Comments: civil partnerships: a college dean writes

Well this is happening much sooner than I believed.

And there are already civil partnered clergy in the Church of England.

How long before one of them becomes candidate for bishop?

There is only one direction this matter is moving towards and it appears that we will see a convergence of Episcopal Church and CoE rules on this matter before too long.

Posted by RMF at Thursday, 16 February 2006 at 7:33pm GMT

"In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."

It seems the House of Bishops' statement is increasingly not worth very much. :(

Posted by Neil B at Thursday, 16 February 2006 at 8:25pm GMT

So encouraging to see that courage and principle still exists in the Church.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 16 February 2006 at 11:11pm GMT

Neil B quotes `"In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit."'

Notably this quote is in the OT where God's chosen people seemed to operate better under 1 leader. We live in (post-)NT times where we have 1 Lord and a leadership model with several apostles.

Posted by Tim at Thursday, 16 February 2006 at 11:35pm GMT

What are the odds on Tony Blair (i.e., "The Crown") actually interfering with a Royal Peculiar in a matter like this? (a trick question, I suppose, since nothing quite like this has ever come up before).

Like RMF, I expect a convergence between the British & North American churches on these questions -- it appears that it may be sooner rather than later.

Posted by Prior Aelred at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 12:30am GMT

Brilliant! Huzzah for the dean! :-D

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 12:42am GMT

Too bad we are so much focused on gays and lebians in today's Anglican Communion. Gays have always been part of the Church of God, openly and less openly so. In earlier times the issues dividing Christians were different. As Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch tells us in his scholarly and readable History of the Reformation (2003), Archbishop William Laud, whose saint's day the Anglican Communion observes on January 10, was a gay man phantasizing about his male lover in his diary. He loved cats rather than dogs, and insisted that English gentlemen attend church unaccompanied by their dogs. Many grew irrate at him over that as well as over Archbishop Laud's introduction of communion rails. No one castigated him over his sexual orientation and/or practices.

The Cambridge college dean exhibits a great degree of realism in his letter to the Bishop of Ely about the pastoral situations facing clergy counselling couples about to be married. IMHO many tradionalists live in a 'phantasy land'.

Posted by John Henry at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 2:21am GMT

"there are already civil partnered clergy in the Church of England"

And some clergy are not likely to respond with the same openness, acceptance and affirmation as Revd Jeremy Caddick. How might they proceed when it comes to the crunch? -

Posted by Augustus Meriwether at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 3:31am GMT

Emmanuel College was, of course, the place where the atheist priest Don Cuppitt was chaplain for many years. Since they swallowed that camel, will they now strain at this gnat? As any visitor to Cambridge knows, almost nobody 'worships' in these college chapels; Christian students have a good selection of churches and pastors to lead them in the Gospel.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 9:14am GMT

I am uneasy about all of this. Having posted previously in firm support of the civil partnership legislation - and indeed of revision of church teaching on homosexuality - I am uneasy about the idea of a service of blessing on a civil partnership. Let me explain why.

Fundamentally, this seems to me a classic case of the 'weaker brother' argument. I happen to think that one can be a perfectly good Christian and be in a loving, monogamous, sexually active homosexual relationship. On the other hand, lots of my fellow Christians - probably most of my fellow Christians - don't. Why rub their faces in my liberty? Why take a step that I know will split the Church?

One strong answer to this kind of argument is that sometimes justice demands that we upset our fellow Christians. I agree with that - which is why I supported the CPA. Justice did demand that gay and lesbian relationships got the same sort of legal protections as heterosexual ones. Does it equally demand that there should be a public Church blessing of such ceremonies?

I find it difficult to answer 'yes' so quickly. Is the injustice here (I accept that there is one, I think...) so outrageous, so damaging, so intolerable that it demands immediate redress, and damn the consequences? Or is this something which is certainly unfair to gays and lesbians, but which for the good of the whole Body they will have to bear for the moment - certainly pressing for the church to change the policy, but not ripping it up on their own authority?

