The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have shared with the General Synod their openness to test out standalone services for same-sex blessings before officially approving them.
The ongoing General Synod in London is currently talking about updates in the Living in Love and Faith plans, the Church of England’s effort to reconsider its stance on same-sex couples.
Under the new proposals, prayers for gay blessings could be introduced in the near future, with a standalone service following a more extended canonical process in consultation with dioceses, expected to conclude no sooner than 2025 under canon B2. However, an amendment proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev Steven Croft, could allow couples to request a standalone same-sex blessing service before 2025 if it receives approval from the General Synod.
Bishop Stephen has urged the General Synod to “consider whether some standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis, on the timescale envisaged by the motion passed by the Synod in February 2023.”
During his presidential address, Most Rev Stephen Cottrell expressed support for the amendment, citing concerns that, “as things stand…clergy using the commended prayers might find themselves vulnerable to a legal challenge if their use of the prayers looks to someone else to be a standalone service.”
The proposed amendment, slated for debate on either Tuesday or Wednesday, will undergo a vote, likely conducted by houses, requiring a simple majority in each. Most Rev Justin Welby, in his own presidential address, acknowledged that this Synod is primarily focused on the Living in Love and Faith process, expressing “complete agreement” with Archbishop Stephen.
In the question sessions later in the afternoon, the Bishop of London anticipated the commendation of prayers in mid-December and signaled her support for Bishop Stephen’s amendment.
The proposed changes signify a significant step forward in the Church of England’s approach to same-sex couples. The potential introduction of prayers for gay blessings “very soon” and the consideration of standalone services on a trial basis demonstrate a willingness to adapt to the evolving perspectives within the Church.
The amendment by Bishop Steven Croft is pivotal, as it could pave the way for couples to have standalone same-sex blessing services before the previously projected timeline of 2025. The Bishop’s emphasis on considering these services on a trial basis aligns with a cautious approach, allowing the Church to assess the impact before making a permanent commitment.
Most Rev Stephen Cottrell’s concerns about potential legal challenges underscore the delicate nature of this transition. By supporting the amendment, he aims to provide clarity and protection for clergy using commended prayers, minimizing the risk of legal disputes.
The upcoming vote on the amendment adds an element of anticipation to the General Synod’s proceedings. A simple majority in each house is required for the amendment to be approved, potentially influencing the trajectory of the Church’s stance on same-sex blessings.
The acknowledgment and agreement expressed by Most Rev Justin Welby indicate a united front among the Church’s leadership, emphasizing the gravity of the discussions around the Living in Love and Faith process. With the Bishop of London signaling support for the amendment, there appears to be a growing consensus within the Synod regarding the need to explore and possibly implement changes sooner rather than later.