A bitterly divided General Synod of the Church of England has narrowly voted to approve a trial of stand-alone services of blessings for same sex couples. The House of Bishops is expected to implement the will of the Synod next month.
While the House of Bishops strongly supported the trial by 23 votes to 10 with four abstentions, the clergy vote was 100 to 93 in favour and the laity vote was 104 to 100 in favour. The amendment to back the services on a trial basis passed the Church’s parliament by one vote.
The services of blessing, while not formal weddings, will be able to include the exchange of rings, prayers, confetti and a blessing from the priest, so they could look very similar to a standard church wedding. Same sex couples will be able to request a dedicated ceremony of blessing in an Anglican church and invite their family and friends. That’s despite the Church of England’s official teaching that marriage is only between one man and one woman.
Earlier this year, bishops refused to back a change in teaching which would have allowed priests to marry same sex couples, but agreed to allow blessings known as Prayers of Love and Faith that would be part of existing services. It had been thought approval for stand-alone services might not come for well over a year from now.
Christian Today reports the highly contentious decision is set to split the church. Reverend Kate Wharton, one of two leaders of the House of Clergy, described the passing of the motion as “pastorally irresponsible, practically irresponsible, theologically irresponsible and collegially irresponsible”.
Reverend Vaughan Roberts, the rector of St Ebbe’s, an evangelical church in Oxford, told the Synod: “If this motion is passed there will be a tearing of the fabric of the Church of England at the deepest level – in every parish, deanery and diocese.”
Reverend Canon John Dunnett, national director of the Church of England Evangelical Council, said he felt “grieved and saddened” by the decision. “It will tear local parish congregations apart, damage the relationship between large numbers of clergy and their bishops and cause churches across the dioceses to feel as though their shepherds have abandoned them,” he said.
Adrian Clarke, a vicar of a vibrant multi-ethnic congregation in London, spoke on behalf of his congregation: “A good number of my congregation have put their family’s lives on the line in Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and many more would be willing to do so to defend the Scriptures, the very Word of God — and consequently they are saying to me that if these prayers are passed, either we leave the CofE or they will leave this church.”
Christian Today reports several speakers at the General Synod recognised that the debate about introducing same sex blessings was a proxy for far deeper disagreements about the authority of God’s word, ecclesiology and salvation.
Benjamin John, the son of evangelist Canon J John, observed, “We have lost confidence in the Bible and what it teaches. We doubted if this is what the Lord really teaches.” He quotes the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church: For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God.
The Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) said it is “saddened” by the decision and warned that it would only deepen the divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion. This disastrous decision creates the same serious consequences of differentiation and division as in other provinces and further fractures our beloved Anglican Communion.” Its statement ended by quoting Revelation 2:10: Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.