During the past decade the Windsor Commission and the Primates of the Anglican Communion have called for a moratorium on same-sex blessings. In 2009, the College of Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church interpreted this call as a brake on the development of official church rites and ceremonies for gay couples – which have, in fact proceeded in North America – but not as an inhibition of appropriate prayerful and pastoral response by clergy to requests from individual couples.
It’s uncertain that this distinction was generally appreciated at the time, especially as one effect of the moratorium has been to create a climate of fear which has prevented otherwise welcoming Church of England clergy from leading such a service. When these services have taken place, they have, if not driven completely underground, been hedged around with secrecy: the minister’s name omitted from service sheets and photographs on Facebook carefully edited.
With same-sex marriage likely to become law in the England and Wales very soon, and the House of Bishops belatedly taking a more positive view of Civil Partnerships, Changing Attitude is reviewing the prayer resources for such ceremonies in the hope that they can be celebrated more openly. It may take a while for the Church of England to agree to the publication of a suitable rite, but in the meantime it seems that it is not disloyal, disobedient, or in breach of the moratorium, to offer an appropriately pastoral and prayerful response to a couple who requests it.
As the House of Bishops 2005 Statement on Civil Partnerships made clear, it was agreement about authorised public rites for the blessing of same-sex couples that had been the stumbling block, but “Where clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to a civil partnership they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case.”
One of the first people to publicly bless a gay couple, back in 1978, was the Reverend Tony Crowe, then vicar of St Luke’s, Charlton, south London. Tony is as intellectually lively and pioneering as ever, and at the Question & Answer session at the recent Inclusive Church Annual Lecture in Southwark Cathedral – having pointed out that he had first blessed a gay couple 35 years ago – he asked the lecturer, Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, what the college was doing to prepare those in training for ordination to minister to lesbian and gay couples, especially with equal marriage likely to become a reality very soon.
As an example of a well-tried liturgy, we have uploaded A Pastoral Liturgy for the Blessing of Same-Gender Partnership in St Luke’s Church, Charlton reproduced with the permission of the author, Jeffrey Heskins, from his book, Unheard Voices published by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, London, in 2001, pp. 227-231.