Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 30 April 2022

Stephen Parsons Surviving Church Safeguarding and the Search for Independence

Stephanie Pywell ViaMedia.News To Love and to Cherish… According to our Beliefs and Lifestyles

Richard Scorer The Free Thinker Child Protection and Religious Freedom

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Ann Reddecliffe
Ann Reddecliffe
19 days ago

Stephanie Pywell makes interesting points about civil celebrants offering religious ceremonies. If the law commission report out this summer recommends allowing them to apply to be authorised to officiate, so that weddings they conduct would have legal status, then that would be a challenge to authorised church liturgies. They could have a legal Anglican wedding, just without the church.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Ann Reddecliffe
19 days ago

I also see nothing to stop retired priests, or those denied a PTO because the have had a same sex marriage themselves, from becoming a ‘civil’ celebrant.

Susannah Clark
19 days ago

My wedding to my wife was celebrated in a Church of England parish church, by a priest who refused to treat us differently to any heterosexual couple. The PCC acted as welcomers, and served the food and drink in the church hall afterwards. We had the flowing wedding dress, 3 bridesmaids, over 100 members of the congregation, along with friends, work colleagues, relatives from overseas, and an evening party. It was so joyful. Of course, because of the restrictive and discriminatory laws banning marriage of gay and lesbian couples in the Church of England, we had to get a little… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Susannah Clark
19 days ago

Which is all lovely.

Because it worked for you seem to be extrapolating that it should work for everyone if only the restriction on same sex marriage in church was dropped, but I don’t think you recognise that you were very privileged. Privileged because you had the contacts to know a minister who would help you. I don’t believe it should work on privilege. Someone without those connections would struggle to find someone. That’s not right and is why it has to be universal.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Kate
19 days ago

I think *some* priests being allowed to bless, celebrate, or marry gay and lesbian couples is as good as it’s going to get in the Church of England, Kate. And the ‘marry’ part is by no means certain, though I am hopeful. I’d personally like to see that principle extended, so that a gay couple can be married in their own parish church, even if the local church community disagrees with that, providing another priest is willing to come in and preside over the service. I understand that you want all priests to be required to marry gay couples. That’s… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Susannah Clark
18 days ago

I think the ‘compromise’ liberals can offer is that the Church of England stops marrying anyone so everyone is treated equally. From that position we can talk about how to move forwards, treating everyone equally.

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
Reply to  Kate
17 days ago

Do you mean that the CofE should be stripped of its power to conduct a legal marriage, so that all church weddings are, as described here, accompanied by a piece of paper? Or do you mean that the Church should cease to celebrate the sacrament of marriage completely? But in any event I think that what is being called for here is legal compulsion, either by the State or by the Church, so that ministers who decline to conduct a ceremony for same-sex couples are subject to sanction, up to and including removal from their positions. Similarly, PCC members who… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Unreliable Narrator
17 days ago

Unreliable Narrator: “ministers who decline to conduct a ceremony for same-sex couples are subject to sanction, up to and including removal from their positions. Similarly, PCC members who decline to allow such ceremonies in their church would have to be removed, and congregations who refuse to endorse them would be rebuked.” I think that is a fantasy. None of that is being proposed by leaders in the Church of England. That is an example of absolutism. At either extreme, that is in my mind harmful talk. I’ve not heard anyone serious in the Church advocating that priests should be compelled… Read more »

T Pott
T Pott
Reply to  Susannah Clark
16 days ago

PCC members would not expect to be re-elected if they take a position contrary to that of the voters who elect them. That is to be expected?

Savi Hensman
Savi Hensman
Reply to  Susannah Clark
18 days ago

Congratulations, Susannah! I hope that Church of England clergy and congregations will soon be formally permitted to celebrate weddings if they feel called to do so; but the work of non-denominational celebrants will still be important to many couples. I suspect that in time, as well as more churches centrally enable the marriage of same-gender couples, at local level the weakness of the theological arguments against these will increasingly be recognised and inclusion extended through persuasion.

