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Blessings: July Synod will see new prayers, but must wait for main debate in November

23 June 2023


AS EXPECTED, no substantial developments to the Church’s Living in Love and Faith (LLF) programme will be debated at next month’s meeting of the General Synod in York. Bishops have urged patience, saying that they are “on track” to present concrete proposals in November.

Draft Prayers of Love and Faith, which clerics will be at liberty to use to bless same-sex couples in church, were approved in principle at the February group of sessions (News, 9 February). A revised version will be presented to the Synod next month when it meets in York (7-11 July).

On Thursday afternoon, among the published documents for the July sessions, was an “update” on the implementation of the LLF process.

It reported that, over the past three months, bishops had been meeting with three “implementation groups”, each focused on a different branch of work: revising the prayers; devising updated pastoral guidance for priests and Readers; and setting out what measures should be put in place for those who oppose the introduction of same-sex blessings (News, 3 May). Only on the first of these issues is something ready to be set before Synod members in July.

The document states that revisions have been made “based on feedback from Synod and from members of the Prayers of Love and Faith working group”, together with “feedback from the Bishops’ meetings”.

The changes are slight, and seem to subtract from what was originally proposed. For instance, the heading “Prayers for Dedication and Thanksgiving for a Couple” has been shortened to “Prayers for Dedication and Thanksgiving”, and excerpts from the Song of Solomon have been removed from the recommended readings.

Two prayers for the blessing of rings have become amalgamated into one, and moved from the main body of the document to footnotes. In May, the House of Clergy met to give feedback on the implementation of LLF, at which concern was expressed about the use of “wedding accoutrements” during blessings (News, 4 May).

As for the other two pieces of work, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who has been co-chairing the implementation process alongside the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, that “initial work has been completed” on developing new pastoral guidance, and provision for those who oppose the changes.

“We mustn’t underestimate that these are complex matters, which go to the heart of who we are as people and our belief, and so it will take time and care to come forward to Synod with the full proposals,” she said.

In response to a question about why more time was needed, Bishop Mullally said that the Bishops had “listened” and “taken on board” comments made, and this will “always take a little bit more time . . . but we are on track for November”.

Bishop Mounstephen emphasised the “interdependency of these different streams of work”, but said that the issues concerning “pastoral reassurance” had come “to the fore” only since February.

“In some ways, that’s a fresh piece of piece of work to which we have given a great deal of time and attention,” he said.

Asked what the “sticking points” in the process were, Bishop Mounstephen said: “The sticking point is that we’re committed to sticking together. We really deeply value the unity of the Church. We really deeply value one another. We’re really deeply united by our common Christian faith. If it was simply a question of ‘do this or not’, we can divide, but we’re not willing to do that. So the sticking point is our stickiness.”

Bishop Mullally agreed: the delay was not about sticking points, but about “doing this well”.

THE legal route by which the prayers will be commended is also under consideration, the document reveals. It was initially understood that the prayers were expected to be covered by Canon B5, which gives the clergy wide discretion to use new forms of prayer provided they are “neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”.

The update suggests, however, that the bishops are now considering commending the prayers more formally under Canon B4.2, which states that “the archbishops may approve forms of service for use in any cathedral or church or elsewhere in the provinces of Canterbury and York on occasions for which no provision is made”.

On Friday morning, the Revd Dr Andrew Goddard, a tutor at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, published an article criticising the Canon B4 route, and arguing that the appropriate route is for the prayers to be approved by Synod under Canon B2.

Dr Goddard’s position was endorsed by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), a body that has organised much of the resistance to the changes (News, 9 July).

Authorisation via Canon B2 would delay the implementation of the prayers at least until November, and require two-third majorities in all three houses. In February, the Bishops’ proposals on LLF were passed by majorities of 36-4 in the House of Bishops, 111-85 in the House of Clergy, and 103-92 in the House of Laity.

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