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Posts Tagged "same sex marriages":

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.

Open Letter To The Bishop Of Birmingham: Chris Fewings

Dear Bishop David

I am writing this as an open letter from a half-faithful irregular worshipper delighted by the hospitality of various parishes in your diocese which welcome me as a fringe member. It will be published on the web. I would like to publish your reply but will only do so with your express written permission. However, I will let people know whether I receive a substantive reply.

I would like to thank you for your openness in calling a public meeting in Birmingham Cathedral just after the Synod vote on the gender of bishops. It was good to hear individual clergy and laity freely expressing their views and feelings.

In my view the ‘official’ Church of England (represented by Tim Stevens and anonymous press statements from Church House) is making a fool of itself on the subject of gay relationships, willing to sacrifice the innocence of gay couples who simply wish to celebrate their love openly and unequivocally before God and their community. (I welcome Tim Stevens’ strong statement on homophobia to the House of Lords, but in the current context it will not be heard.)

And yet these official pronouncements do not represent the range of opinions among Anglican clergy, laity and even bishops in this country. They are not even consistent with the known views of Rowan Williams. They show a woeful ignorance or ignoring of the history of marriage. The Bishops of Buckingham, Salisbury and Grantham have made their alternative views known, although to my knowledge among serving bishops only Alan Wilson has spoken out repeatedly, and Nicholas Holtam is the only serving diocesan to have raised his head above the parapet in recent years. Richard Harries assures us that others in the House of Bishops dissent but dare not speak their minds. What is stopping them?

In the past some de facto marriages (such as that between Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten) could flourish privately in a culture of secrecy. It may be that some gay bishops and others still see such secrecy as a protection against homophobia. In a society whose culture and legal framework has changed hugely since the bishops (and I) were growing up, to most people now secrecy seems like an undermining of loving commitment and an endorsement of homophobia. My impression is of a powerful lobby determined to create the public perception that the Church of England regards same-sex unions (however committed and long-term) to be at best second-rate or suitable only for non-Christians – and generally they are succeeding, as most non-Anglicans probably now assume this is how we all think.

I would like to hear every bishop tell his own story. How does each of you interpret scripture? Have your views of human sexuality changed over the last few decades, a period of intense study and re-evaluation of sex and gender issues in the fields of psychology, biblical studies, and cultural history? Could some bishops (of whatever orientation) tell us how they were called to celibacy in the service of Christ? How do they experience love and joy and pain in that context? Surely such stories would be a witness to love.

It seems to me that the silence of individual bishops promotes a simple message to those outside the churches: Christians oppose gay relationships. The nuances of stances within and between churches are lost. And opportunites to nurture life-long loving relationships (including those of many couples who are very active members of the Church of England) are missed. To be a locus of unity in the Anglican tradition surely implies acknowledging the diversity within that unity.

If silence is the best policy, are you free to explain why?

Wishing every joy of the last week of Epiphany as the light bursts into our world once again

Chris Fewings

The illustration is a statue of Bishop Charles Gore, the first Bishop of Birmingham, uploaded to Wikimedia by  oxyman

The Church and Society : Erika Baker


I’m sure you all know Erika Baker?

This post is partly a tribute to her, and partly a conversation between the two of us. First, the tribute. Ever since I began this blog, Erika has been the greatest possible support and encouragement. I know many other bloggers would say the same thing – we all rely on her to tease meaning out of what we have written, and to pose questions which relate to our post but bring in angles we had perhaps not thought of. I read her comments not just here, but on many other blogs and she is unfailingly polite and considerate, while still probing and occasionally challenging.

I and many of her other friends are continually exerting pressure on her (so far without success) to start her own blog. She refuses, but we persevere. However, although I think this is a loss to cyberspace, I can see that she is exercising a real ministry to those of us blogging about the Church: I hope she won’t mind my saying I regard her as my fairy godmother (though I hasten to add that she is considerably younger than me).  Today was a case in point: we were having a discussion on the post about Bishop Steven Croft and his (presumed) candidacy for the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The conversation was getting a little bogged down but Erika saw my smoke signals and flew to the rescue.


The following is taken from Erika’s comments on the post – I felt it deserved a wider circulation, particularly as the points she covers are much broader in their implication than the candidacy for Archbishop of Canterbury of +Steven Croft.


EB: I think … makes an important point that has been left out of the discussion so far. To what extent is an Archbishop of Canterbury required to connect to the society around him and not just to the members of his church?

LS It may not be so important in other parts of the Anglican Communion, but since the Church of England is the Church of the State, it is surely of supreme importance in England? I wonder what you think about the issue of same-sex marriage in this context?

EB: If it is true that Steven Croft is against same sex marriage, it has to be stated that he is against something that is becoming commonly accepted in Britain and even within the Church of England. 

It is still just possible to be against it and to retain moral authority in the Church of England, but the time when those views will be considered immoral are not far away.

++Rowan Williams floundered on this obvious development and he was torn in half because the more conservative majority in the Anglican Communion opposed it strongly.

I agree … that it would be foolish to dismiss a candidate because he does not agree with my own views.

But the political facts remain: the new ABC is the most visible Christian in the CoE, the religious head of the CoE and also Primus inter Pares in the Anglican Communion.

Bearing in mind that we have spent decades arguing about the place of women and of  Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church and in society,

that our own society is becoming increasingly progressive,

that our own church is becoming increasingly progressive, 

but that our Anglican Communion is still largely conservative – what kind of candidate could possibly succeed?


