Blessing of same-sex partnerships: Speeches from Diocese of Llandaff
Church in Wales Governing Body voted to allow same-sex couples to have their partnerships blessed in churches.
A Bill to authorise a service of blessing in Church in Wales churches was approved at a meeting on 6 September. It was passed by the necessary two-thirds majority in each order of the three orders – Bishops, clergy and laity.
The service will be used experimentally for five years and it will be up to individual clergy to decide whether or not they wish to lead it.
Liturgy for the Blessing of a Same-sex Civil Marriage or Civil Partnership
You can find the liturgy for the blessing of same-sex partnerships on the Church in Wales website.
Speeches from Diocese of Llandaff that shaped the debate.
The Reverend Canon Steven Kirk's address
In L.P. Hartley’s novel “The Go-Between”, Leo, a thirteen-year-old boy, is traumatized by his innocent role as messenger between Marian, the wealthy daughter at the big house, and Ted Burgess, a local farmer, when they conduct an affair during the summer of 1900. Leo returns to the village some 50 years later and meets Marian’s grandson and finds Marian living in a cottage on the estate. They are the only two surviving people who remember the events of that summer and the affair, and Marian persuades Leo to act as go-between once again, this time to assure her estranged grandson that there was nothing to be ashamed of in her relationship with Ted Burgess, of who he is the descendant. Marian says to Leo, who, because of his experience that year, has led a lonely life:
“Everyone should get married. You, too, Leo; you’re all dried up… Tell him, Leo, tell him there’s no spell or curse … the only spell or curse is an unloving heart.”
I cannot bring myself to believe in a God who would want to make us as we are and then curse us with an unloving heart simply because of whom we might chose to love.
We were not meant to be alone; God does not want us to be “all dried up” and he certainly does not call us to a single or monastic life according to our sexuality. It was Saint John of the Cross who said that, at the end, God will judge us not on what we have achieved, but on how much we have loved.
On a previous occasion, when I addressed the Governing Body on this subject, I quoted another author, Patrick Gale, from his television drama “Man in an Orange Shirt”, when he described a long-term gay relationship as being about “making toast and raking leaves”. It made me think about what such a relationship is all about – the simple everyday things of sharing a life together; the living day by day in the knowledge that there is someone who cares, I mean who really cares, about what you have done and what you have said and what you have thought; someone who provides the comfort of allowing you to feel safe; someone with whom you never have to weigh thoughts or measure words because you know that they will keep what is of value, and gently blow the rest away; someone who will laugh at your stories even when you have told them a thousand times; someone who will tell you how wonderful you are, even when you feel a total failure.
And so, I spoke of simple pleasures; of the events of an ordinary life; of moments shared; of the snatched minutes of time when no one else in the world exists because of the inexpressible joy of being in the company of that one other person; of the silence that is never threatening because, in any event, you are both thinking the same thing; a simple look; a smile; a touch; the things you both look forward to; the common memories of past events; hopes and fears and dreams. These are the things which people share. These are the things of which I spoke.
After that debate, someone in a conventional marriage said to me that I was too optimistic and that after 26 years it was simply no longer like that. I don’t know whether she remembers what she said to me that day; and she will certainly not be aware of how often I have thought of those words … and prayed for her. But I think that I would like to say now that, for me, after 35 years, it is, in fact, exactly like that … and although life sometimes seems to throw everything it has at you, I would still say that every day is better than the one before.
I know that in a Christian life, each individual is supported in the work which they are called to do by the power of the Holy Spirit; and I would want to testify to that in my own ministry. But, as human beings we also need the support of a companion, a friend, a partner. If, during my life, I have ever been able to bring comfort to someone who is grieving, or facing surgery, or enduring sickness, or is dying; if I have ever been able to impart a sense of faith in the young or the curious; if I have ever been able to bring hope to the anxious or the world-weary; if I have ever made any valuable contribution to this Governing Body, or any of the other committees or bodies on which I have served; if I have ever brought joy into the life of anyone I have ever met – and I’m not entirely convinced that I have ever achieved any of these things – but, if I have, then it is simply because of the strength, support, encouragement and love I have received from the man with whom I have shared my life for all these years.
Thirty-five years ago, I was afraid; I was afraid of the Church simply because I loved someone and that love was reciprocated. Afraid. What did that say about the community whose purpose and function it was to share the love of Christ?
I was not afraid of God, for I knew that if it was love, then the Lord wouldn’t mind. But I was afraid of the Church: of being rejected; of being “found out”. I do hope that we have moved on. I do hope that we all want a generous, welcoming and open Church which expresses the love of the Lord Jesus Christ for all his children.
I urge you to vote in favour of this bill. Don’t force anyone else to be “all dried up”.
Please do not allow anyone who looks to the Church for comfort to be cursed with an unloving heart. Do not allow anyone else to be afraid.
Download Canon Steven Kirk's address
Bishop June's speech to Governing Body
It is unusual for two bishops to propose and second business in Governing Body but the fact you are listening to both Bishop Gregory and myself this afternoon indicates that the Bench has a single mind on the rightness of this pastoral provision.
I want to spell out our concern for the impact that this liturgical gap has on the apologetics, evangelism and mission of our Church, but first a personal reflection.
