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Time For The Laity To Lead On Blessing Same-Sex Relationships?: Chris Fewings


It is time for “lay” Anglicans in the Church of England to start celebrating public thanksgivings for and blessings of committed same-sex relationship – in churches where possible, in church halls and church porches, in parks and on village greens.

Must I be ordained to bless my brothers and sisters? To give thanks to the Lord of love? Do priests and bishops control the life-giving mysteries?

That was my first thought on hearing of Men and Women in Marriage “a document from the Faith and Order Commission published with the agreement of the House of Bishops of the Church of England and approved for study” this week. The document seems to entrench an attitude of inertia in the institutional Church of England and make for a deeper divide between its upper echelons and substantial proportion of its clergy and laity. It also reflects an idealised view of the nuclear family which belongs more to the aspirations 1950s than the realities of the 21st century.

Peter and JaneJane married Peter. Peter married Jane. Hello Peter. Hello Jane.

Jane and Peter had 2.4 children and went to church on Sundays. Hello children. Hello Peter. Hello Jane.

The 1950s came to an abrupt end. Some people were very confused. The church painted a big picture of Peter and Jane and their 2.4 children on the church noticeboard and varnished it with everlasting varnish.

Everyone felt much happier now. They went inside the church and it was just like the 1950s picture books. It was such a lovely game of Let’s Pretend that they all vowed never to stop playing it for ever and ever Amen.

When I posted my thoughts on Facebook one reaction was that Methodism began with a similar eruption of lay activity, to which I replied:

Am I right in thinking that both John and Charles Wesley remained presbyters of the Church of England all their lives? And were deeply reluctant to allow their followers to form a separate church?
There are surely many examples of movements within the church, some perhaps lay-led, which largely stayed within the church – the charismatic movement of the 1960s for example. In the middle ages they tended to form themselves into orders (after starting as raggle-taggle bands like Francis’s) and eventually get papal approval. At a parish level this could be a peace and justice group, or a contemplative prayer group, or a bible study group.

In some cases I suppose the movement splits two ways – some remain to reform from the inside, or simply be a nucleus for a minority who cannot follow the ways of the majority, but can remain in formal unity. I have the impression that C19 Evangelical Anglicanism was a child of Methodism.

There is already at least one church which originally formed as a home for LGBT Christians who felt ostracised by mainstream churches, and no doubt there are many LGBTQI local, national and international groups and organisations which function within Anglican churches and/or ecumenically.

Perhaps until recent years these groups have mainly acted as pressure groups (and pressure valves) for individuals who do not conform to conventional pre-1960s views of sexuality, and feel excluded or marginalised or confused, with a few Wilberforces joining them in solidarity.

I’m suggesting something which would be led as much by “straight” CoE Christians as “gay”, who disagree with the House of Bishops and wish to openly, publicly, prayerfully, ceremonially and joyfully celebrate the love of God as expressed in same-sex relationships in ways that make sense within their own traditions.

For some, it would be important not to use terminology reserved for the sacrament of marriage by those who have received the sacrament of holy orders. For me, the essential points are that the ceremonies:-
– should not be hidden away
– should affirm their Christian and Anglican nature (for example by being held in or outside churches)
– should in no way be seen as second-rate rites for second-class citizens.

The illustration is copyright: kabliczech via Shutterstock

The above article is made up of comments posted on Facebook on 10th April, with the explanatory paragraphs in smaller type added on 12th April. Chris Fewings.

24 comments on this post:

Chris Fewings said...

A note of explanation: this is all of the top of my head – I invited Laura to transcribe it here from Facebook, where it started as an immediate response to the report published by the Church of England yesterday. It’s an invitation to debate.

CathyHB said...

Peter and Jane were brother and sister, so hopefully they didn’t get married and have 2.4 children! Not all boundaries can be blurred…

Chris Fewings said...

Thanks for the reminder! My memory of the characters is rather dim.

15 April 2013 16:09
Lay Anglicana said...

You correctly assume that Lay Anglicana is not yet promoting incest! 🙂

15 April 2013 17:41
15 April 2013 15:40
11 April 2013 14:45
Julie Withers said...

Thank you for this thought provoking and caring response. Food for thought indeed!

11 April 2013 14:57
Phil Groom said...

I still find it bizarre that the C of E issues statements/papers like this that are so far removed from what the majority of its membership believes. Who was consulted? Where was the Synod debate? Was there even a House of Bishops debate? It’s as if the C of E PR department exists in a bubble, in its own little world of pre-enlightenment conservative theology — where there is no invitation to debate, just the ominous-sounding “Faith and Order Commission” issuing dictats on right and wrong. Look out world: here come the Thought Police…

Lay Anglicana said...

