Church of England bishops are proposing the offering of prayers for God's blessing for same-sex couples to celebrate their civil marriage or partnership.
Announced on Wednesday 18 January, the move marks a significant milestone for the Church of England as for the first time same-sex couples will receive "prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing" on their union.
The statement also includes a promise to apologise to the LGBTQIA+ community for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have faced from churches, set to be issued later this week.
The proposal follows a six-year discernment period, known as Living in Love and Faith, and will be reported to the Church of England's General Synod for discussion next month, with the main debate taking place on 8 February 2023.
The proposals mean there will be a range of draft prayers will be available for clergy to use voluntarily to best reflect the diversity of theology across the national Church. A new group would also be set up to update pastoral guidance in light of the proposal's practical implications.
The bishops are urging all congregations to “unreservedly and joyfully” welcome same-sex couples in their care.
Bishop of Oxford reaction
The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford and the most senior bishop in the Church of England to call for same-sex marriage, said on the morning of the announcement:
“I'm sorry that some things are not being taken forward, particularly civil marriage in church for same-sex couples, I would have wanted to see that.
"However, it’s good that the bishops will issue an apology for their lack of welcome to LGBTQIA+ people, and I am very encouraged that there'll be new pastoral guidance to bless same-sex couples in church, which I hope will also remove the barriers to clergy entering into same-sex, civil marriage themselves. Those are all significant steps forward and give us a strong platform for future developments on same-sex marriage.”
Bishop Steven joined the Archbishop of York on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme to discuss the announcements that have been made. Listen to that interview here.
Bishop of Reading reaction
The Rt Revd Olivia Graham, Bishop of Reading, said:
“I am aware that some will be disappointed that we could not agree to pursue affirming same-sex marriages in the Church at this stage, but I am very glad we have agreed to commend prayers for God’s blessing on same-sex relationships. It’s also right that we will be offering an apology for the damage and pain that has been caused to LGBTQIA+ people.”
Bishop Olivia spoke with LBC radio on 18 January about what has, and has not, been agreed by the bishops, noting it is a significant change and an important milestone for the Church. Speaking on BBC Berkshire later the same day Bishop Olivia re-iterated the need for an apology from the church:
"I think it's been absolutely shameful the way that that [some] Church of England churches have rejected or excluded, or been hostile environments for gay people. And as a bishop, I'm deeply ashamed of that. I'm absolutely 100% behind the apology, which will be issued on Friday and I really hope that that's heard by by gay people and by gay couples who've suffered from [an] un-Christian way of relating to them."
Bishop of Dorchester reaction
The Rt Revd Gavin Collins, Bishop of Dorchester, said:
“I'm pleased we have agreed as the College of Bishops that we will have provision to pray for and bless same-sex couples in the Church. Although I had personally wished the Church would go further, it is clear the majority were not ready to do so at this time."
Bishop Gavin spoke with Premier Christian Radio on 18 January about the provisions that are being made available. Many of our clergy will be delighted to have the resources to be able to bless same-sex couples.
Together in Love and Faith
The Bishop of Oxford's essay Together in Love and Faith, released in November 2022, sets out the bishop's changing views on same-sex marriage over the last decade, and calls for Church of England clergy to have the freedom to bless and marry same-sex couples. The essay can be downloaded as a PDF and is also available as an e-publication for Kindle.
High-resolution images are available for press use, with credit: Photo (C) Steven Buckley | Diocese of Oxford. Download the images.
There has been significant media coverage of Together in Love and Faith since publication in November. A range of media clippings is available on this page.