Grassroots campaign launched to persuade Church of England to adopt gay blessings

A 'grassroots' campaign is underway to persuade the Church of England to adopt formal services to bless gay couples.

The Church's ruling general synod will debate whether to offer official liturgy after a same-sex couple has married or formed a civil partnership in a seperate ceremony.

The proposals were put forward by the diocesan synod – the equivalent of a local council – in Hereford and fall short of same-sex weddings in Church but would allow priests to bless couples.

Now a campaign has been launched across the CofE's 41 dioceses to persuade each local synod to follow suit and adopt the same motion, 'strengthening the message from Hereford and demonstrating the groundswell of support for authorised services for couples'.

The motion stops short of gay weddings in church but allows for a priest to bless a gay couple after they have been married in a seperate ceremony.By dannipenguin/ wikimedia commons

The move launched by the One Body One Faith lobby group aims to pressure the national general synod to debate and pass the same motion. While the Church's by-laws mean the call cannot be removed from the agenda 'until debated or resolved otherwise', there is no time limit to when it must be debated by.

The motion insists offering the service for gay couples would be optional and no conservative clergy would be forced to offer the blessing if they did not want to.

'No parish should be obliged to host, nor minister conduct, such a service', the motion says adding the service should also be 'neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England'.

The motion added: 'It would contribute to a "mixed economy" in which different viewpoints could continue to exist.'

The Bishop of Hereford backed the motion and it is likely a number of other bishops would do the same. 

'It's about exploring - what are the acceptable limits, how far can we go? Some people would want to go the whole hog and say we should have same-sex marriages in church,' he said.

'This motion is not saying that and I'm not saying that either. But I am saying go further than just leaving it to individual clergy to do something informal.

'So it's moving things forward whilst remaining sensitive that we can't rush these things.'

Hereford diocese was the first to officially pass a motion calling for gay blessings.File

Chief executive of One Body One Faith Tracey Byrne told Christian Today most people in average CofE parishes would back the call.

'It is so important to ordinary people who want to see justice. They want to see people treated fairly,' she said, adding it could provide the compromise the church is looking for between the two deeply entrenched viewpoints.

'It protects the consciences of those who disagree,' she said. 'There are bits to be fleshed out but I think it is a way to go and I think it is something people would like to see discussed at a local level.'

She said 'nothing has to change' for those who do not want same-sex blessings but for those who do want to it gives an official opportunity to do so.

But Susie Leafe, director of the conservative Anglican grouping Reform, reacted to the initial motion by saying it was a 'fundamental departure' from traditional teaching. She added that the vote ignored the Bible and Jesus' understanding of marriage being between one man and one woman as the 'understanding of the vast majority of the worldwide church for two millennia'.

A CofE spokesperson said the Church was aware of the vote and a debate at general synod would be held at a time chosen by its agenda setting Business Committee.

'The diocesan synod's decision does not change the teaching or practice of the Church of England, whether in Hereford or anywhere else in the Church,' the spokesperson said.

'It is recognised, however, that there is real and profound disagreement in the Church of England over questions relating to human sexuality and the House of Bishops has recently embarked on the preparation of a major new teaching document on marriage and sexuality.

'We are seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith as we have received it and which values everyone, without exception, not as a "problem" or an "issue", but as a person loved and made in the image of God.'