I know that this is hard and unfair on gay people - but are we only to apply Paul's thinking on bearing with one another in the church when it is easy, or a safely dead issue like food offered to idols?

I'm not gay myself, which I realise makes all the pain on this question something I just try to understand, rather than experience for myself. Perhaps that shows in my comments, and I welcome (gentle!) correction. But, as someone who has generally been on the 'liberal' side of questions of sexuality in the Church, I do want to pause for thought at this point: is the objective of having a public blessing so crucial that we need to damage the Church still further to attain it?

Posted by peter w at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 11:42am GMT

The Church will not be damaged. Spliting the church is not damage, but a reflection of reality, and the only possibility of change.

There is far too much pussyfooting around. I have precisely nothing in common with evangelicals and conservatives, and a church without their malign presence would be infinitely preferable.

Excuse of discrimination is no longer acceptable to me on any grounds. The more disruption and disharmony created, the better - for that is the way to ensure honesty and a much needed separation of progressives from conservatives.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 2:07pm GMT


You pose an honest question. I want to answer (gently!).

It really is that important.

Just put yourself in a gay person's shoes. Imagine the world turned upside down-- having to decide when to reveal to people that you're, um, seeing a woman, and preparing yourself to respond if that news goes down badly. Imagine doing that over and over again at school, at college, at work, with your parents. Then imagine choosing very carefully if you'll take her hand in public-- is it the right neighborhood? Will we be stared at, shouted at, beaten up? And then imagine you have an 'understanding' priest who knows that you're straight, but says, 'I'm fine with that; I honor it; but we mustn't upset people by having your blessing in church.'

Beginning to feel claustrophobic? Hemmed in?

Think about how the priest's tentative response sends very mixed signals about what he thinks of you. Ask yourself whether he cares about your well-being, or whether his first loyalty is elsewhere-- to not rocking the boat, to protecting other members of the congregation (from you!).

Think about the way that gets internalized, drip by drip. Think about what that does to a person.

So yes, it is hugely important.

Finally, I'd say this whole controversy reveals that the Church is already deeply damaged-- that if as an institution we protect and defer to people's prejudices, we aren't a healthy place. One of the disturbing things about all this is how much certain people are worried about what *other* people do.

I say let the blessings go forward, and then let's work pastorally with geat sensitivity to help those who have a problem with that examine just why they're so upset about something that doesn't really concern them in the first place.

Posted by Christopher Calderhead at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 2:55pm GMT

Um. I'm still not convinced.

Mike, the comment that you have nothing in common with conservatives and evangelicals, and that the sooner we split the better, goes to the heart of it for me. I can't say that. They are still my fellow Christians, no matter how much I disagree with them. They're not just 'a malign presence' - no matter how much Peter Akinola tries to prove me wrong - they are the stranger in whom I am challenged to see something of Christ. Just as the decent conservative - and they do exist - has to try and see Christ in the liberal or the gay. For me, that is part of what the Church is about: we're catholic, not a community of the like-minded, a liberal sect.

Christopher, I've tried the imagination experiment you suggest and it does drive home how difficult it must be for gay and lesbian people to live with the Church's hostility/ambivalence/lily-liveredness. But again - and realising that this particular burden is not one I will ever have to carry (though there might be others stored up for me)- is not part of being a Christian bearing that kind of difficulty for the sake of others?

This doesn't necessarily mean 'protecting and deferring to prejudices' (although Paul seems to suggest there might be worse sins than this?. A parish priest could certainly be challenging the homophobic attitudes in the Church, whilst simultaneously not doing so in a way that forced conservatives to be identified with things which for them are simply morally impossible. Liturgy expresses communal belief, in this case communal blessing. The community as a whole simply isn't ready to do that yet - and you don't make it so by forcing it.

