Thinking Anglicans

Church in Wales to consider same-sex blessings

Press Release from Church in Wales

Governing Body meeting – September 6 and 8

Same-sex couples will be able to have their civil partnership or marriage blessed in Church in Wales churches for the first time if new legislation is passed next month (September).

A Bill to authorise a service of blessing will be considered by members of the Church’s Governing Body at its meeting on September 6.

It proposes that the service be used experimentally for five years and that it will be up to individual clergy to decide whether or not they wish to lead it.

The service is for a blessing only as same-sex couples are unable to marry in church.

The Bill is being introduced by the Bishops, following an indication from Governing Body members that it was now “pastorally unsustainable” for the Church to make no formal provision for those in committed same-sex relationships.

In the Explanatory Memorandum they say, “Approval of this rite would be stating that the Church in Wales accepts that the loving and faithful commitment of two persons of the same sex, aspiring to life-long fidelity and mutual comfort, and who have made a commitment in civil partnership or marriage, is worthy of acceptance by the Church by asking God’s blessing upon their commitment.”

While recognising that the Bill is controversial, they describe it as a “step on the way towards repentance of a history in the Church which has demonised and persecuted gay and lesbian people, forcing them into fear, dishonesty and sometimes even hypocrisy, and which has precluded them from living publicly and honestly lives of committed partnership.”

The bishops are urging Governing Body members to debate the Bill in a respectful and dignified way, acknowledging that it will raise difficult issues of faith and belief. They have issued a set of ‘Pastoral Principles’ intended to guide people towards thoughtful and considerate discussions.

Introducing them they say, “There can be no room for seeking to undermine sincerely held views. Neither should we seek to walk away from each other. Our union in Christ is at the heart of our life and the bonds and character of our baptism hold us together; sharing a commitment to each other as together we seek the Kingdom of God. We hope these materials will stimulate this quality of engagement.”

The Bill will be discussed on the first day of the Governing Body meeting which takes place on September 6 at the International Convention Centre Wales in Newport and will be live-streamed via a link on the Church in Wales website and Youtube channel. The second day of the meeting will take place online only, via Zoom, on Wednesday, September 8 and will also be live-streamed.

The full agenda and all reports are online at: https://www.churchinwales.org.uk/en/about-us/governing-body/meetings/

The meeting will be live-streamed via a link on the Church in Wales website at www.churchinwales.org.uk and YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/churchinwales

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Susannah Clark
30 days ago

Excellent – and next stop marriage please! “It was now “pastorally unsustainable” for the Church to make no formal provision for those in committed same-sex relationships.” Same in England. It is pastorally unsustainable. If the Bishops and Synod do not act, now LLF brings talking to an end, then local churches who find it ‘pastorally unsustainable’ (as many do) will just end up ignoring the old status quo. Having had the privilege of having my marriage blessed, before a full church, with the church and PCC’s heartfelt backing… because ‘how can we treat you and your wife differently’… I can’t… Read more »

Last edited 30 days ago by Susannah Clark
Father Ron Smith
30 days ago

It would appear that the intention in the ‘Church in Wales’ to permit the Blessing of Same-Sex Civil Partnerships or Civil Marriage in church is very similar to that currently in process in ACANZP – the Anglican Church in New Zealand. Under this provision, here in Aotearoa/New Zealand, such relationships may receive a form of Blessing in Anglican churches where the clergy and people are desirous of such a Blessing being made available. Incidentally, there has not been a notable rush of couples wanting to take advantage of such a process. Perhaps most same-sex couples have already decided that the… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Father Ron Smith
30 days ago

One reason for there not to be a rush of couples taking advantage of new provision is that many same sex couples may have been able to obtain church blessings for their relationships under the old regimes because of supportive local congregations. In the UK, like Susannah, my now husband and I were able to take part in a service of blessing and covenant in our local church in central London in 2001, with the support and agreement of the rector, the PCC, the congregation, and, in fact, the archdeacon. And this was at a time when official church policy… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
30 days ago

I suspect this will make equality much more difficult to achieve in Wales.