++Rowan tried to listen to all sides and prioritised unity over all else. The unity he presides over is one in name only – his approach, though laudable, did not really succeed at any level.

Regardless of where any individual stands on the gay question or the question of women priests and bishops, the overarching question is:

Is it even possible to be the religious head of the Church of England as well as of the Anglican Communion?


LS: I think that there are murmurings throughout the Anglican Communion about exactly this. Everyone keeps harping on about the need to have a new Archbishop of  Canterbury who will be young enough to host the next Lambeth Conference, but I am not at all sure that the next conference of the Anglican Communion will be held in Lambeth.

Can +Steven Croft bring anything to the role that could resolve the deadlock we’re in?

Because unless we resolve that deadlock somehow, neither the Anglican Communion nor the Church of England will survive in a meaningful way.


LS: Thank-you for sharing your thoughts, Erika






The illustration is a photograph by Martin Kemp of a carving of a bishop at Winchester Cathedral, via Shutterstock under licence.


Time To Invite Back the Vikings?

Just when you think the Church of England could not dig itself any deeper into the mire, it miraculously finds a way to do just that.

What on earth can we, those of its members and supporters who do not come from the planet Mars, possibly do to dig it out this time?  One priestly friend is praying for a miracle; she is probably right that there is almost nothing ‘on earth’ that we can do. But God helps those who help themselves and I think it may be a little unreasonable to think that He can turn this very ungodly mess  back into something approaching a Church of God. Maybe He is in fact leading us to schism?

While holier people than I work out the answer to this question, I do have one last, desperate suggestion to make. If we cannot manage our own affairs, let us seek to be colonised once more by a people who have just sorted out this whole question very amicably: the Danes (or Vikings, as I am calling them for the purposes of this post). There was widespread press coverage all over the world, but let The Copenhagen Post tell the story:

Parliament passed a law legalising same sex marriage [on 7 June] with 85 votes for, 24 against and two abstentions… Same-sex ceremonies may occur as soon as June 15 should the nation’s bishops, as expected, come up with a ceremony by Monday that can be used to wed same-sex couples in church. The new ceremony was needed after bishops ruled that the current one can only be used to wed heterosexual couples. But while same-sex and heterosexual couples will be wed using different rituals, their marriage status will be equal…According to the church minister, Manu Sareen (Radikale), today’s law change is “historic”.“In 1989 people were given the opportunity to register their partnership at city hall,” Sareen told Politiken newspaper. “But now that we have given them the opportunity to get married, we have lifted the level of equality to a whole new level compared to 1989. Couples of the same sex will be put on the same footing as couples of different sex and that is a huge change.” Sareen added that allowing vicars to decline to marry same-sex couples meant that parliament was not infringing on the Church of Denmark’s right to make its own theological reading.

Very enlightened. Perfect outcome. Why should we not do the same? Well, at this rate it might take us a century to catch up. At this point in classical drama, when the plot had got so tangled that no one could see how things could possibly work out, playwrights invented the deus ex machina, a contrivance whereby external intervention was  used to untangle the mess. Denmark, benevolent society that it is, has just such a body, Danida, formerly called the Danish International Development Agency. All we need now is to persuade them that, exceptionally, they put it to use in developing a fellow Western European nation.  (We might of course have to produce some Danegeld to pay for this, but it would be well worth it IMNSHO.)

I know the first Viking invasion gave them rather a bad name (for raping, looting and pillaging, not to put too fine a point on it).

But that was after they had been cooped up for weeks in a long boat. The 21st century version would, I am sure, choose Easy Jet, and  be only slightly irritable as a result. A pint or two of lager and half a roasted sheep ought to mollify them sufficiently to be able to deal with the powers that be at Lambeth. And after all we don’t want them too amenable, the whole idea is to let them show who is boss.

Thanks to recent television showings of Borgen and The Bridge, most people have already learnt a few basic words of Danish. Tak, BBC Four!
Of course, I must point out that there is a danger in inviting hordes of Vikings to re-invade, and that is that they may not want to leave. As Kipling pointed out,

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:
“We never pay any one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”

But I live in a hamlet called Ibthorpe. This is a Viking settlement adjoining a royal Saxon manor. As my house is on the border of the two settlements, it is reassuring for me to be able to tell you that the two populations live in complete harmony. Our church guide explains:

 In 994 a joint Norwegian and Danish force led by Olaf Tryggvason and Sweyn Forkbeard attacked Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire. The King and nobles paid £16,000 danegeld, a sharp increase on the first geld paid only three years earlier. Ominously, the Scandinavians then took up winter quarters in Southampton, while the whole of Wessex supplied them with provisions. News evidently filtered through that the allies were not inseparable and a formal deputation was sent to Olaf. Aethelred received him ceremoniously at Andover, where Olaf was confirmed by Alphege, Bishop of Winchester. Aethelred had been staying in his hunting lodge nearby (very probably in adjoining Hurstbourne Tarrant). Accompanied by English clergy, Tryggvason then returned to Norway, established himself as king and converted his country to Christianity.

So, what do you say, Bring on the Vikings!



The main illustration is from Mary McGregor’s book of 1908, Stories of the Vikings, and portrays a somewhat camp Leif Ericsson. Via Wikimedia.

The second illustration is from shutterstock, by Danny Smythe.

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