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Church of England split over US plan to remove 'husband and wife' from marriage service

Church of England split over US plan to remove 'husband and wife' from marriage service
The US Episcopal Church asked other members of the worldwide Anglican Communion to respond to the new liturgy, prompting Mr Nye's letter.

By Olivia Rudgard, religious affairs correspondent
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/
30 APRIL 2018

The Church of England is split over US plans to remove "husband and wife" from the marriage service.

Plans by The Episcopal Church (TEC) to change its marriage service to a gay-friendly version which also removes mention of the word "procreation" were criticised in a letter from the Church of England's Secretary General William Nye last October.

But the proposals have received support from elsewhere in the English church, with more than 300 members including Alan Wilson, the bishop of Buckingham, signing an open letter distancing themselves from Mr Nye's statements.

His letter, which emerged earlier this month, threatened to cut ties with the US church, which is a fellow member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, if it introduces the new service as standard, replacing the current wording in its Book of Common Prayer.

The new service removes the phrase "the union of husband and wife" and replaces it with "the union of two people", and replaces the section which talks about part of God's intention for marriage being "for the procreation of children" with the phrase "for the gift of children" to make it more relevant for same-sex couples who may wish to adopt.

Couples can still use the words "husband" and "wife" when making their vows, though the gender-neutral "spouse" is also an option.

The Episcopal Church asked other members of the worldwide Anglican Communion to respond to the new liturgy, prompting Mr Nye's letter.

He said using the new service as standard would lead to a growing "pressure to dissociate" the Church of England from the US church as conservative members see any move at all in that direction as "completely unacceptable".

He urged the church to consider keeping the new service on "trial status" indefinitely to avoid "irrevocably redefining marriage", adding that the new rites "constitute a clear divergence from the understanding of marriage held throughout the history of the Christian Church".

However, in a letter published on Sunday evening addressed to the US church, liberal members of the Church of England said they were "grateful" for the move.

They thanked TEC for recognising "a gender-neutral approach will enable us to become a loving and inclusive Church for all".

"We still have a few problems to sort out over here with those who keep threatening to leave, but we know that your actions have given great hope to thousands and shown that the Church is not as homophobic as it can sometimes appear," the letter added.

Campaigners also cited a 2016 survey which found that 45 per cent of British Anglicans said same-sex marriage was right, compared to 37 per cent who said it was wrong.

The Church of England has been embroiled in controversy over same-sex marriage and the status of gay people in the Church.

Last year members of its general synod voted not to "take note" of a report by bishops which encouraged "welcome and support" for LGBT people but stopped short of allowing marriage or blessings for same-sex couples.

The vote prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to say that a "radical new Christian inclusion in the Church" was required.

Jayne Ozanne, a campaigners for LGBT rights in the church, said: "We are unsure by whose authority the original letter from Nye was sent, given that it was not discussed by the Archbishops' Council.

"It would be strange if it were sent with the knowledge and support of the Archbishops given their firm commitment to 'radical Christian inclusion' and their understanding of the need to be pastorally sensitive to the LGBT community, neither of which area mentioned in the letter.

"What I find even more perplexing is that it does not reflect the level of dissent shown by recent decisions taken by the General Synod."

A spokesperson for the Church of England said: "The request was addressed to the Secretary General, as Provincial Secretary of the Church of England, who then consulted both Archbishops.

"It was concluded that as there was not time for full consultation of the House of Bishops - which meets only twice a year - a reply should be sent at staff level.

"Church House staff therefore produced a reply, in consultation with the Archbishops and the Bishop of Coventry, the chairman of the Faith and Order Commission.

"Mr Nye replied as Provincial Secretary."

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