I hope they vote against this provision.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
30 days ago

I disagree Kelvin. I can understand the arguments for saying it is full equality of marriage or nothing, and what is proposed here is less than full equality. But to go down that path might delay the provision of any form of liturgy for same sex couples for many more years. For pastoral reasons I would argue that it is a good thing to help same sex couples go through some form of liturgy in their local church now. In my experience there are great psychological and spiritual benefits to be had when a same sex couple have their relationship… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Reply to  Simon Dawson
29 days ago

I agree with you, Simon. A Church Blessing is at least a tacit approval of the Same-Sex relationship that actually exists in the community. This would not be very different from the Blessing of a heterosexual couple whose marriage took place in a Register Office. There is surely at least some degree of equality in that situation.

Kelvin Holdsworth
Reply to  Simon Dawson
29 days ago

All that is required for the priests of the church in Wales to offer something pastoral to couples is for the bishops (and possibly the Governing Body) to confirm that they will not be subject to disciplinary action if they do.

I do think that priests should be able to respond pastorally.

I don’t think that it is a good idea to affirm a second class liturgy. That says something distinctly unpastoral.

Kelvin Holdsworth
Reply to  Simon Dawson
29 days ago

Having taken a look at the liturgy being proposed, I also think that anyone pretending that this isn’t a Christian liturgy of marriage is being silly, notwithstanding the legal necessities.

Christians should not be willfully deceitful. And Governing Bodies shouldn’t encourage it.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
29 days ago

Perhaps we work in different contexts Kelvin. You are a trained theologian who is involved with high level church governance. I am a campaigner, and partnered gay man who has, at various times, taken part in a service of blessing and covenant (http://www.simondawson.com/blessing/blessphot.htm), a Civil Partnership, and a Registry Office marriage. I know how joyful and affirming such services can be, even if they are “second best”. And I know that the local congregations are unaware of the distinctions. The frequent refrain to us from our church friends is “as far as we are concerned you are married”. My own… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Simon Dawson
29 days ago

I agree, from my own experience, with Simon. I think, as far as our congregation was concerned, it WAS a wedding, even though we said it was a celebration of our marriage. I dressed in bridal gown, had bridesmaids, we had a book to sign, and the occasion was both joyful and meaningful – deeply meaningful because the law insisted (outrageously) that we had to get a document signed first, but this was a public commitment we made… before God, before our loved ones, before our congregation. The PCC prepared the service for us, welcomed our guests, shared in our… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
Reply to  Simon Dawson
29 days ago

Hi Simon. You seem to think you know me and yet you can’t get my name right. I don’t think your characterisation of me as someone who is a trained theologian rather than a campaigner would be taken seriously by most of those who really do know me. In the decade before I was able to celebrate the marriages of same-sex couples in church I was blessing those in civil partnerships in church. And yes, those were glorious liturgies and were treated as being like marriages by all and sundry. However, at precisely the same time that I was doing… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
28 days ago

People frequently don’t get my name right, and mercifully (?) some emails never reach me due to misspellings. The cause can be something which our parents unwittingly bestow on us. Spell-check in its various versions can also be a factor. But I agree that it is a basic courtesy to address people correctly, and all the more surprising that they don’t when replying to something with your name clearly shown.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
28 days ago

Kelvin, I am sorry about the mistake with the name, and if I misunderstood your position.

I accept the logic of your argument, and it is a strong argument, but personally I believe that asking same-sex couples to give up the chance of some form of a church liturgy now, whilst we wait for agreement on a full same sex marriage liturgy at some time in the future, is a big thing to ask. Perhaps too big.