I've some sympathy with the point re. undue interest in what other people are doing, especially in matters sexual. On the other hand, though, (and this is a bigger theological point than the specific question of homosexuality, which is a mere possible instance of it) - isn't one of Paul's central points in 1 Corinthians that what each of us does, does affect the Body? There's no such thing as a Christian individual - we are all part of the whole...

Ah! People knocking on the door in the middle of complex arguments - I must away - but if people want to continue the conversation, please post back.

Posted by peter w at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 5:12pm GMT

Sometimes it's as important to refute the sideswipes as much as to comment on the main thrust of debate.

When Peter B speaks of nobody worshipping in college chapels,he attempts to pass off as established fact what is neither accepted nor true. And when he writes of "pastors" in churches elsewhere in the city I guess he betrays more than a little that he comes from a point on the spectrum well away from those who chapels can reach - at least (in my experience) until they mature somewhat in their faith.


Who has heard the voice of God speak more clearly in a Cambridge chapel than anywhere else. And who needed not a pastor to talk to about it but a priest.

Posted by David Walker at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 5:49pm GMT

In many instances I think it the case that lbg are abstractions to most, as other minorities might be, and unless we have direct experience, some may find it hard to see Christ in them or in how they live out their lives.

But a good sign of Christ in them is that they seek the outward symbol of His grace and comfort; they head directly to His church.

Now why would people who some would refuse entry to, keep coming?

If we are not calling them, then someone else is, and I have a good idea who.

So it is not troubling to me in the least. In fact the more consenting adults in civil partnerships or marriages who want to come to Church and be a part of our fellowship, the better.

And I daresay that it is not troubling at all to the generation coming up, because they are the ones seeking this out from the fellow in Cambridge.

Interesting too is that in the Episcopal Church some clamor for the denial of open inclusion that is proceeding at an even faster pace in the CoE.

Part of this denial, they ground in the claim that unless we do so, it will result in falling out of Communion with Canterbury. So they make themselves believe that in the interim, they will establish a parallel province, upon which declaration of apostasy, they will introduce as official.

But how can a Church not be in Communion over a matter on which the Mother Church of the Communion, is in fact moving further and faster on?

Posted by RMF at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 6:23pm GMT

peter w, my (hopefully gentle) response is this:

It's easy to get lost, in the Big Show of an (archtypically expensive) wedding, that this is primarily is an event---a covenant---*between the couple and God*. The Church---and everything thing else around the wedding---is (ideally!) just there *for the couple, to strengthen their covenant, with God and each other*. It's not about the Show.

Now, seen in *that* light, reconsider blessing same-sex unions.

It's not about "what others will think"---for celebration, for scandal, for politics, for profit (e.g. the caterers).

It's about the couple and God---the Church is there to facilitate and strengthen that covenant, through the public blessing and public witness (the same blessing and witness that opposite-sex couples have felt necessary, to support their marital covenant, throughout much of human history). All other considerations are beside the point.

Not really so complicated, is it?

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Friday, 17 February 2006 at 6:39pm GMT

Mike says that a church without the presence of evangelicals and conservatives would be infinitely preferable.
If he really believes in such a vision why does he not go away and form such a perfect church?

Many bigoted conservatives are leaving the church of England and setting up on their own - and getting enough support to be financially sustainable.
I don't notice any sensitive culturally relevant liberals taking the same risks - they would rather take the bigots' money and use it to finance their own parishes...

It is quite clear that General Synod appears to be moving in a more liberal direction on the issue of sexuality - although it is equallly true that Synod works on a system of rotten boroughs whereby tiny churches recieve proportionately more votes than large churches. So Synod will move the church in this direction - Hurrah - but if it does so what will be left of the C ofE? - it will be bankrupt within 30 years.

What also of those who are pro gay rights but are conservative on the next controversial issue? - the likes of Rowan Williams who take strong views on abortion or euthanasia. When will they be driven out of the C of E?

