Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Irish bishops write to clergy about same sex marriage

It is reported, see here and also here, that the following letter has been sent to each member of the clergy by their diocesan bishop:

Pastoral Letter to the Clergy of the Church of Ireland from their bishops on same-sex marriage
29 Dec 2015

SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS AND RESPONSES CONCERNING SAME SEX MARRIAGE

l am writing to you in the light of the Marriage Equality Referendum in the Republic of Ireland and the subsequent legislation. It is recognised that in the Church of Ireland there are differing opinions and responses to the outcome of the referendum itself. Together with my episcopal colleagues, I seek to encourage a spirit of mutual respect and attentiveness to one another as we move forward together in a context of new civic realities and possibilities in the Republic of Ireland. There will be many new situations of pastoral sensitivity arising.

Hitherto the Church and the State in both jurisdictions have substantially overlapped in their definition of marriage. This is no longer the case in the Republic of Ireland.

We also need to understand that under current legislation, involvement of a member of the clergy of the Church of Ireland as a solemniser (Republic of Ireland) or an officiant (Northern Ireland) in a wedding is an expressly legal function.

The following are some questions that have already been raised:

Q. Will a member of the clergy who is on the Register of Solemnisers (Republic of Ireland) now be able to conduct a same-sex marriage?

R. This will not be possible while the Canons of the Church of Ireland stand as they are. The powers of conducting a marriage as delegated to an ordained minister in the Church of Ireland require that the marriage be conducted according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Ireland, and therefore the doctrine as reflected in those rites and ceremonies. The Church of Ireland does not have a liturgy of same-sex marriage.

Q. Are clergy permitted to conduct a blessing of a same-sex marriage?

R. There is no provision in the Book of Common Prayer or other authorized liturgies of the church for the blessing of a same sex marriage. In addition the service known as A Form of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage (pages 431 ff) presupposes the civil marriage of a man and a woman as husband and wife and cannot be used in this context.

Q. If two people who enter a same-sex civil marriage ask a member of the clergy to say prayers with them, how am I to reply and what am I to do?

R. It is not possible to proscribe the saying of prayers in personal and pastoral situations, nor would one wish to do so. In fact, in situations of rejoicing and crisis, such prayers often are at the heart of ministry. Any such prayers should remain consonant with the spirit and teaching of the Church of lreland.

Q. If I am asked to attend a same-sex marriage, should I go?

R. The decision lies with the individual who will bring to this decision criteria of friendship and conscience, following personal prayer and reflection.

Q. What is the situation if I, as a member of the clergy serving in the Church of Ireland decide to enter a same-sex marriage?

R. All are free to exercise their democratic entitlements once they are enshrined in legislation. However, members of the clergy, are further bound by the Ordinal and by the authority of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. It ls essential that any member of the clergy seeking to explore entering into a same sex marriage should think carefully about the response of others, not only in the immediate locality. This is an extension of the reflection, often requiring restraint in a range of matters, expected of clergy who are both public and private people at the same time.

The bishops of the Church of Ireland, acting corporately and individually, are well aware that, in the eyes of many, for an ordained member of the clergy to enter publicly into a civil marriage would be regarded as divisive. The backdrop to this is that such a situation is contrary to what the Church of Ireland currently practices within its own framework of regulation. The situation is that State provision in the Republic of Ireland now differs significantly from that in the Church of Ireland. It is for this reason that we encourage a restraint for the sake of unity that is respectful of the principles of others in the mixed flock to whom clergy offer service and leadership in the things of God.

There has been a strongly worded criticism of this statement by Reform Ireland. You can read that response here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 7:40am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of Ireland
Comments

Gay clergy expected to suffer for a unity that clearly doesn't exist. Again.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 9:26am GMT

"Q. Are clergy permitted to conduct a blessing of a same-sex marriage?"

"R. There is no provision in the Book of Common Prayer or other authorized liturgies of the church for the blessing of a same sex marriage. In addition the service known as A Form of Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage (pages 431 ff) presupposes the civil marriage of a man and a woman as husband and wife and cannot be used in this context."

Sorry, but this is balderdash.

What an extraordinary Alice-in-Wonderland world we inhabit, where we are being told (by the Church) that we should NOT pray blessing on people and their relationships.

