Church of England to debate holding blessings for same-sex couples

Blessings are often designed to feel like weddings with hymns, readings and flowers included in the service. Credit: PA

The Church of England is to debate holding blessings for same-sex couples for the first time.

It comes after a motion was put forward by the Diocese of Hereford proposing the introduction of services for couples after they have formed a civil partnership or married in a secular ceremony.

Blessings are church services acknowledging the commitment made between the pair when they marry or form a civil partnership, in which God's blessing and guidance is sought for their lives together.

Blessings are often designed to feel like weddings with hymns, readings and flowers included in the service.

Currently same-sex marriages are banned in Anglican churches in England and Wales, but they began in Scotland earlier in 2017.

The motion for an "order of prayer and dedication" was passed by Hereford's diocesan synod, meaning the proposals will now go on to be discussed by the church's overarching general synod.

The service is described as "neither contrary to nor a departure from" the doctrine of the church, and individual ministers or parishes could opt out of performing the blessing if they wished.

Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith, said the motion had been put forward following requests for a blessing from same-sex couples within the diocese.

He said: "Clergy are already encouraged to respond pastorally and sensitively when approached.

"The motion, which is part of a much wider debate, asks for guidance on materials to be used in affirming and praying with same-sex couples."

Same-sex marriages are currently banned in Anglican churches in England and Wales. Credit: PA

Briefing papers published ahead of the diocesan synod vote acknowledged that their decision could be a "potentially controversial call".

The report added: "Regardless of our decisions in the Synods of the Church of England, it is a reality that same-sex couples whose relationships are now recognised in law exist amongst our population, congregations, and clergy, and the problem of whether, or how, such relationships are treated will be a continuing issue for us to face.

"The motion offers one possible response to this dilemma."

Progressive OneBodyOneFaith group, which campaigns for LGBT integration with the church, said it was delighted with the news.

A spokesperson: "Support for such a motion in a predominantly rural diocese like Hereford reflects what many of our members and supporters know to be true - that in communities across the country, in all kinds of contexts, there is widespread support for affirming same-sex couples, and being alongside them as they experience the joy and blessing of their relationships."

However, the potential move was not backed by all.

Speaking to the BBC, Suzie Leafe, the director of the conservative evangelical group Reform, said: "Marriage (is) a lifelong relationship between a man and a woman, and this has been, and still, is the understanding of the vast majority of the worldwide church for two millennia.

"To ask for a service of prayer and dedication for a same-sex relationship represents a fundamental departure from this teaching."

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: "We are aware of the resolution passed by Hereford Diocesan Synod calling for the General Synod to debate a motion on services of prayer and dedication for same-sex couples.

"The diocesan synod's decision does not change the teaching or practice of the Church of England, whether in Hereford or anywhere else in the Church.

"Under the Standing Orders of the General Synod, the motion will fall to be debated at the Synod at a time to be decided by its Business Committee.

"Clergy of the Church of England are unable to marry couples of the same sex and, under the House of Bishops' Pastoral Statement on Same Sex Marriage, 'services of blessing' should not be provided for those who enter into civil partnerships or same-sex marriages.

"It is recognised, however, that there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality and the House of Bishops has recently embarked on the preparation of a major new teaching document on marriage and sexuality.

"We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it, and which values everyone, without exception, not as a 'problem' or an 'issue', but as a person loved and made in the image of God."