Last edited 28 days ago by Simon Dawson
Susannah Clark
Reply to  Simon Dawson
28 days ago

Wow! Just visited your website, Simon, using the link you posted above. What a wonderful ceremony, and such joy to see and read about. I wish I could do the same, but because the Church of England officially does not allow public blessing and affirmation of lesbian and gay marriage, I can’t do that without giving away the location of the church. It is really despicable that priests face the threat of sanction for exercising conscience, and that this then drives most gay and lesbian couples into a degree of furtiveness and shadows on what should be their most open… Read more »

David Emmott
David Emmott
Reply to  Susannah Clark
28 days ago

All this is only a British (or even English) problem anyway isn’t it? In most countries a church ceremony has no legal force and couples have to have a legal wedding in the town hall first. Many clergy here I am sure would defy the bishops and hold a service in church, except that at present it would be pointless because the marriage would not be legally recognised unless it was between a man and a woman who fulfilled certain legal requirements.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  David Emmott
28 days ago

I understand that, David. But a blessing and celebration of a couple’s marriage, even with the piece of paper acquired, for the time being… in Church, before God, before the church community, before their family, before their friends and colleagues… accompanied by wedding-style clothes, even bridesmaids (we had 3), and the social affirmation of the PCC and congregation, and food/drink/music/joy after the service… I can tell you from experience that did not seem pointless. Indeed, at a spiritual level (set aside the legal acquisition of a piece of paper) this was the occasion of a pledge and covenant before God… Read more »

David Emmott
David Emmott
Reply to  Susannah Clark
27 days ago

I’m sure Susanna. Pointless was the wrong word to use. I don’t want to minimise the value of any sort of blessing: just the opposite. What I was trying to say is that many clergy would love to celebrate marriage liturgies for all, but currently the law insists that the ‘first class’ service is forbidden to same-sex couples. If all marriages had to be legalised in a secular ceremony, then the only constraint on clergy from offering equal marriage rites to all would be their consciences or the dubious power of bishops to override their consciences.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  David Emmott
27 days ago

Thank you David. You have given me new things to reflect on, and I really appreciate the comments you have exchanged.

John Chilton
John Chilton
29 days ago

For someone on the other side of the Atlantic who has not kept up why is it that
“The service is for a blessing only as same-sex couples are unable to marry in church”?

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  John Chilton
29 days ago

When same sex marriage was introduced legally in England and Wales churchmen succesfully lobbied Parliament to make it illegal in the Church of England and in the Church in Wales. The reason was that if it was not actually illegal then couples refused marriage could bring a claim for discrimination. There was a lot of doubt expressed as to whether the law eventually passed, permitting same sex marriage but forbidding it in the C of E and C in W was strong enough. Other denominations can decide by their own procedures whether to allow same sex marriage, but parishioners per… Read more »

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
Reply to  John Chilton
29 days ago

The reason that same-sex couples are “unable to marry in church” is because of provisions in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. However, it is noteworthy that the Act specifically makes provision for the Church in Wales, as follows: (Section 8) “…if the Lord Chancellor is satisfied that the Governing Body of the Church in Wales has resolved that the law of England and Wales should be changed to allow for the marriage of same sex couples according to the rites of the Church in Wales. … The Lord Chancellor must, by order, make such provision as the Lord… Read more »

Last edited 29 days ago by Bernard Silverman
John Chilton
John Chilton
Reply to  Bernard Silverman
29 days ago

Very helpful. The bishops embarrass themselves by not being forthright.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  John Chilton
29 days ago

I would disagree. If you read the explanatory memorandum linked above, it indicates that the plan is to introduce a blessing now, because that is what is achievable today, and then it describes the process needed to work towards full equality of marriage at some stage in the future. This seems forthright and clear to me It is not an either/or choice, blessing or marriage. It is both/and, blessing now followed by marriage when achievable. That is why I support the Welsh bishops. Their process gives clear benefits now, but indicates this is not the end of the journey. And… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
29 days ago

Simon – Then they should argue in favour of what they think is right.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
29 days ago

I don’t really understand this line of argument, Kelvin. Surely you can argue for both: for the blessing you can get now, and for the ultimate full rights of equality and marriage. The two don’t contradict each other. The first encourages the second, by familiarising more and more communities with the affirmation of gay and lesbian relationships, and as this affirmation becomes widespread and normal, more and more church communities will conclude that full marriage service should be accepted as well. In addition, for people like Simon D and me, services that publicly affirm and celebrate our marriages are deeply… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
29 days ago

I cannot speak for members of the Church in Wales but, if this is proposed in the Church of England, I believe it would be too little too late. Something of this nature would have been very welcome when the theological case was first made for it by a C of E official working party, in 1979, and for a quarter-century or so after. I think the excellent ‘Permanent, faithful, stable’ by Welsh theologian Jeffrey John first appeared in 1990. Would it really be that much harder in Wales in 2021 to get agreement to marriage ceremonies in church?