Posted by Father M at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 12:25am GMT

Peter W ; I would have agreed with you a couple of years back, but I don't now. If being 'catholic' means tolerating hatred and discrimination, then I'd rather be part of a liberal sect - indeed, thats why, until there is a split, I shall not be returning to worship with the Church of England

Posted by Merseymike at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 1:02am GMT

David W, I've visited a number of universities in England and have numerous contacts over there (including Cambridge) and I've rarely heard of more than a handful of students supporting their college chapels, other than choir members (some of whom are paid 'choral scholars'). As far as I can tell, English college students are even more deeply unchurched than the population at large, and of those students who do go to church, the vast majority will be found in 'student churches', some Anglican, others free charismatic. My choice of 'pastor' was deliberate and generic. As an Anglican, I would hope that all Anglican clergy are pastors ('poimen', which is what 'presbuteros' chiefly denotes: one who cares for, feeds, guides and even lays down his life for God's flock). I hope I did not detect a whiff of establishment disdain (heaven forfend!) in your comment about 'maturity' in faith. As Forrest Gump's momma might have said, mature is as mature does.
Pete W: I would encourage you to check out this website, which deals exhaustively with the issue you mention, and much more;

Posted by Peter Bergman at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 7:46am GMT


I would be rather surprised if about half of the small proportion of British university students who attend church were not attending Roman Catholic services, whether in local RC parishes or as provided by RC university chaplaincies etc.

The large number of flourishing CofE parish churches - of all flavours of Anglicanism - in both Oxford and Cambridge, not to mention the additional Anglican places of worship, such as Pusey House at Oxford, means that Oxbridge students really are spoiled for choice on a Sunday morning. College chaplains are well aware of this, and indeed schedule their services accordingly. Many of the highest attendances in college chapels occur on weekday evenings.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 10:11am GMT

Two quick reflections:

JC, I'm not quite sure that it is just about the couple and God, and that no other considerations matter. I couldn't agree more that all the hype around weddings is ridiculous, and I'm sure our feelings about the whole wedding industry are not too far apart. But I do think that weddings are in some a way a statement on the part of the whole church, a statement that says 'this way of living is one that we recognise and bless as showing Christ in the world'.

The Church isn't able to say this about all relationships - Paul, for example, didn't think that the union between a man and his father's wife mentioned in 1 Cor. 5 was tolerable within the Church. That relationship might have been very precious and lovely to the individuals concerned, but it wasn't something the Church could 'own' or bless as glorifying God. Now, the two of us might agree that homosexual relationships can glorify God - but the Church just isn't there yet. To ask for a public ceremony of blessing at this point, therefore, is to ask for corporate dishonesty. And sometimes, I fear, the demand is as much to do with rubbing conservative faces in liberal triumph as it is to do with love... but perhaps that is going too far.

The second very brief reflection is about student church going in Cambridge, where I am based. My hunch is that considerably more students go to church than the national average for that age group; that most of these attend evangelical or charismatic churches; but that perhaps 30% of the regular worshippers are either going to college chapels or town churches which wouldn't normally be described as evangelical or charismatic. The variety and shades of doctrine in the students' heads, regardless of where they go, is of course rather harder to assess...

Posted by peter w at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 10:51am GMT

Simon: yes, my impressions and conversations would agree with your view here. Even so, I understand that support for 'official' chapel worship, on whatever evening, is pretty low and is often mainly the choir. I am told that outside Oxbridge there is practically no chapel worship provided in British universities. No bad thing, of course, if there's no demand for it. But what may be reinforcing this is the fact that few chaplains (AFAIK) are on the same spiritual wavelength of (non-Catholic) Christian students, the great majority of whom seem to come now from evangelical churches, especially new charismatic fellowships. As in the US, these churches are a good deal younger in their age profile than 'mainline/oldline' churches and often have active youth ministries. I know from visits and contacts that the evangelical Christian Unions movement (like IVCF in the US) draws far larger numbers of students to its ministries than chaplaincies do, which suggests a basic mismatch in the way a lot of colleges go about chaplaincy. So chaplaincies end up attracting an even smaller minority of people who don't fit in elsewhere. And the fact that an atheist like Don Cupitt could have chaplain at Emmanuel College for so many years destroyed any sense of credibility in what that chapel stood for. I've witnessed a similar thing in an Anglican college in Toronto: an imposing chapel ignored by the students, becoming a focus for an lgbt group.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 2:03pm GMT

I think there is a lot of truth in the assertion that college's chaplaincies are often unpopular, and students usually prefer the CU (=UCCF/UVF) and/or lively local churches.

