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Church of England moves closer to services of blessing for same-sex couples

The archbishop of Canterbury urged traditionalists not to abandon the church over the move

Harriet Sherwood

Special church services to bless same-sex couples have inched closer after the Church of England’s ruling body backed a proposal by bishops that could see a three-year trial starting in 2025.

The General Synod, meeting in York, voted by 216 to 191 to back the move, which is the latest incremental step in the C of E’s long journey towards welcoming the civil marriages of same-sex couples.

At the moment, clergy are permitted to bless the marriages of same-sex couples within regular church services.

Now campaigners hope that special standalone services of blessings – which will look and feel very similar to church weddings – are on the cards. However, gay couples will still need to undergo a civil ceremony in order to be legally married.

Traditionalists said the move could lead to those who believe marriage can only be a union of a man and a woman leaving the C of E.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, pleaded for an alliance of traditionalists to stay within the church. He told the synod: “I cannot imagine the Church of England without the Alliance network, members and friends … That they all flourish in this church, including firmly those in the Alliance, is indispensable to the gospel in this land.”

The bishops proposed that restrictions on prayers of blessings for same-sex couples be removed so that clergy may conduct separate, standalone services. The move would be hand in hand with the provision of “pastoral reassurance”, allowing clergy and congregations opposed to the new arrangements to be overseen by like-minded bishops.

Bishops will also undertake further work on the question of whether LGBTQ+ clergy should be permitted to marry their partners. At the moment, they are permitted to be in celibate civil partnerships, but not civil marriages.

Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York, told the synod: “What’s before us is a compromise.

“No parish, no priest has to offer these prayers but once the detail has been worked out – not yet done, we’re still on a journey – standalone service can take place and [for] those who for reasons of conscience and theological conviction cannot support this, delegated and extended episcopal ministry for pastoral care, sacramental care and teaching ministry will be put in place.

“What’s before us isn’t what everyone wants … but it is an Anglican way forward.”

Ian Paul, who has campaigned against moves towards blessings for same-sex couples, said the bishops’ proposal would “destroy trust, divide the church and lead to greater decline”.


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