17 December 2023

First church blessings for same-sex couples hailed as ‘quite a moment’

17 December 2023

The first use of prayers of blessing for same-sex couples in Church of England services will be “quite a moment”, a campaigner has said.

Known as prayers of love and faith, the blessings can be used as part of regular services from Sunday, after they were approved by the House of Bishops just days earlier.

But the issue has divided church members, being welcomed as progress by some, others believing they go too far and some still feeling the real change needed is marriage recognition.

This really is a moment for the first time that same-sex couples will be able to be prayed for legitimately within a church setting - and that is quite a moment

In February, the church’s General Synod – otherwise known as its Parliament – voted in favour of offering blessings to same-sex couples in civil partnerships and marriages, following a marathon near-eight-hour debate across two days.

On Tuesday, the House of Bishops met online to confirm its earlier decision to commend the prayers for use in regular public worship such as Sunday Eucharist or Evensong, agreeing this should take effect from this weekend.

The motion was passed by 24 votes to 11, with three abstentions.

There has been no legislative change in the church and the decision for clergy to offer blessings is a voluntary one.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has previously said he “joyfully” welcomed the blessings proposals but added that he will not personally carry them out due to his “pastoral responsibility for the whole communion”.

Reverend Nigel Pietroni, chair of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, told the PA news agency it is a “small step” but welcomed it as progress nonetheless.

He said: “Until this moment same-sex couples have not officially been able to be prayed with, though they have undoubtedly been prayed for, but they’ve never been officially recognised.

“So this really is a moment for the first time that same-sex couples will be able to be prayed for legitimately within a church setting –  and that is quite a moment.”

He added that he and his husband will not avail of the prayers because he said he feels his marriage is already blessed, adding that they are “waiting for the moment when same-sex marriages are fully welcomed by the church”.

Reverend Dr David Monteith, the dean of Canterbury Cathedral, is “personally pleased” at the use of the prayers, a spokesman said, adding: “This is something which up to now was not available to him and his male civil-partner.”

But he acknowledged that there are “many different heart-felt positions held about whether this is a good or bad development” within the church.

The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Reverend Dr Rob Munro, greeted the news with “great sorrow”.

In a statement issued on the day of their approval, he advised against use of the prayers, saying: “My strong recommendation is that you not only do not use the prayers, but also consider carefully how you will respond to those who choose to do so.”

Discussions are continuing within the church on separate proposals for the formal authorisation under canon law of special standalone services for same-sex couples.

It had been thought approval for these might not come for well over a year, but a November vote was narrowly passed with an amendment for some special services to go ahead sooner, temporarily, under separate legislation.

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