When I was chair of our Ang Soc (in the 70's) we had maybe 5-10 regular student attendees whereas the CU had well over 100. I'm sure that our chaplain would have done blessings of same-sex partnerships nowadays... it wouldn't surprise me if he did then - he certainly introduce me to [a rather younger] Richard Kirker when LGCM was starting up!

I think that my experience of Ang.Soc's affiliation to the liberal Student Christian Movement was rather telling too.. The last I saw of one of the regional "reps" was (I'm pretty sure) her dancing on a TV documentary about a coven of [white] witches.

Posted by Dave at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 10:23pm GMT

Purely anecdotally I am not sure Simon's comments about the popularity of weekday chapel services are correct.

Recently I went to the main weekly Eucharist in one well-known, central Cambridge college chapel with a renown liberal tradition (because my daughter was in the choir) and I was usually the only person in the congregation with no formal role in the service.

At the same time I was giving a series of biblical addresses to a lunchtime meeting of the evangelical Christian Union in a different college with a congregation/audience a hundred or more times larger.

And another daughter was attending a city-centre evangelical Anglican church where the student congregation alone numbers in the several hundreds. All this in Cambridge a stone's throw (or less) from the college in question.

Posted by John Simmons at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 11:11pm GMT

Further to what Dave and John Simmons have said, I'm told that the once relatively common Student Christian Movement has largely disappeared from British universities. I've checked its UK website and can find little evidence of its activities. Has it folded?

Posted by Peter Bergman at Saturday, 18 February 2006 at 11:41pm GMT

[Peter W: I fear that if my response grows less gentle, it is only so it grow more *prophetic* (May only God's word be spoken---Amen!)]

The couple (whether opposite- or same-sex) ***NEED*** the public blessing/witness (to whatever level of "public" is involved: surely there are opposite-sex marriages ALL THE TIME, for which there is not unanimous public support? ;-/).

To say that every same-sex couple must wait---literally starving-for-air in the Church---just because, by some measure or other, " the Church just isn't there yet" is an intolerable (AND *unjust*) BURDEN.

Must these unblessed/unwitnessed-to couples be denied . . . and then break up, trapped in their spiritual starvation? So the same lot of the "unconvinced" can chortle, "See: the homos can't keep their couplings together anyway!"

No. Freakin'. Fair. (No Freakin' Way! >:-/)

Sometimes, Peter W, the Church has to {shock, shock!} . . . LEAD THE WAY. Demonstrate to the unconvinced some Spirit-filled *conviction*.

"Now, the two of us might agree that homosexual relationships can glorify God"

If so, then how can we postpone that *glory to God* a single (further) day???

To burden the "least of these" is to pile yet a heavier cross on the Savior.

To free same-sex couples to *glorify God through their covenantal love* uplifts the ENTIRE BODY OF CHRIST---even (especially!) those members of the Body which can't appreciate it yet.

Church, get on with it: the Kingdom of God and its Shalom! :-D

[*NB--- Peter W, pointedly ignoring this: "the union between a man and his father's wife mentioned in 1 Cor. 5 was tolerable within the Church. That relationship might have been very precious and lovely to the individuals concerned, but it wasn't something the Church could 'own' or bless as glorifying God".
Any equation of single, consenting and *Anglican* same-sex couples w/ Paul's example of I Cor.5---or any other *non sequitur comparison* (i.e., the typical "man-on-dog" laundry list)---is beside the point (if not beneath contempt)]

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Sunday, 19 February 2006 at 5:50am GMT

JC - I must clarify what I meant by bringing in 1 Cor 5. The point was not - emphatically not - to put homosexual unions on the same moral level as e.g incest. By saying that in my view they are quite capable of glorifying God, it should be clear that I don't think that. All that I meant to establish was that in the Church, there is no such thing as a relationship that is just about the couple and God (as I think you implied in a previous post). Any relationship a Christian has involves the Church - that is one of Paul's points in 1 Cor.5, and all that I meant to establish.

