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First Church of England blessings for same-sex couples in use from Sunday

First Church of England blessings for same-sex couples in use from Sunday

Aine Fox, PA Social Affairs Correspondent
12 December 2023

Prayers of blessing for same-sex couples can be used for the first time this Sunday as part of Church of England services.

The move comes after the House of Bishops approved use of the prayers of love and faith, which feature a selection of readings and prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and asking for God's blessing for same-sex couples.

In February, the church's General Synod -- otherwise known as its Parliament -- voted in favour of offering blessings to same-sex couples in civil partnerships and marriages after a marathon near-eight-hour debate across two days.

While the blessings were welcomed by some as progress on what has long been a divisive issue, those who have campaigned for same-sex marriage within the church have said they do not go far enough, while others feel they go too far.

On Tuesday, the House of Bishops met online to confirm its earlier decision to commend the prayers for use in regular public worship such as Sunday Eucharist or Evensong, agreeing this should take effect from this weekend.

The motion was passed by 24 votes to 11, with three abstentions.

The Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, who is co-chairing the group overseeing the introduction of the prayers, acknowledged division remains over the move.

He said: "We know not everyone in the Church of England agrees on these important questions which go to the heart of who we are -- about people's lives, their love and our shared faith. This is reflected in the House of Bishops, where there remain different views on the best ways to proceed.

"These prayers are offered as pastoral provision. It is our prayer that they can be used with grace and understanding. Sharing them will be a blessing to the whole church."

It is up to the minister to decide whether or not to use the prayers during a regular service.

Bishop of Newcastle Helen-Ann Hartley, also a co-chair, described the prayers as being for "a same-sex couple who are committed to one another in faithfulness and love" and said they are "intended to enable those who wish to give thanks for and joyfully mark that commitment before God and their community of faith".

Meanwhile, discussions continued on separate proposals for special standalone services for same-sex couples to be formally authorised under canon law.

Last month, a vote at a meeting of Synod saw a motion passed to bring in such special services more speedily, meaning they could be brought in soon on a trial basis.

It had been thought approval for standalone services might not come for well over a year, but the November vote was passed, albeit narrowly, with an amendment for some special services to go ahead sooner, temporarily, under separate legislation.

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