A letter signed by 120 clergy in the Diocese of London asking the Church of England to allow priests to follow their individual conscience on whether to hold civil partnership ceremonies in their churches has been published by The Times. The letter says:
“We, the undersigned, believe that on the issue of holding civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches, incumbents/priests in charge should be accorded the same rights as they enjoy at present in the matter of officiating at the marriage of divorced couples in church. Namely, that this should be a matter for the individual conscience of the incumbent/priest in charge.
“We would respectfully request that our views in this regard are fully represented in Synod.”
It is signed by the Rev. Preb. Brian Leathard and 118 other clergy.
This is not, as the BBC report says, the first sign of significant resistance within the Church to its refusal to permit civil partnership ceremonies in Anglican churches. Changing Attitude has been campaigning for the past year. We brought our campaign to General Synod in York last July and held a major conference in Birmingham in September addressed by Ben Bradshaw MP.
The Times says the letter illustrates the growing anger running through mainstream Anglicanism on the issue and the scale of the protest would likely be mirrored in many of the church’s 44 dioceses, creating tension between ordinary priests and the church leadership.
If the same letter were to be circulated in the Diocese of Southwark, a similar number would be likely to sign, bringing the total to 240 in just two of the 44 dioceses. Changing Attitude knows of many clergy around the country who want the same freedom to officiate at civil partnerships in their parish church. We estimate that well over 1,000 clergy nationally desire the same freedom. There are already a significant number of clergy in civil partnerships, many of whom have taken advantage of the decision to extend pensions to surviving civil partners.
The letter greatly increases the pressure on the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council to take seriously the opinion of lay people and parish clergy. Changing Attitude has already asked that the issue be brought to General Synod to allow civil partnerships in church to be debated. We will now campaign with increased intensity for a vote to approve civil partnerships in church.
Brian Leathard of St Luke’s in Chelsea, west London, told The Times, “Our motivation in sending this letter is pastoral. For those of us at the front line, there is no sense of hiding behind a blanket ban on holding civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches. More and more people are coming to us, and feel that we are turning them away without actually being able to hear their story. They have a genuine desire for the Church’s fullest ministry, for us to bless their loving relationships.”
William Fittall, Secretary General at Church House, issued a statement saying that no C of E premises would be allowed to host the registration of civil partnerships without permission from the General Synod – the intention seemed to be not to allow Synod to consider the question. The ‘spokesperson’ said churches would not host civil ceremonies, just as a “gentlemen’s outfitter is not required to supply women’s clothes”. How absurd can you get.