Incidentally, JC, you speak it seems dismissively of the Church 'by some measure or other' not being ready for this - it does the 'liberal' cause no good to pretend that we are really the majority and it is just a few unconvinced or homophobic people who disagree. The vast, vast weight of tradition is against us on this one. Given that context, I just don't think you can have public services of blessing - liturgy is about expressing common belief and action; it is not a way of campaigning, church politics by other means. Therefore, we have to wait, pray, argue, love - but not rush ahead where the Church is not yet able to go.

And yes, that is very hard for gay and lesbian couples. But equally, I know that many of them too do not want to wreck the Church over it. Merseymike may not think that a split is bad news - lots of us, gay and straight, still think it is.

Posted by peter w at Sunday, 19 February 2006 at 3:26pm GMT

PeterW: sorry if I sounded "dismissive"---that was not my intention. However,

"The vast, vast weight of tradition is against us on this one."

I simply disagree about this (for the same reasons that I disagree w/ the argument "Scripture is against us" also).

To the extent that "tradition" addresses the concept of same-sex sex at all, I venture to guess it only does so as "sodomy": surely you understand, PW, how completely *irrelevant* such a misnomer/misapprehension is, to the current debate in the church?

"And yes, that is very hard for gay and lesbian couples. But equally, I know that many of them too do not want to wreck the Church over it."

I disagree about this, too: no LBGT Christian---nor their relationships---are in any danger of "wrecking the Church." Homophobia might (for a time, anyway)---but that's the concern of homophobic persons, isn't it?

"Very hard" you say? I wish I found your assessment more compelling---more *empathetic*. Sadly, it doesn't sound like it... :-(

Posted by J. C. Fisher at Monday, 20 February 2006 at 12:55am GMT

My Oxbridge college chapel has been offering daily worship in accordance with its founder's wishes for upwards of 600 years. My personal experience is that that the community and spiritual lives of these chapels is very rich. Like many English parish churches, they reach out to many who are repelled by more charismatic worship. I don't accept that their contribution to the life of the Church is less valuable or will be less enduring than those of other contemporary congregations. I'm neither convinced nor impressed by arguments along the lines of "my congregation is bigger than your congregation". All sorts of churches attract many devoted followers, e.g. , whether they stand the tests of time and truth is a different matter. For my part, I do not expect that my own churchgoing children and their contemporaries - the congregations of tomorrow - will think it controversial that same sex relationships can be just as holy, blessed and acceptable to God as those of their parents.

Posted by badman at Monday, 20 February 2006 at 1:02pm GMT

Speaking from the American perspective, and as one who has done campus chaplaincy:

It has long been the case that there were fewer in official campus chapels than in either more evangelical student organizations or more evalgelical congregations. At the same time, there are important reasons to continue to see those as important.

First, they touch those who will not be touched by those more evangelical congregations, either because they feel unacceptable there or because they want a more intellectual and less emotional experience. (I know that there are evangelical programs that seek to offer intellectual food, but most seem to extend the high school emotional experience into college.) Some come to us precisely because we are different, more open, and perceived as less judgemental.

Second, these are more likely to return to the church later in life than they would be otherwise. This is not in contrast to those students in evangelical programs, but to students in general (most of whom see all of us as too judgemental). I have spoken to many over the years whose first positive experience of any church was our acceptance.

Third, many of those in the evangelical programs look to traditional churches (Anglican, Orthodox, etc.) when they realize that the emotionalism of the college experience won't sustain them as adults. Several new Orthodox groups have come out if this.