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Savi Hensman
17 days ago

Thanks Savi, I share the suspicion/expectation that once *some* churches are allowed to marry gay and lesbian couples, and the world does not come crashing down, and fearful church communities no longer fear sanctions/discipline, then the loveliness of that inclusion will probably spread, because the majority of people in this country think gay and lesbian sex is okay, and parish life is about more things than sex. I doubt sex will be a stumbling block issue for the large number of parish church communities that make up the centre ground of the Church of England. I suspect more and more… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
19 days ago

I’m surprised that, once again, the former colony of Aotearoa/New Zealand, in which country I am blessed to serve as a retired Anglican priest, offers a service conducted by ‘Marriage Celebrants’ that is endorsed by legal Government approval – which has to be obtained by any aspiring M.C., who need not be of any religious faith. However, any retired clergy person is free to apply for the appropriate licence, which does not require the permission of the local bishop to be used. Such licences, naturally, cannot be used for ceremonies conducted in places where a bishop has jurisdiction.

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

Father Ron, in your jurisdiction, are the licensed celebrants allowed to have a Christian content in the liturgy or celebration they offer, even if outside an official church building?

In England, Registrars who conduct civil marriages are forbidden by law to have any Christian content in the marriages they supervise. I would not be at all surprised, if the UK Government went ahead with the creation of a category of civil celebrant, if the Government would come under great pressure from the Church of England to similarly ban Christian content from any resulting ceremonies.

Father Ron Smith
Reply to  Simon Dawson
18 days ago

Simon, as far as I am aware in New Zealand, Marriage Celebrants are not prohibited by law from using Chrisrian forms of service in a legal marriage celebration. Nor does the Constitution of our Church forbid such an arrangement for Civil Celebrants. I, myself, during my parish ministry, have conducted a few marriage celebrations not conducted in a church building – but always according to Anglican liturgical use. THIS IS SEEN AS totally consistent with the Celebration of a special Mass outside of a Church building. I, personally, have not sought a Marriage Celebrant’s !icence, being already licensed by virtue… Read more »

Last edited 18 days ago by Father Ron Smith
Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Father Ron Smith
18 days ago

Fr Ron, you write “any retired clergy person is free to apply for the appropriate licence, which does not require the permission of the local bishop”. This raises an interesting question. Can someone in holy orders conduct a secular marriage ceremony (or a secular funeral for that matter), or is that priest obliged by dint of her orders to conduct a Christian ceremony? I know of a retired priest who lets it be known to funeral directors that he is available for religious or secular funerals at the crematorium. The latter, it seems to me, is a negation of his… Read more »

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Allan Sheath
18 days ago

Indeed, there is a real lack of integrity in a Christian minister who is willing to conduct a secular service. But I am aware of cases where it happens, and could name quite a number of clergy, of various denominations, who have ended up officiating at funerals as civil celebrants after falling out of ministry in their church one way or another. There is a complete lack of regulation of funeral celebrants, which enables all sorts of interesting characters to set themselves up to function in that way with no accountability to anyone. Perhaps one benefit of registering civil celebrants… Read more »

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
18 days ago

“Indeed, there is a real lack of integrity in a Christian minister who is willing to conduct a secular service.”

What does a secular service look like? God is everywhere – and Eucharists are celebrated everywhere such as house groups – so marrying outside a church doesn’t matter. If the minister is ordained and uses the key parts of a liturgy isn’t that enough to make it a Christian wedding?

Unreliable Narrator
Unreliable Narrator
Reply to  Kate
17 days ago

I think there’s a confusion here between “secular” and “atheist”. If a Christian minister were to conduct a funeral service or ceremony in wors based on the premise that death was the end, then yes, that would compromise their integrity. But to conduct a funeral in a secular context, such as a municipal cemetery or crematorium, not to mention such events as burial at sea, seems quite in keeping. Perhaps the hardest issue is whether a Christian can properly conduct a service which is agnostic as to the nature of death and resurrection. One view would be that having someone… Read more »

Jo B
Jo B
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
17 days ago

I have a friend who was an OLM but since retiring and giving up PTO carries out secular funerals to provide a pastoral service to those who don’t share her beliefs. Unless she says things that she doesn’t believe when conducting these funerals I fail to see a lack of integrity.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Allan Sheath
17 days ago

This raises a different question also.

