Church of England – the gay issue
Posted by Fr Mark on August 8, 2009
The Famous St Bartholomew the Great same-sex blessing:
Riazat Butt, writing in The Guardian, 16.06.08:
Gay priest resigns after furore over church blessing
A gay priest who angered conservative Christians by exchanging rings and vows with his partner in a church ceremony for his civil partnership in London last month has resigned, it emerged last night.
The Rev Dr David Lord, a New Zealander who tied the knot with English clergyman Peter Cowell on May 31, “felt it appropriate to lay down his clergy license”, according to a statement released through the Anglican church in New Zealand.
His decision will debar him from officiating as a priest. It comes amid a furore over the ceremony at St Bartholomew the Great church in the City of London.
The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, said services of public blessings for civil partnerships were not authorised in the Church of England or the diocese of London and has asked the Archdeacon of London, Peter Delaney, to investigate.
Much of the anger toward the couple came after details of the service were revealed. Traditionalists were angry that the men were able to enjoy a ceremony almost identical to a traditional church wedding, with readings, hymns, a Eucharist and a version of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s Solemnization of Marriage.
Conservatives, especially from Africa accused the couple of undermining the authority of the Bible and the sanctity of marriage.
But the Rev Martin Dudley, who led the service, downplayed the event’s political significance.
“I am surprised and disappointed by the fuss. It was a joyful, godly occasion. Why turn it into a controversy? It was not a rally or a demonstration,” he said.
“Nor is it the first time there have been prayers, hymns or readings following a civil partnership. It may be that this ceremony had rather more knobs on. It may also be the only one we know about.”
He wrote to the Bishop of London two years ago asking for the official position on blessing civil partnerships. The bishop said he would be grateful if Dudley did not offer this service. Dudley added: “We should not allow the cultural position of bishops from other countries to affect our response to the very large number of gay people and gay clergy in the Church of England.”
Dudley is the freeholder of St Bartholomew’s, making it virtually impossible for him to be ousted. But he could face procedures which would involve someone proving there had been an irrevocable pastoral breakdown or that Dudley had acted in a manner unbecoming of a clergyman of the Church of England.
Nigel Seed, a church lawyer, said there was no prohibition on having a service after a civil partnership, provided it was not contrary to church doctrine.
“If you do not purport it to be a service of blessing there is nothing to stop couples from having prayers, hymns or a service of prayer and dedication,” he said.
Liberals reacted with disappointment to the news of Lord’s resignation. The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney and president of Inclusive Church, a campaign group working for equal rights for gay Christians, said: “This is disgraceful. It’s amazing this church cannot celebrate what little love there is in this world. It was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives and they have been turned into outcasts.” Others said they hoped the event would help the church modernise. The Rev Richard Kirker, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: “I hope it nudges the church into the 21st century. There are so many gay clergy in civil partnerships, whose integrity leads them to wanting to have their relationships affirmed by their faith.”
A breakaway Christian group, unhappy with the liberal agenda of western churches meets next weekend in Jerusalem to decide whether it can still retain links with the Anglican communion.
Liturgies, such as the one Dr Lord and Mr Cowell participated in, have been taking place in New Zealand, Scotland and Canada. The presiding bishop of the US Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, said: “Those services are happening in various places, including the Church of England, where my understanding is that there are far more of them happening than there are
in the Episcopal Church.”
The provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Rev Kevin Holdsworth, described the experience of performing a same sex blessing as a “new addition to the range of things that human beings have wanted to mark.”
On his blog he wrote about celebrating a Eucharist in circumstances which were new to him but which felt old and traditional all the same. As he helped the two men through their vows and then served communion to them and their friends in thanksgiving, he remarked: “People like me have been waiting for services like the one I celebrated today for so long.”