So, I wouldn't be concerned about the numbers in college chapels as I would about the quality of Christian community and witness they find there. Which puts the current question in sharper focus: what is going to be most truly Christian welcome?

Posted by Marshall at Monday, 20 February 2006 at 7:28pm GMT

Dear Peter, SCM's annual conference is at the Hollowford Centre in Derbyshire. It can only accommodate 100 people according to their website... further evidence of the death of liberal Christianity!

Posted by Dave at Monday, 20 February 2006 at 10:57pm GMT

Thanks for the info, Dave. Someone who used to attend the SCM as a student about 30 years ago wrote: 'The SCM, as part of the WSCF, was once a large, essentially evangelical organization committed to spreading the gospel in the university world. It turned away from classical concepts of evangelism and conversion (as it still had in the days of John R. Mott) toward more liberal political goals and theologizing in the liberal Protestant mould.' I think we are seeing the fruits of that decision today. It seems to me that much university chaplaincy is a college- or church-subsidized continuation of this liberal outlook, with little interest in and even an aversion to evangelism - unlike the evangelical student groups which are regularly distributing gospels and running missions on campus. Not a good return for money, I think.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 7:57am GMT

I have been involved in a large number of same-sex blessings over the past 20 years. They were, as are all such celebrations, a pastoral opportunity to teach the faith and explore with the couple (and sometimes the extended family) their commitment to discipleship of Jesus and how their new family can be a sign of God’s love and His Kingdom. I have found this ministry both challenging and fruitful.

Some couples returned with their children for baptism and once again we were able to come alongside these families as they sought to deepen their understanding of God to be good Christian parents. I keep in touch with quite a lot of these families and recently attended the confirmation of twins I had baptised 12 years ago. It was a wonderful day in a flourishing church where one of the parents is a Church Warden.

These anecdotes are not intended as an answer to the dilemma posed by Peter W, but they may set the question he poses in a different perspective.

There are no approved liturgies for same-sex blessings in the CofE and they are unlikely to exist in my lifetime if present trends prevail, so in this respect gay couples are already at a severe disadvantage in celebrating their unions. Denied formal rites of passage the prayers of supportive priests and fellow Christians can nevertheless help healthy spiritual development.

Despite this failure which I know spiritually hampers many, gay people remain faithful to their Church and have patiently accepted the less formal prayers offered over them. We can and do press our hope for more and in some small places we break through.

What has now been proposed by the Windsor Report is that the local option is not possible in this – we must wait for the whole of Christendom to come to a common mind and take this step together.

Now even suggesting this were a possibility this side of the Rapture, such consensus might even then leave many Christians unconvinced and again your question on the “weaker brethren” could apply.

What Jeremy Caddick is proposing for the collegial chapel at Emmanuel Cambridge may be more than the English House of Bishops would hope for in their guidance and will offer that community the pastoral opportunities I have mentioned above, but it is a long way from the authorised liturgy we seek. Many gay people within the Church will find the generous Grace implicit in the Caddick approach acceptable and enough for the time being, some will not, but what concerns me most is that the vast majority of Gay people who are entering Civil Partnerships will consider the Church hostile and not even seek out where there is such a welcome.

There are other, complex and ancient agendas at play here that seek to “wreck the Church” as we know it.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 2:04pm GMT

Dear Martin, Somehow I couldn't imagine that it was really a "first" !

p.s. Can you say whether LGCM has more or less members than 20 years ago?

Posted by Dave at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 7:10pm GMT

I'm sorry Dave I don't really understand your "first" sentence.

I do not have the figures to hand Dave, we certainly had a far larger membership in the very early 80's before we supported women's ministry, but I can confirm, as Andrew Carey suspects elsewhere, we have a surge of applications every time Peter Akinola makes a statement.

What I can tell you is that Jeremy Caddick is not registered as a member or a supporter – neither is Nicholas Henderson.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 8:52pm GMT

Is there a list of members and supporters of LGCM? Is it public knowledge or known to parishes?

