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Welby opts out as details of the blessing of same-sex unions are revealed

20 January 2023

Church of England

The Friday press conference in Lambeth Palace Library. Left to right: William Nye, C of E secretary-general; the Archbishop of York; the Bishop of London; the Archbishop of Canterbury; Dr Eeva John; and Mark Arena, director of communications

The Friday press conference in Lambeth Palace Library. Left to right: William Nye, C of E secretary-general; the Archbishop of York; the Bishop ...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury will not conduct blessings for same-sex couples, he announced on Friday.

At a press conference to flesh out the Bishops’ proposals, which were revealed in outline on Wednesday morning (News, 18 January), Archbishop Welby said that, while he was “really pleased” that same-sex couples would be able to receive blessings in church, he would not personally conduct such services.

He explained that, as Archbishop of Canterbury, “an instrument of communion”, he had to be “a focus of unity”, and had “a pastoral responsibility to the whole [Anglican] Communion. . .

“Because of my pastoral care and responsibility and being a focus of unity for the whole Communion, while being extremely joyfully celebratory of these new resources, I will not personally use them, in order not to compromise that pastoral care, for example, which will need to be exercised next week, when the Pope and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland and I go on a pilgrimage of peace to the South Sudan, where half-a-million people have died from civil war in the last nine years.

“That is a self-denying ordinance, but it comes out of the global responsibility.”

Archbishop Welby described the publication of the resources, Prayers of Love and Faith, as a moment of joy and celebration. “We have actually made decisions, and they are decisions that change our approach to LGBTQI+ people,” he said. 

At the same press conference, however, the Archbishop of York said that he would bless same-sex unions.

At times emotional, Archbishop Cottrell said that the changes “put the Church of England in a new place, and I believe it’s a good place.

“It’s a good place because it holds the unity of the Church, but it also enables LGBTQI+ people to be part of that Church, and have their lived experience their love for each other acknowledged in the Church.”

Archbishop Cottrell also said that he was “really sorry”, saying: “One thing we’ve learned in this process is just how much damage we’ve done.”

He continued: “I know that saying sorry doesn’t cut it for some people. It sounds hollow: ‘It’s all very well you saying sorry, the Church still isn’t giving us what we want’ — that is how some people are responding. And I want to say I do get that, but that doesn’t mean the sorry isn’t still heartfelt.”

A key question unanswered earlier this week was whether the ban on same-sex marriage for clergy would persist. At present, they are only permitted to engage in civil partnerships. On Friday, it became clear that clergy would have to wait several months for a clear answer.

A new “Pastoral Consultative Group” of bishops will meet to decide on what pastoral guidelines should replace Issues in Human Sexuality — a document which Dr Eeva John, the enabling officer for the LLF process, described as “not fit for purpose”.

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) next-steps group, expressed regret that she could not immediately clarify what the pastoral guidance would be; but she said that, by the time the General Synod meets in July, there would be “clear pastoral guidance in place”.

She said that “part of the opportunity” at the Synod meeting next month would be for members to discuss on which areas the guidance should focus.

In an interview with Sky News after the press conference, Bishop Mullally said that bishops hoped to commend the prayers “very quickly” after the General Synod meets in February.

On the third day of the upcoming group of sessions in the first week of February, Synod members will debate a multi-pronged motion concerning the LLF process.

However, it is understood that the Bishops will commend the new prayers and draft forms of service — which were revealed in the Synod papers published shortly before the press conference — regardless of whether the motion is amended or passed (News, 19 January).

Bishop Mullally emphasised at the press conference: “Services that use these prayers are not marriage services, and their use by clergy is entirely voluntary.”

She also acknowledged the disquiet felt by many in the Church. “We realise that, for some, this will be deeply disappointing, particularly for those who long for equal marriage for same-sex couples. We also realise that, for others among us, there will be a deep concern that the Prayers of Love and Faith will go too far.”

On Friday morning, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, said that he expected that clergy would be permitted to be in same-sex marriages, although not solemnised in church.

“It is very good for us to be able to say today that the Church can now offer public services of blessing, but we know that we have further to go,” he said.

“I also look forward to the publication of new pastoral guidance in the coming months and confidently expect this will enable our clergy to order their relationships according to their own conscience and allow them the freedom to enter into same-sex civil marriage.”

Earlier this week, a number of MPs made public their dissatisfaction with the Church of England’s refusal to sanction same-sex marriage in church (News, 19 January). Asked whether this had had any bearing on the College of Bishops’ proposals, Archbishop Welby said that the proposals were “not intended to placate them — that had no influence at all.”

The Bishops’ proposals, he said, were not about expedience, but about doing “what we felt was right.”

 

The text of the draft motion to be put before the General Synod is:

That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:

(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church;

(b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;

(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;

(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;

(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;

(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time.

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