I couldn’t agree more, Phil. Of course, I am pretty sure that any attempt by the laity to bless, absolve or preach at anyone is likely to set in train the full Spanish Inquisition and I’m not sure whether I am brave enough. But it would show we are desperate, and it does have a certain appeal.

11 April 2013 15:23
Chris Fewings said...

Phil, it seems the House of Bishops discussed the first draft of Men and Women in Marriage (in December I think) and presumably approved its release. I don’t know how membership of the Faith and Order is decided.

Phil Groom said...

“presumably” — therein lies the rub. Did the H/B approve it, or did they not? We know, of course, of at least one Bishop — +Alan of Buckingham — who did not sanction it; we know that several bishops are gay, as are many clergy. What I’d like to see on these statements/papers are the names of the authors/editors — or are they too ashamed of their double standards to be identified? Then double shame on all who approved or sanctioned this document!

Chris Fewings said...

It’s worth bearing in mind that Alan, as a suffragan, is not a member of the House of Bishops. My impression is that there is a three-line whip on serving diocesan bishops to toe the line.

12 April 2013 10:13
12 April 2013 08:48
Phil Groom said...

Or perhaps I do them a disservice? The subtitle reads:

“A document from the Faith and Order Commission
published with the agreement of the House of Bishops
of the Church of England and approved for study”

So: published with the H/B’s agreement, but approved only for study. The studies have begun; and so far, so bad…

12 April 2013 08:53
11 April 2013 20:08
Tom said...

I find this creeping move towards Presbyterianism very disturbing. We are episcopally lead and synodically governed. In fact that whole notion of us being an episcopal church is lost ion this article as a whole. The appeal to the Wesley’s is very fitting – if this is the direction you feel called in then I’m sure it will be good and fruitful to be obedient to pursue it, but it would cease to be Anglican.

Lay Anglicana said...

Phil can of course speak for himself, but I think that the point he is making (and it is one that I would also seek to make) is that in recent years there is evidence the the Church of England is less synodically led and episcopally governed than it is led and governed by faceless bureaucrats in Church House. This particularly applies to statements which have emanated from there about the Church’s views on marriage – they appear not to have been sanctioned by either Synod or the House of Bishops.

Phil Groom said...

Indeed so; and as I said in response to Chris, double shame on these faceless bureaucrats!

12 April 2013 09:01
11 April 2013 21:34
Chris Fewings said...

Tom, I take your point, although I wasn’t suggesting that presbyters take on the role of celebrating the love of same-sex couples, so you might more fittingly accuse me of congregationalism.

I think that our presbyters (particularly those with a stipend, and a family to support) are in an unenviable position. If they believe to the core of their faith that civil partnerships should be blessed in the same way that registry office weddings are blessed, they may risk very serious disciplinary consequences if they act in accordance with that belief. That’s why I suggested that others, baptised in the church and confirmed with the Holy Spirit, might need to swim round the log-jam and take matters into their own hands.

Yesterday’s report suggests to me that the House of Bishops is committed to inertia. Looking back over the last 25 years, my impression is that there has been retrenchment rather than progress in the institutional Church of England. There is not much evidence, particularly in that document, that the institution is listening and learning. Meanwhile, some lives may be wrecked – lives of those who struggle to reconcile their faith with their God-given desires in the context of the church they belong to – and this includes the risk of suicide.

There is an interesting passage in Bishop Kallistos Ware’s history of the Orthodox Church (I think it was written when he was an archimandrite before he was a bishop) about events in the Ukraine a few hundred years ago. From their Orthodox point of view, there was a moment when the Ukrainian Orthodox bishops were prepared to sign over their church to Rome, and it was the laity who saved the day. (I mention this with no disrespect to Ukrainian Eastern Rite Catholics.)

11 April 2013 22:43
Chris Fewings said...

There is also the precedent of “emergency baptism” by any lay person, and the fact that before the Reformation (and particularly in the first millennium in the Western church) marriages were not necessarily celebrated by clergy, but recognised de facto by the church.

12 April 2013 09:34
11 April 2013 20:51
11 April 2013 15:09
Grandmère Mimi said...

Why not? Any Christian can pray a blessing and participate in a celebration. If the blessing ceremony takes place on church property, the church may try to interfere, but other than that, I don’t see that the church would have a right to intervene or discipline participants in blessings and celebrations of committed same-sex relationships.

12 April 2013 03:44
Phil Groom said...

The problems we’re up against are summed up in para 2:

“In 2005 the Bishops stated the Church of England’s position in
these words: ‘marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in
creation and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful,
committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between
a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human
society. It continues to provide the best context for the raising
of children.’”

