Vicars across Britain are defying the Church of England’s strict ban on blessings for gay couples by presiding over hundreds of such ceremonies every year. An edited version of the report by Chris Hastings, Fiona Govan and Susan Bissett in the Telegraph.
The Telegraph investigates gay blessings
An investigation by The Telegraph can reveal for the first time just how easy it is for same-sex couples to receive a blessing in an Anglican church. In the space of less than a week, reporters posing as gay couples were offered blessings by 14 different vicars. The clergy, who were chosen at random, were happy to help the couples even though they were strangers who had no connection with either the local church or the parish. Two parish priests in the dioceses of Lincoln and Southwark even provided dates for the ceremonies, which they agreed could take place in their own churches.
Blessing gay couples, either in church or in private, is forbidden by Canon Law. The Lambeth Conference of 1998 reaffirmed the Church of England’s opposition to blessings for same-sex couples and for the ordination of practising homosexuals as priests, stating: “This conference cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions.” However, most of the vicars who agreed to help a same-sex couple confirmed that they had performed similar ceremonies in the past. The Telegraph has chosen not to name the priests. One vicar said: “On average, I tend to perform about four same-sex blessings a year. Sometimes it seems like I do more homosexual blessings than ordinary church weddings.” A colleague in south-east London said his church had an open policy of blessing same-sex unions and even announced blessings in the parish notices.
One vicar in the diocese of Lincoln said that he blessed homosexual couples with the consent of his bishop. “I have mentioned what I am doing to my bishop and he told me that he himself often received requests and would be happy to pass them on.” The vicar said that he was willing to incorporate elements of the ordinary marriage service and the Church of England’s own liturgy into the ceremony and showed reporters a copy of a service he had performed for a couple called Linda and Paula only three weeks ago. The couple’s order of service, for which the vicar charged £170, included exchanging of rings and The Lord’s Prayer.
The Bishop of Lincoln has no problems with blessings
The Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Rev John Saxbee, said that he personally had no problems with gay blessings and was aware that at least one local vicar was presiding over such ceremonies. He said: “A vicar in my own diocese has told me he is blessing same-sex couples. I think that is fully in line with the pronouncement by the House of Bishops in 1991 that homosexuals should be welcomed into the life of the Church. “I take that pronouncement to mean they can receive the benefits of church membership including blessings. I can’t answer for those who obviously take a different view.” The bishop said he was not happy with elements of the traditional marriage ceremony being incorporated into such blessings. He said: “I think there is something fundamentally dishonest about that because a blessing is not a marriage. That is an issue, however, for individual clergy and the couple involved.”
Priests follow their conscience in helping couples
Another vicar we spoke to told us: “We can tailor the service to suit the needs of the couple in question. More often than not people want to exchange rings and state their vows. In the past I have helped couples organise the flowers, the hymns and even the photographer.” He added: “We can’t go as far as a choir but we can normally get an organist.” Another vicar who agreed to bless a gay couple said: “I treat gay couples in exactly the same way that I treat heterosexual couples. A lot of my colleagues are homophobic and don’t agree with me, but I can’t answer for them.”
While all of those approached were aware that their actions were contrary to the rules of the Church of England, many felt that they had to be true to their conscience even if that meant defying their bishop. One vicar in the diocese of Southwark said: “I don’t ask my bishop for permission to bless the sick, bless shrines or bless animals, so why should I go to him when I want to bless a committed and loving gay couple?”
LGCM and a CofE spokesman comment
Richard Kirker, the general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said he knew of about 70 priests who together blessed around 450 homosexual couples a year. He said: “They believe in all good conscience that it is more important to care for people and offer God’s grace and blessing than obey rules that they have no respect for and which they do not feel are justified and are pastorally very damaging.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said: “The Church of England does not recognise these blessings. I have no personal knowledge of these things going on.”