Prayers asking for God’s blessing on same-sex couples as they give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership have been published today.
The draft texts, proposed by the bishops of the Church of England, will be considered by General Synod next month alongside other proposals in response to a six-year process of listening, learning and discernment on questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage known as Living in Love and Faith.
The bishops have also made a direct public apology to LGBTQI+ people for the way in which the Church has rejected or excluded them, admitting: “We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong.”
The apology is set out in a pastoral letter from the bishops of the Church of England which also recognises that they disagree over same-sex marriage and proposes a way forward which could be put in action within months.
Bishop John has commented on today's announcement saying:
I warmly welcome the apology given today by the bishops of the Church of England to LGBTQI+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives. Though I would like to see the Church of England offer same sex marriage in church, I also welcome the fact that under historic plans outlined today, same-sex couples will be able for the first time to come to church to give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership and receive God’s blessing. As bishops we urge all congregations in our care to welcome same-sex couples “unreservedly and joyfully”.
A report - Living in Love and Faith: A response from the Bishops of the Church of England about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage – sets out the bishops’ proposals and recommends areas for further work.
There is also a book of draft worship resources – Prayers of Love and Faith. It is a range of prayers and readings which could be used in a church service, such as a Service of the Word or a Service within a Celebration of Holy Communion. There are prayers of thanksgiving and dedication and a prayer for God’s blessing as well as prayers for use with specific elements of a service, such as a Prayer when Rings are Worn and Prayers at the lighting of a candle.
Opening the letter the bishops write:
“We want to apologise for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people – both those who worship in our churches and those who do not. For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry. The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent. As we have listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people. We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong. We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God.”
Describing the prayers and readings, they explain: “This resource will offer clergy a variety of flexible ways to affirm and celebrate same-sex couples in church, and will include prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and for God’s blessing.”
They continue: “This resource will represent a significant move that is intended as a loving and celebratory response to same-sex couples who are cherished and deeply valued by the Church.”
They explain that the prayers will be entirely discretionary and that the formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorised liturgies – that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life – would not change.
“While there is a range of convictions held by the bishops about this important matter, we have not found sufficient consensus to propose a change in doctrine at the present time,” they write.
The bishops’ proposals will be discussed in detail at General Synod which meets at Church House, Westminster, from February 6 to 9.
Bishop John recently wrote an open letter to the Diocese, setting out why he believes that the celebration and honouring of monogamous, faithful same-sex relationships by the Church of England would be consonant with the scriptural witness. Read it here