Specifically, the two words “legally sanctioned” — we can “start celebrating public thanksgivings for and blessings of committed same-sex relationship – in churches where possible, in church halls and church porches, in parks and on village greens” as much as we like — but no ceremonies or celebrations that we, as lay-people, carry out will be legally sanctioned; and until we can overcome that obstacle, we will not achieve parity, equality or equity for our LGBT brothers and sisters.

It’s a good idea; but what’s needed is a revolution amongst “the Bishops” to overturn the institutionalised homophobia we’re up against; and as long as those holding the posts of Cantuar and Ebor are prepared to put their names to documents such as this, methinks we are beating our heads against a brick wall…

Chris Fewings said...

Personally, I think the way forward is to take ALL marriage outside the “legally sanctioned” arena. Are we under the law, or under grace?

Grandmère Mimi said...

Chris, I so agree. I’ve long thought the church should remove itself from presiding at what is essentially the responsibility of the civil authorities and confine itself to blessings once the civil ceremony has taken place. There are priests in the Episcopal Church in the US who have made the decision not to preside at weddings.

12 April 2013 12:38
12 April 2013 10:17
12 April 2013 09:24
Chris Fewings said...

Reactions from bishops
“The outgoing Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev James Jones, said it was time for the church to consider the blessing of civil partnerships. “We’ve come to a time now that if we believe that civil partnerships are just then we can’t withhold the blessing of God from that which we believe to be just,” he said.” (source: The Independent)

Alan Wilson, suffragan bishop of Buckingham on his blog: “Whilst agreeing with 95% of what is said in this report about marriage, the whole thing unravels as an argument against marriage equality the moment one accepts that gay people are not freaks, crooks, or straight people being naughty. If you believe they are any or all of these things, most of its arguments stack up against equal marriage. If you don’t, they actually stack up in favour.”

12 April 2013 09:44
Chris Fewings said...

From a report in the Church Times last February:

‘MORE than 100 clerics in the dio­cese of London have written asking for the right to choose whether or not to officiate at civil-partnership ceremonies in church.

A letter sent yesterday to the London diocesan representatives on General Synod states: “We, the undersigned, believe that, on the issue of holding civil-partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches, incumbents/priests-in-charge should be accorded the same rights as they enjoy at present in the matter of officiating at the marriage of divorced couples in church. Namely, that this should be a matter for the individual conscience of the incumbent/priest-in-charge.

“We would respectfully request that our views in this regard are fully represented in Synod.” ‘

The article has the full list of signatories and where they work.

12 April 2013 09:52
Simon Nash said...

Great guest post Chris, and thanks Laura for hosting it. I thought it was pretty clear from canons that lay anglicans (of which my wife is one although I am not) *are* able to do blessings, absolutions, eucharists etc, but just not in a CofE consecrated building during Divine Service, wherein a dog-collar becomes necessary. I guess many do not, as they tend to leave religion to the professionals, leading to a perception among non- and occasional church attendees that its only done properly if done by someone on the payroll.

Conducting marriages is a different category as the clergyperson is acting as a civil servant for the legal bit of proceedings.

Chris Fewings said...

I was surprised to read this Simon, so I had a look at the Canons. Even deacons are only reluctantly given leave to solemnise marriages:

1. The minister officiating at a marriage service in the Church of England should normally be a bishop or a priest(1).
2. A deacon may officiate at a marriage only if the consent of the incumbent and/or minister is first given(2).
3. The authorized services should be used without variation whether the officiating minister is bishop, priest or deacon.
4. When a priest is present he may delegate to a deacon parts of the service including:
(i) the blessing of the ring(s);
(ii) the pronouncement of the blessing(s) on the couple.
The priest should pronounce the blessing of the congregation at the end of the service.


Section E of the Canons govern churchwardens, “sidesmen”, readers (who may conduct funerals), and lay workers (who may “church” women) … no mention is made of any of them conducting marriage.

And there’s this:


1. If any persons have contracted marriage before the civil registrar under the provisions of the statute law, and shall afterwards desire to add thereto a service of Solemnization of Matrimony, a minister may, if he see fit, use such form of service, as may be approved by the General Synod under Canon B 2, in the church or chapel in which he is authorized to exercise his ministry: Provided first, that the minister be duly satisfied that the civil marriage has been contracted, and secondly that in regard to this use of the said service the minister do observe the Canons and regulations of the General Synod for the time being in force.

2. In connection with such a service there shall be no publication of banns nor any licence or certificate authorizing a marriage: and no record of any such service shall be entered by the minister in the register books of marriages provided by the Registrar General.

I’m not sure where (or if) “minister” is defined in the Canons but I didn’t come across anything which implied this was a position up for grabs on an ad hoc basis.

12 April 2013 17:24
12 April 2013 15:38

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