service of dedication, thanksgiving, and/or blessing without contradicting the Church’s doctrine of marriage.”

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