There may not be liturgy in place, but why should a local church need to pray and bless in liturgy alone? Are all our prayers in liturgy? Are all our thoughts, intents and expressions of love in liturgy?

If a local church and local priest want to bless a newly married couple, and pray for them, as they embark on all the challenges of their future lives... if a local church wants to affirm support and solidarity with this couple in their new (and legal) lives... it's not a matter of having to do things liturgically.

The local church can just bless them.

And in the view of so many people in civil society who we care to evangelise, they should.

Marriage is precious, marriage is costly, marriage hurts, marriage is joyful, marriage is covenant, marriage is sacrifice.

And for a local church community to stand by the side of newly marrieds, and love them, and yes indeed seek that their lives should be blessed...

How extraordinary if we should not wish to do that.

May the grace and blessing of God be on those who marry, who commit to the journey - the often hard journey - of married life.

Susannah

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 11:11am GMT

So, will clergy and bishops who disagree collude with the statement or take any principled stand other than more talking or more typing? More years of compromise and sacrificed integrity is a high price to pay. Set up TEC(Ireland) if you want to act on your principles with integrity

Posted by: S Cooper on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 12:24pm GMT

I didn't read this with the same eyes as Susannah.
The Northern Irish "Reform" group have exercised considerable control and this letter marks a significant change in tone and outlook, as their hasty and peevish response makes clear.
Apart from the legal performance of a marriage and without an appropriate liturgy, this says carte blanche .... and no threat to marrying clerics.... extraordinary! Well done Ireland .....
I understand from my friend Martin that the Welsh legal sub committee has been considering the canonical position of Anglican clerics who marry there ....
We remain unable to marry anyone !

Posted by: Fr Alan on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 1:21pm GMT

More guesswork required by those clergy who don't 'restrain' themselves but go ahead and enter a same-sex marriage. I do wish these mealy-mouthed 'pastoral' statements would call a spade a spade and set out exactly what the likely consequences are for such clergy.

Posted by: Laurence Cunnington on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 1:50pm GMT

All the bishops in the Church of Ireland cannot ignore the large conservative evangelical dioceses in N Ireland.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 4:02pm GMT

"we encourage a restraint for the sake of unity"

Again, lifting up the gospel of unity over the Gospel of Jesus. And pretending that there's unity over the anti-gay position, despite the fact that inclusive marriage came about via a democratic process.

MLK had something to say about asking the vulnerable to bear the burden of injustice for the comfort of others. In this case, asking gay clergy to bear the incredible burden of exclusion in the most personal area of their lives in order to satisfy bigots. Jesus never seemed to go along with bigotry...

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 5:17pm GMT

"and no threat to marrying clerics"

I read it that way too.

Evidently this is what has Reform reacting badly.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 6:04pm GMT

"Q. If I am asked to attend a same-sex marriage, should I go?

R. The decision lies with the individual who will bring to this decision criteria of friendship and conscience, following personal prayer and reflection." - C. of I. Bishops' statement -

Sounds rather like the recent statement of Pope Francis on the issue of 'Inter-Communion' which involved the place of private conscience in matters of pastoral concern. Not bad!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 9:52pm GMT

"MLK had something to say about asking the vulnerable to bear the burden of injustice for the comfort of others."

He did. But given that Dr Martin Luther King was willing to upset the established order in the name of justice and truth, how welcome would he be in the Church of England these days?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 30 December 2015 at 11:16pm GMT

So presumably CofI now has a similar position to CofE — we may bless nuclear submarines, but we may not bless legal marriages.

Posted by: DBD on Thursday, 31 December 2015 at 11:57am GMT

Interested Obsever - those looking for welcome and pensions will sacrifice principles to be in the club.... MLK took risks for his principles

Posted by: S Cooper on Thursday, 31 December 2015 at 12:25pm GMT

"those looking for welcome and pensions will sacrifice principles to be in the club"

Indeed. But it's interesting how the club can be flexible when it's its own members being given the benefit. For example, by many conservatives' standards, Nick Holtam is an adulterer or bigamist: he is married to a woman whose husband is still alive, and the legitimacy of their relationship depends on a divorce. A divorce! Shocking! I wonder if Justin Welby thinks of him as an adulterer, or as a fellow bishop? So if the rules can be changed to make Nick Holtam acceptable to Justin Welby's moral fervour, why can't the same apply to bishops contracting marriages to men rather than to divorced women? The answer is, of course, homophobia.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 31 December 2015 at 1:26pm GMT

"Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved."

