Daily Telegraph report on same-sex services in the Church of England

The Daily Telegraph has a broadly accurate report about same-sex blessings in the Church of England in today’s paper, with a totally inaccurate headline.

The article quotes the Rev Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, as saying: “There are people who will do a blessing in a church, I don’t think that’s a problem. It will be under the radar a bit but it would happen.”

He said there were already hundreds of unofficial blessing services for civil partnerships taking place.

“Among liberal churches it is pretty widespread although people don’t talk about it,” adding: “There will be people coming to the parish church expecting a blessing in the church building following a marriage.

“What might happen is that the Church of England might impose a penalty on a priest who has conducted a blessing and at that point legal action would ensue, it would enable them to go to court.”

The report says that leading liberal priests are preparing to stage unofficial gay marriage ceremonies despite the Church’s official opposition to same-sex unions. Changing Attitude is not aware of any told the Telegraph that a gay marriage held in church would not be accepted as legal by the registrar’s office.

There are already hundreds of blessing or dedication services taking place under the radar, some in well-known churches and cathedrals, and the requests for such services will only increase next year. Some churches use a service similar to that used for heterosexual couples who marry in a register office. Services of blessing for same-sex couples are in theory not allowed at the moment. Some priests calling them services of “prayer and dedication”. Services may include communion and the liturgy may contain elements similar to the wedding service.

The Telegraph interviewed three priests who already offer services for same-sex couples or are prepared to.

The Rev Canon Dr Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, said that services currently offered to couples celebrating civil partnerships are likely to be offered for those in gay marriages. The church offers dedication services to civil partners, but only those who meet strict criteria and are part of the congregation. They are carried out openly and with the full knowledge of the diocese.

The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, now a parish priest, said: “I certainly wouldn’t do it covertly but if someone asks me I will phone someone up who has done these services and say ‘how much can I get away with?’ There are a lot of my friends who seem to get away with quite a bit in this.”

At Southwark Cathedral in London, civil partners are offered public prayers of dedication but not as part of a special service. The Dean of Southwark, the Very Rev Andrew Nunn, said: “Whenever we are asked to respond we always offer prayers but it is not in a private service.”

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