Church of England working on guidance for blessing of same-sex unions

Attendees gather at the July 2023 meeting of The General Synod of The Church of England. | YouTube/The Church of England

The Church of England is working on pastoral guidance after the denomination's recent vote to allow clergy to bless same-sex romantic relationships but not same-sex marriage amid pushback from both sides. 

At the Church's General Synod on Saturday, the co-chairs of the steering group overseeing the guidance's implementation provided an update on the work regarding the new policy being created following the February vote to endorse plans for priests to offer prayers of blessing for same-sex couples.

London Bishop Sarah Mullally and Truro Bishop Philip Mounstephen said draft work on the "Prayers of Love and Faith" will be ongoing for the next few months.

"We are very grateful to Synod Members for their thoughtful contributions today," said Mullally and Mounstephen in a statement Saturday.

"It has been good to hear their reflections, and we will take these away to feed into the concentrated drafting work that starts now. We look forward to reconvening in November."

According to their report to the General Synod, the "current phase of work seeks to implement the actions agreed in the motion, including refining the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) and developing Pastoral Guidance, together with setting up a Pastoral Consultative Group to take these elements forward beyond this phase of work."

A revised version of the prayers was shared with the House of Bishops in May and the College of Bishops in June based on feedback from Synod and members of the Prayers of Love and Faith working group.

Those tasked with working on the guidance have received 226 official responses to their proposals, 148 positive remarks and 78 negative. 

According to the report, 60 of the respondents believe the "Prayers of Love and Faith" document sounded "too much like marriage," while 44 comments argued that the document's words "don't go far enough."

"It will be clear in the final version of the PLF that we want to provide a joyful opportunity to celebrate what is good and holy in a relationship," the report states. "The rubrics guiding the use of the prayers in context will make clear their distinction from the liturgies for Holy Matrimony."

The group hopes to "clear proposals for the House and College of Bishops to consider, both for the authorisation and/or commendation of the prayers and for providing effective reassurance" by the next General Synod meeting scheduled for November.

In February, bishops of the Church of England voted to endorse plans for priests to offer prayers of blessing for same-sex couples while at the same time maintaining the denomination's current stance that marriage is exclusively a union of one man and one woman.

The approved measure also included language calling for the Church of England to "lament and repent" for "the failure of the Church" to welcome LGBT individuals and for the "harm" LGBT communities "have experienced — and continue to experience — in churches."

The decision garnered backlash from many sources — from LGBT activists who believe that the proposal does not go far enough by maintaining a traditional definition of marriage to others who oppose the endorsement of same-sex unions.

The vote has also stirred outrage in many member churches of the global Anglican Communion, of which the Church of England's Archbishop of Canterbury serves as "first among equals" of the members.

In April, at the Global Anglican Future Conference held in Kigali, Rwanda and attended by more than 1,300 people, including 300 bishops, conservative Anglicans passed a resolution denouncing the February vote and calling for a new center for the Communion.

"Public statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders of the Church of England in support of same-sex blessings are a betrayal of their ordination and consecration vows to banish error and to uphold and defend the truth taught in Scripture," stated the resolution, known as the Kigali Commitment.

"We consider that those who refuse to repent have abdicated their right to leadership within the Anglican Communion, and we commit ourselves to working with orthodox Primates and other leaders to reset the Communion on its biblical foundations."

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