I have no wish to tread on the toes of the moderators of TA; obviously you are at liberty to include whatever you deem appropriate; but the long-standing limit to comments of 400 words seems to have been quietly forgotten, especially in respect of those from one contributor in particular. Three recent comments have almost been articles in their own right being of 777, 905 and 1201 words each. I'm not suggesting that the content wasn't good, simply that, in my view, they were too long to be classed as "comments".

Posted by: RPNewark on Thursday, 31 December 2015 at 3:38pm GMT

The piece by "Reform" is rather unpleasant, isn't it? Essentially it argues that people who disagree with them on what is, in the general sweep of religious belief, a minor and narrow point aren't proper Anglicans and (I think) aren't even proper Christians.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Thursday, 31 December 2015 at 9:28pm GMT

I expect the long posts were mine, RPNewark - and I suspect they crept in over the holiday period when the moderators have plenty of other pressures and things to attend to. So I alone should take the blame for their length. To be honest, I didn't count the words, and just wrote and sent them off. But I take the blame for being too wordy. I will try to adhere to the 400 word limit in future.

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Friday, 1 January 2016 at 5:36am GMT

I think Susannah is too harsh; there is no prohibition on blessing a marriage, merely the observation that our prayer book is inadequate in this regard. Prayer is explicitly permitted, if not required, as an essential of pastoral ministry - a rare positive note. However, I don't know how very easy it will be for a cleric who decides to enter a same-sex marriage. I do think the tone is generally cautious; I imagine the liberal response to the appalling CofE position may have had an impact, so keep up the good work here!

Posted by: David Oxley on Friday, 1 January 2016 at 8:20am GMT

I just adapted the Prayer and Dedication after a Civil Marriage from the BCP to cover a same-sex marriage. It took me about two minutes. The objection in the letter is bogus, as the author could work out for himself in less time than it took me to adapt the Prayer.

Posted by: John Hobson on Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 2:35pm GMT

FWIW, here's access to TEC's liturgy, passed in 2012 for Same-Sex Blessings. It was altered slightly by many diocesan bishops to use for marriage until June, 2015.
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/liturgical_resources_1_english.pdf

I can't find the 2015 version for marriage yet. It was passed by General Convention in June and is a slightly revised version of the 2012.

Straight people are being encouraged to consider using this liturgy as well. The 1979 BCP still has vestiges of medieval property rights. It's beautiful and sacramental. It is the result of years of excellent work by a Task Force on Marriage.

Some priests have simply altered language in the BCP. I like this new liturgy better. We used it and had the whole Anglo-Catholic works.

So creating lovely and theologically strong liturgies is not really a big problem.

I am seeing, however, that my marriage does make for a problem in communication. While I know that straight conservatives would not like to think of themselves as being rude or homophobic, denying that my marriage is sacramental marriage is denigrating it. It isn't only an Anglican thing. Every country that has equal marriage will have some churches doing the marriages, or doing blessings of civil marriage. So the opportunity to be rude to larger populations of people grows...

Posted by: Cynthia on Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 6:11pm GMT

" Every country that has equal marriage will have some churches doing the marriages,"

As I have said on several occasions, a pretty good way to set your moral compass - not only for Christians, or the faithful more generally, but for everyone - is to ask "what is the Quaker position on this?"

"At their Yearly Meeting in York in 2009, Quakers in Britain sought a change in the law so that same-sex marriages can be prepared, celebrated, witnessed, reported to the state, and recognised as legally valid, without further process, in the same way as opposite-sex marriages are celebrated in Quaker meetings."

Not being forced. Not being pushed. But pushing: ahead of the law, not behind it, looking for more, not less, love. As I say: set your moral compass from the Quakers, and you won't go far wrong.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Saturday, 2 January 2016 at 7:59pm GMT
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