Neil Patterson
Neil Patterson
29 days ago

It may help this thread to point out that this is the CinW’s second attempt at this. The first, only a few years ago (and I am sure documented on TA somewhere) proceeded very thoroughly by consultation successively at parish, deanery and diocesan level before reaching the Governing Body. The background papers pointed out, as I think most of us would agree, that the real options are that same-sex relationships are right, in which case marriage, or they are not, in which case should be discouraged – and that something like what is now proposed isn’t really very logical. There… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Neil Patterson
29 days ago

Then, if no progress is made through England’s governing bodies, grassroots church communities will take the issue into their own hands, Neil, and make the public celebration of marriage in church a de facto reality. It is already a de facto reality that more and more members of the Church of England reject the status quo teaching. It’s time to stop dominating people’s deep conscience on the issue. It’s also pretty much time for grassroots church communities in their hundreds to step up and take the lead. Moral leadership, like my own priest showed. As the Church in Wales said,… Read more »

Kelvin Holdsworth
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
27 days ago

Thanks Simon.

“In the first preference vote of the 120 members present, half of the Bench of Bishops, just over half of the clergy, and just under one half of the laity voted in favour of same-sex marriage: a total of 61 votes. One bishop, 21 clergy, and 28 laity voted in favour of the status quo (50 votes). Nine people voted in favour of the second option, of blessing same-sex unions.”

So what is now being put before the GB body is what almost nobody wanted…

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Kelvin Holdsworth
27 days ago

It was very helpful to refer back to the debate of 2015, and Kelvin Holdsworth makes a very valid point that in the subsequent vote many more voters were in favour of same sex marriage than either the status quo or same-sex blessings. But I would argue that we also need to study the Explanatory Memorandum (linked above) written in the light of that and subsequent debates. It says “The Bench believes that, in the fullness of time, the Governing Body will have to consider whether it wishes to consider a change in the Church’s teaching concerning marriage. This could… Read more »

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
Reply to  Simon Sarmiento
27 days ago

If, since 2015, a sizeable majority of the bishops (on the basis of the theological considerations then, summarised on https://www.churchinwales.org.uk/en/faith/what-we-believe/same-sex-marriage/, and perhaps later) have been convinced of the case for affirmation and were to make this clear, I wonder whether a two-thirds majority might be possible?

Father Ron Smith
27 days ago

I believe that even the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church allows that a marriage is a contract between the two persons involved. The Church’s role is to bring God’s blessing on the union. This sets the Anglican situation where it belongs: In the realm of adding God’s Blessing to a situation already legally constituted. As some people have already suggested; perhaps the Church should leave the legal situation of Marriage to the State (as in many other countries) offering God’s Blessing to those who request it.

Katy Adams
Katy Adams
Reply to  Father Ron Smith
26 days ago

I am glad that the United Reformed Church has an arrangement where churches and congregations who wish to celebrate same sex marriages can do so. I’m female, and I married my wife in a URC church in Cambridgeshire last year. My own denomination (Methodist) decided in July that they would now marry same sex couples too

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Katy Adams
25 days ago

Thanks for sharing this Katy. It’s heartening to hear how other denominations open up to the imperative of love, and all the grace, care and flourishing that can be shared by two women, or two men, in relationships of intimate commitment and married life. I wish you both long years of happiness and love together. With regard to whether marriage should just be externally formalised by civic authorities, with a church just blessing that… well that’s what my wife and I had to work through because of the unequal law imposed on the Church of England and marriages in its… Read more »

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