[Episcopal News Service] Same-sex couples began receiving blessings in the Church of England on Dec. 17 but are still not allowed to marry in England’s Anglican churches – a long-debated compromise that conservative Anglicans have said goes too far and more progressive Anglicans have said doesn’t go far enough.
While the divisions in the Church of England and across the wider Anglican Communion are not expected to be resolved anytime soon, the day marked at least a small step toward fuller LGBTQ+ inclusion for the couples who were able to request blessings from their clergy for the first time.
Among the first couples to receive the blessings were the Rev. Catherine Bond and the Rev. Jane Pearce, both associate priests, during Holy Eucharist on Dec. 17 at St. John the Baptist Church in Suffolk. The Rev. Andrew Dotchin, who offered the blessing, described the couple’s relationship as a “pilgrimage graced by [God’s] blessing,” and he prayed for them to “rejoice and hope in sustaining their love for all the days of their lives,” according to a BBC report.
A day later, on Dec. 18, Pope Francis broke similar ground in the Roman Catholic Church by allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples, the Vatican announced. Though gay and lesbian couples still have no liturgical rite for their unions in the Catholic Church, the pope’s decision was seen as a significant step in a denomination that has been slow to welcome LGBTQ+ Christians and has asserted that marriage is only for a man and a woman.
The Church of England’s blessings were endorsed by its General Synod in February 2023 as culmination of a six-year initiative referred to as “Living in Love and Faith.” Since then, groups of church leaders had met to develop a selection of readings and prayers of thanksgiving and dedication, which were approved this month by the church’s House of Bishops.
The text of the prayers was published Dec. 12 along with pastoral guidance for clergy. They may be used in regularly scheduled worship services, and discussions continue over proposals to allow them in stand-alone services.
Church of England clergy are not required to offer the blessings. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said he will not personally bless same-sex couples, though his openness to greater LGBTQ+ inclusion has led to deep rifts with other interdependent, autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion that all have roots in the Church of England.
Some Anglican provinces, including The Episcopal Church, have gone further by allowing same-sex couples to marry in their churches, though this is still rare in most other provinces.
Same-sex marriage has been legal under civil law in England since 2014 and is supported by a majority of the British public but remains forbidden in Church of England churches.
Conservative Anglican bishops, particularly those from provinces in the region known as the Global South, have strongly objected to the blessings. Because of these developments in the Church of England, they have said they no longer can accept Welby’s role as a historic “focus of unity” in the Anglican Communion.
Some LGBTQ+ Anglicans, on the other hand, have called the Church of England’s blessings insulting. They say the change leaves in place the Church of England’s other teachings on marriage and sex that marginalize the lives and relationships of gay and lesbian couples.
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.