HOW many self-respecting same-sex couples will be prepared to stomach the liturgically inept and patronising Prayers of Love and Faith the Church of England published in draft last week?
The take-up remains to be seen once parish clergy are allowed to offer the services of blessing for same-sex couples who have ‘sealed a covenanted friendship, registered a civil partnership, or entered a civil marriage’, according to the preamble to the draft liturgy circulated for a press conference in the Lambeth Palace library on Friday, addressed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell, and the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally.
The new liturgy is the compromise the bishops have come up with after the C of E’s protracted Living in Love and Faith consultation on ‘identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage’. The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, who in November became the most senior bishop to come out in favour of allowing same-sex marriages in parish churches, was unable to persuade enough of his episcopal colleagues down that route and instead the bishops have chosen to offer optional blessing services.
These are likely to become available soon after the next meeting of the General Synod in February. Though Synod members are due to debate a motion inviting them to ‘look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith’, it has become clear that the bishops are determined to push ahead with the new liturgy with or without General Synod approval.
The bishops set out the line they are taking in the preamble. Claiming that the new services involve no change to the C of E’s doctrine on marriage, the bishops say they can offer them for use at the discretion of local parish clergy without the need for a two-thirds majority vote in General Synod and subsequent parliamentary legislation:
‘Prayers of Love and Faith has been commended by the House of Bishops for use by ministers in the exercise of their discretion under Canon B 5 of the Canons of the Church of England. The prayers and forms of service commended here are “neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter” (including, but not limited to, the definition of Holy Matrimony in Canon B 30).’
Here is a flavour of what a same-sex couple choosing to have their relationship ‘blessed’ in their parish church would be subjecting themselves to.
In the section headed ‘Sealing of a Covenanted Friendship’, the minister says:
‘N and N, we delight in your desire to dwell more deeply in the grace of Jesus Christ by sealing a covenant of friendship with each other. We pray that, strengthened by the prayers of your family and friends, you may know God’s help to live in love and faithfulness.’
Each partner is then invited to say these ‘words of promise’:
‘I offer myself to you in love and friendship; may these words be a seal of my trust and delight in you. Where you go, I shall go: I will seek to share your burdens and your joys. I will pray that you will know God’s delight and walk with you wherever God calls us.’ This infantile declaration ends by presuming to drag the name of Jesus Christ into it.
The new liturgy allows a same-sex blessing to take place within a service of Holy Communion during which the couple stands before the minister, who says:
‘N and N, we rejoice with you as you stand before God today cherished and supported by your family and friends. We join our prayers with yours, asking God in his love to guide and support you now and in the years to come.’
Contrast these self-congratulatory affirmations with the minister’s prayer for a heterosexual couple in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer’s Solemnization of Matrimony: ‘Almighty God, who at the beginning of creation did create our first parents, Adam and Eve, and did sanctify and join them together in marriage; Pour upon you the riches of his grace, sanctify and bless you, that ye may please him both in body and soul, and live together in holy love unto your lives’ end.’
It is the difference between the view from a service-station footbridge across the M6 and that from the Alpine foothills on to Lake Como.