In 1985/86 I was asked by the House of Bishops of the Church of England to chair a piece of work for them on the topic of homosexual relationships, in particular to advise them on issues relating to gay clergy. Because it was a confidential report (though leaked and now long in the public realm) I rarely speak about that experience but today I offer you two reflections from it.
One is that what initiated that programme of work was the expectation that the Lambeth Conference of 1988 would, to use Jonathan Wright’s term ‘give a steer’ on the way forward on same sex relationships. Almost four decades and four Conferences later the Anglican Communion has long accepted that each Province has to work out its own salvation on this matter, recognizing that our histories and civil contexts vary enormously. No-one will do it for us.
My other reflection has to do with the privilege of hearing the many and varied stories of what we call the LGBT+ community.
We are asking you to authorize a new liturgy but I want to remind us that every same sex relationship has its own tale, of virtues and vices, of desires and grace.
We do a terrible injustice to the sanctity, and particularly the triumph of human relationships, if we treat same sex relationships as a type, or reduce these partnerships to simply discussing what happens in the bedroom.
So to today’s Bill. Bishop Gregory has spoken about the importance of paying attention to context when we seek to hear God’s purposes through Scripture.
I want to build on that by asking you to consider the importance of context for this decision in relation to Scripture, tradition and reason, as we meet it in Welsh society.
Three responsibilities we have as the Church of God.
Firstly, our duty to apologetics. Arguing for and commending the faith.
Welsh society currently has repentance on its mind.
Last year that in inclination to repentance focused especially on racism, on Black Lives Matter and colonialism. With Extinction Rebellion and COP26 in Glasgow, my children, like many millennials, want to know how we as a family are going to repent: to change our habits in order to save the planet.
In that broader climate we are already being called to public and private repentance in relation to our attitudes and actions concerning gender and sexuality. In the lifetime of many of us homosexual deeds were still criminalized in the UK.
We now put Alan Turing on a banknote where-as once we gave him the choice of gaol or chemical castration, which contributed to his suicide.
Parliament and the courts justified that approach to gay relationships because it supported public morals it believed were shaped by a Christian belief system. For good reasons those public morals have changed and the warm, comforting winds of Christendom are almost gone.
If we are to shape our society and to build social capital on ‘Kingdom’ values then we have to earn our place of influence. And we do that through apologetics – persuading our fellow citizens of the beauty and truthfulness of what we believe and why the public spaces of Wales will be strengthened and not diminished by the Christian way.
I don’t need to tell you that we will not engage effectively if we are perceived to be a mean institution, wedded to social attitudes that have long been rejected, refusing to bless that which is, to most, self-evidently of God.
Secondly, our duty to evangelism.
As Sandra Miller referred to this morning, Welsh society now feels free to pick and choose. Where-as once there was huge pressure in our land to conform to what authority and especially the Church had to say – that world is no more.
Our neighbours, helped by two World Wars, have discovered a fearlessness in choosing what is authentic and real for themselves. So they choose the God worth worshiping. They reject a partial and merciless deity, and will not give their allegiance to a God who discriminates on grounds they see to be secondary to essential human worth and dignity.
Disability, race, sexuality, gender. Such things do not define our worthiness: and it is not good that any should be alone. Such is the belief of Welsh citizens.
We dismiss that conviction at our peril.
Sometimes we talk about it as the ‘secular spirit of the age’ but I thank God for the passion of those who have broken down the walls that have long divided and who invite all round the same table, in one great Babette’s feast.
If we wish people to know the Christ in whom there is neither male or female, Jew nor Greek, slave or free, gay or straight, cis or trans, black or white, then we need to act – and pray – as if such identities are subsidiary to our belonging in Christ.
Our evangelism depends on this. We have a responsibility to preach that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith”. Full stop. This liturgy is saying only baptism into the family of God matters and it extends that invitation.
And finally, there’s our obligation to mission.
Welsh society wants the outreach of the Church.
It’s easy to overstate the current climate as hostile to the things we believe. It certainly has not time for the abuse or terrors of religion. It will not partner with us or take us seriously if we’re nasty or untrustworthy. But look at the immense appetite there is in our parishes for the initiatives which bring the Kingdom close to our communities.
That local mission field starts with us living the incarnation of Jesus, that people should know that God is with them.
If something brings life, joy, freedom, intimacy and fulfilment try telling them that such relationships are not of God, and we have to be very, very sure why we would not bless them.
On that theme of mission, and here in the blessed Diocese of Monmouth, my mind goes to Archdeacon Sue Pennington who, as we heard earlier, held the portfolio for mission in this Diocese but who tragically and suddenly died at the end of July. I think of the speech Sue might have made in this debate and how she would have put this liturgy in the missionary context to which she dedicated her life. She may well have also spoken about her sense of God’s blessing in her long and godly same sex life partnership.
My friends on Governing Body, the bishops are asking you to allow us as a Church to be permissive, to allow us to bless commitments already made for the sake of our apologetics, our evangelism, and our mission: and to that end I second the passage of this Bill.
Bench of Bishop's support Pride Cymru
In August, Church in Wales Bench of Bishop's recorded a special video for Pride Cymru 2021.