Church of England bishop backs formal ‘thanksgiving’ ceremonies for same-sex couples
A Church of England bishop has spoken out in favour of introducing a formal ceremony for same-sex unions, as the church continues to be bitterly divided on the issue.
Deep divisions have arisen in the church over the issue of its approach to same-sex marriage and LGBT people, as support grows for equality in the UK.
At present the Church utilises its exemption from equality laws in order to punish clergy who enter same-sex unions, and also bans ‘blessings’ for same-sex weddings – stances that liberal clergy believe are unsustainable given shifts in public opinion.
Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop of York John Sentamu recently vowed to go back to the drawing board on LGBT issues, after a Bishops’ report affirming its traditional stances was rejected by the clergy. The leaders promised “radical new Christian inclusion in the Church”.
The Bishop of Chelmsford Stephen Cottrell spoke on the issue in an address last week, giving his own backing to a formal ceremony for same-sex couples.
He said: “The Archbishops’ phrase ‘a radical new Christian inclusion’ needs some unpacking. It
“will be in doing this that we find ways forward that both preserve the unity of the church, respect the conscientious disagreement of those who are opposed to any change, and begin to give a greater welcome to gay and lesbian people.
“Let me plain: LGBTI+ people are welcome in the churches of the Chelmsford diocese. They are welcome and we want to listen to them and work with them so as to find appropriate ways of expressing their love – for it is not good for human beings to be alone – in permanent, faithful,
“At the moment there is no consensus in the Church of England for those relationships to be formally blessed in Church, or for the Church of England to embrace same-sex marriage, but the current arrangements do welcome lay people and clergy into civil partnerships and there is no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships – perhaps a Eucharist – cannot be offered.
“We do not want same-sex couples to be cut off from the Church, and we want those who come to us seeking God’s blessing for their love to receive the guidance, challenge and support of the Church.”
He added: “We need to find ways of living with this diversity, not being torn apart by it.
“[T]his will, I know, be hard for some people to hear. Some think even this a step too far; and others think it nowhere near far enough.
“But I hope and pray that even these small steps will make a difference, for the pastoral and missiological implications of this issue, especially with young people, mean that we must do something, and that we cannot simply wait till there is complete ecumenical and Anglican Communion agreement before doing anything.”
His comments come after a bishop with terminal cancer urged his colleagues to move towards embracing equal marriage.
The shift has not gone down well with ultra-conservative group Anglican Mainstream, who oppose acceptance of LGBT people in the Church.
They wrote that Archbishops appear to have “given a green light for Diocesan Bishops to publicly express a preference for abandonment of more than 3000 years of Judaeo-Christian anthropology and sexual ethics”.
The group also appeared to call for Bishop Stephen’s head, saying: “It is difficult to see how his role as guardian of a distinctive, counter-cultural apostolic truth has not been forfeited.
“He is sending a message to those holding to the traditional position, that while he apparently respects their position, they will not be allowed to block change any more.
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“The implication is that if progress is not made towards celebrating same sex relationships in church, it is the conservatives who are not ‘listening’, and they are the ones responsible for continued conflict by not being willing to live with diversity.”
Agitating for a split, they added: “It is now over to the orthodox clergy and laity in Chelmsford Diocese, first, to see what they will do.
“Some will be talking about looking for some form of differentiation, perhaps alternative oversight, whether informal or more visible.
“Some, especially laity, will be looking for another denomination. We hope that those who continue to recognize the Bishop’s spiritual authority and do nothing, will see the need to join others in taking principled action. This pattern will be repeated in other Dioceses in coming months.”