Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Church services after a Civil Partnership

Updated 26 March

There has been some correspondence recently in the Church Times about this, following a mention by Giles Fraser in his 10 February column of the legal opinion of the Chancellor of the Diocese of London, Nigel Seed. See this letter on 17 February from Gavin Foster, then this letter from Nigel Seed on 2 March, and a further letter from Gavin Foster on 16 March. Most of this is now subscriber-only again. No doubt there will be more to come… What is described as a final letter from Nigel Seed is now here (scroll to bottom):

…Mr Foster has come up with something entirely different because he has not approached the matter with an open and independent mind. He has started from what he believes the Statement was intended to say and has then interpreted what he says he thinks the Statement means, even though that is not what the words actually say…

The chancellor’s legal opinion referred to is now available in full at Inclusive Church: see Church Services after Civil Partnerships - advice for clergy.

Mr Foster has also written at Fulcrum: Church Services after a Civil Partnership Registration: What is and is not permitted?

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 at 10:30pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | equality legislation
Comments

Poor Fulcrum. Stable doors & horses.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 at 11:56pm GMT

Why don't those who have nothing better to do begin at the beginning, and write erudite papers on what are the meaning and the effect of a blessing, on or of animate or inanimate objects and concepts such as a relationship, married or otherwise?

They could begin with 'Bless you' after a sneeze; and any perceived difference if those words are uttered by a Christian, or a person of another faith, or of none. What of the meaning and effect of a parental (or other) 'God bless' as a child is settled down for the night? What of the 'value' difference between a lay minister praying 'May God bless us..' and that of a hand-waving cleric? Or that of the Queen praying that God may bless a ship and all who sail in her; or of palms and ashes, not to mention homes, or assorted religious articles, or even a nuclear submarine?

The one thing which no-one has deemed to be unlawful or irregular in any way is a celebration of the Eucharist following a Civil Partnership or Civil Marriage, in the presence of the couple and their friends. No-one (surely) could deny that this 'par excellence' is the Church's universal source of blessing for saints and sinners like; and the ultimate (in this earthly life) expression of God's unrestrained love for his people, irrespective of their domestic arrangements; and our best intention in response to the love with which we know we are unconditionally loved.

This sort of nit-picking legalism is entirely Pharisaic. Chancellor Seed is a distinguished lawyer and diocesan legal officer, and writes what he writes with his wig on. He happens to be a devout Christian as well, and is therefore likely to pursue possible channels of divine grace despite the Law - which our Lord did; and it's a pity that some other Christians cannot.

Posted by: Peter Edwards on Tuesday, 20 March 2012 at 11:59pm GMT

How on earth one distinguishes a 'Service of Blessing' from a service which offers some sort of acknowledgement of a specific partnered relationship must be very hard to manage.

However, if the legal requirement is that Same-Sex Civil Partnerships be acknowledged by the Church in this quaint avoidance of the word 'Blessing', then so be it. Let's hope the priest doesn't feel he has to cross his fingers behind his back when silently offering a blessing.

However, if Christian Same-Sex partners want to be more publicly identified with one another 'en Christo', the Church cannot blame them for wanting a proper Marriage ceremony.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 12:38am GMT

I rather like your suggestion here, Peter (Edwards), that the ideal Blessing in the case of a newly legalised Same-Sex Civil Partnership might well occur within the context of a following Sunday Eucharist; wherein, with no fuss or bother, The Living Word of God in Christ can and probably will give the loving couple a Blessing - in the familial context of their local parish community. What could be better? - Except, perhaps, an acknowledgement by the Church that this could, indeed, happen?

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 7:40am GMT

"ideal Blessing in the case of a newly legalised Same-Sex Civil Partnership might well occur within the context of a following Sunday Eucharist; wherein, with no fuss or bother ...What could be better?"

What normal couples have,and what I understood Peter to have proposed - a celebration in the presence of their whole extended family and friends who have made a lot of effort to be with them that special day and who will probably bear a greater share in seeing them through difficult times in the future.

I cannot imagine anything more dismissive and dispiriting than a furtive blessing during a normal Service just to make sure no-one notices.

The point of the blessing isn't just the blessing itself - priests do that already. The point is a collective joyous thanks-giving to God, promises made acknowleding his presence in the couple's lives and a genuine, wholehearted blessing of their relationship.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 8:59am GMT

In some understandings of marriage (and the theology and ecclesiology inherent in understandings of marriage are far from uniform across traditions for all we use the same word) the blessing is understood to come through the couple. So I thing there is more to unpicking this than we first think. And there is also some evident confusion here about how important the ideas of blessing are in parts of our church from those who do not have this as a core part of their tradition. It is entirely wrong to suggest that the distinction between a service of blessing and some other kind of service has been invented as a piece of underhand sophistry to meet the current case - it has a longer and deeper history than that. Thinking Anglicans will want to think before they dismiss what others have to say too readily.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 12:23pm GMT

Do not some Prayer Books already have a Service of Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child? Why not something along those lines?

Posted by: Davis d'Ambly on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 3:15pm GMT

Erika (and Mark), I think that Erika's concern depends on a particular theology of marriage. As I understand it, the reason that baptisms in the US are normally done at the principal service on a Sunday is that the congregation is 'adopting' (for lack of a better term) the baptised person into the community. If marriage is a promise before the community, and there is a general expectation that the community attends church on Sunday (true in the US; not so much in England), then it would seem like a dandy way to bless CPs. Marriages on a Saturday, with friends present and a reception after are more of a social occasion than a religious one. I think that this is what the SCLM in the US is working toward: a baptismal theology of marriage. I'm sensitive to the potential for adverse discrimination, but I'm not sure that all differences between traditional marriage and whatever it is that we're moving toward with same-sex relationships are discriminatory. The fewer extravagant same-sex ceremonies there are, the better it will be for all concerned. There are some really excellent materials online here:
http://generalconvention.org/ccab/files/2, which address some of the points being made by both of you (e.g. the SCLM thinks that there should be reciprocity of blessing: it's not just the two parties who marry, they marry within the church, and their marriage enriches the church).

Posted by: Scot Peterson on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 3:54pm GMT

As I recall, at least one church only gets difficult about blessing nuclear submarines when they're called "Corpus Christi".

Posted by: Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 4:28pm GMT

Scot,
this is all very well provided it will then apply to all couples, straight and gay.
At the moment, the impression given is that there's a desperate scrabble to include gay people, somehow, but not properly, not like straights.
And that simply won't do in the long run.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 at 5:54pm GMT
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