Could a retired (or even active) priest in holy orders, in England, apply for such a licence, and then conduct the marriage of a same sex couple according to current liturgical formulae, but outside of a church building, or even outside the diocesan boundaries where he or she might serve?

How might that fit into current regulations, assuming the registration of civil celebrants, but no other change to church regulations? It might take a brave priest to do it, but such a priest might exist.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Simon Dawson
16 days ago

Interesting question. Not least because it raises a further question regarding the sanctions that the bishop might use against the priest, particularly if that priest is retired. Using the somewhat analogous situation of those retired priests who tout for crem business (religious or secular), the answer may be not very much, apart from taking away PTO.

As an aside, at crem funerals one undertaker would always slip the minister’s fee to me surreptitiously using a sub-Masonic handshake. I pointed out that I was no longer a drug dealer and could he instead pay the fee directly to the parish office.

Father Ron Smith
Reply to  Allan Sheath
17 days ago

I guess, Alan, that if a priest no longer holds a Bishop’s Licence – in New Zealand at any rate (and if his conscience allows) he would be free to obtain a Civil Marriage Celebrant’s Licence, with no expectation from the Government, except that of ensuring that the minimal wording required to make the marriage legally valid should be recited by the couple in front of attesting witnesses. The constitution of our Church, however, will not at present allow any licensed priest to preside at an actual Wedding Ceremony for a Same-Sex Couple – although a couple who have gone… Read more »

Susannah Clark
17 days ago

I can’t really see why priests should not be allowed to conduct Christian-stripped, or liturgy-lightened, or secular marriage services… if they can get civil authority to do that… whether inside a church building (might not presently be allowed) or outside in a community location (outdoors or indoors). Marriage is a universal good ideal, whether it’s framed in Christian terms or secular terms. It’s still a good thing. And marriage does not belong to the Church. It belongs to the whole human race, whatever their faith, if any. However, as a priest in a local community, surely the issue is pastoral… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Susannah Clark
17 days ago

Many thanks. By analogy, I have attended some funerals which are conducted by clergy and which are notionally ‘Christian’, but the religious content has been cut back to the barest minimum, such that they are not far off being secular funerals. This is presumably in deference to family wishes.

I have also attended secular funerals, conducted by secular officiants, which include one or two Christian hymns and prayers. Again, this is presumably in deference to the often complex family politics associated with such occasions.

There is scarcely a cigarette paper’s difference between the two, as far as I could tell.

Kate
Kate
Reply to  Susannah Clark
17 days ago

One possible compromise might be to allow civil same sex weddings in churches using a Christian liturgy. The purists could argue that it wasn’t really a Christian wedding and tolerate it; everyone else could accept it for what it appears to be.

Allan Sheath
Allan Sheath
Reply to  Susannah Clark
17 days ago

As baptism is what makes a marriage Christian, and as the C of E conducts marriages where neither party is baptized, you could argue that we always have had secular wedding ceremonies. But the point is that we still use a Christian liturgy, not a secular one. This can be ‘liturgy-lite’ with the omission of the nuptial blessing (and of course, the Eucharist), but it is nonetheless a Christian liturgy.  Susannah, I have to agree with Fr Dexter Bracey that there would be a real loss of integrity in priests conducting Christian-stripped marriage ceremonies. It also raises the question, why would… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Reply to  Allan Sheath
17 days ago

Allan, I agree with you and Dexter on the matter of whether, or not, an ordained person should preside at a secular ceremony of marriage. If Anglican Ordination means anything it exists to build and sacramentally pastor a dedicated Christian community. There are many more people who could conduct a secular wedding – especially in a situation where many couples no longer seek even to enter the traditional married state; requiring only the legal protection of a ‘de facto’ relationship. Regarding Same-Sex Marriage in Aotearoa/New Zealand; it is not, at the moment permissible for licensed Anglican clergy to officiate at… Read more »

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