Posted by Peter Bergman at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 9:20pm GMT

And what I wonder is whilst conservatives crow about their supposed 'successes', they seem to have little appreciation of what the vast majority who remain outside any sort of church environmnet think of them ( try asking the average student - you won't like what you hear) and as a result alienates those interested in spirituality but who would not even think about looking towards the church to fulfil it.

Conservative religion appeals to the same small number it always has done - but those outside the church have become tired of the lukewarm fence-sitting of liberalism. A new Christian humanism without the encumbrance of irrelevant dogmas and tradition is needed.

Posted by Merseymike at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 9:36pm GMT

Is it that easy to wander off topic for you two boys?

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 10:18pm GMT

Dear Martin, I meant that the Dean's decision is reported as if it is some "first" for the blessing of homosexual partnerships... which, from what you said, it certainly isn't.

Posted by Dave at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 10:51pm GMT

ps Presumably, although the Chapel belongs to the College, the Dean will have taken vows of canonical obedience to the Bishop. I don't think he has a leg to stand on; but will any member of the HoB act on such a sensitive topic? ...

Posted by Dave at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 11:04pm GMT

Well Dave, now for fun, you, and perhaps Bergman can go with you, as he has "contacts," can be assigned this task:

why not canvass Oxbridge and find out exactly how many of these "firsts" have been done but not reported, so that in future when a book is written and the historian mentions them, you can answer claims that such things never happened because, don't you know, there is no extant record?

Posted by RMF at Tuesday, 21 February 2006 at 11:19pm GMT

In the late 1980s I was the rector of an Episcopal parish in a university town. On my day off I happened to be in the office to check my mail. I received a phone call from the local mortuary. Would I talk to the elderly parents of a homosexual man who had just died of HIV/AIDS? The parents were Missouri Synod Lutherans, but their pastor could not even talk to the parents because he would violate church teaching if he buried a deceased gay man. Of course, I made an appointment with the parents and the deceased person's gay partner. The parents were lifelong Missouri Synod (conservative) Lutherans. They didn't even know that their son was gay, dying of AIDS when they were called to his bedside. At the burial, over which I presided, the grieving parents treated their son's gay partner as a member of the family. Why couldn't the local Lutheran pastor minister to grief-stricken folks? His homophobia got in the way of Christian ministry!

Posted by John Henry at Wednesday, 22 February 2006 at 2:53am GMT

From the Church of Scotland:

"In May 2006, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be asked by the Kirk’s Legal Questions Committee to receive a report relating to civil partnerships.....

The committee readily acknowledges that this is a controversial question but believes that it is important to recognise the existing freedom of pastoral conscience of ministers and deacons to guarantee that they do not face censure in the wake of providing this service. It is equally important to respect the rights of those who, in conscience, could not affirm same sex relationships, legally recognised by civil partnership. Consequently, the committee will ask the General Assembly to agree that a minister or deacon who conducts any service marking a civil partnership does not commit a disciplinary offence while also asking the assembly to agree that no minister or deacon will be obliged to conduct such a service against his or her conscience. The committee will also ask the assembly to agree that civil partners may ask another minister or deacon who is willing to conduct the service to do so if the parish minister has declined.

The committee’s report concludes by stating that it believes that the suggested agreement which it will place before the General Assembly is permissive in tone but will protect conscience on all sides."

Posted by RMF at Wednesday, 22 February 2006 at 1:07pm GMT

John Henry’s personal experience of pastoral dereliction is sadly all to frequent. The story of the refusal of a RC bishop to host the funeral of a gay man in America and his subsequent apology and attempts to make amends make salutary reading.

I see that I was not alone in feeling a chill running up my spine at Peter Bergman’s interest in the LGCM’s membership list!

Dave’s remark about “firsts” reflects on how stories are reported in the press, they have a much better chance of publication if they are novel rather than more of the same. In this case we do have a new situation both with Civil Partnerships and the pastoral guidance of the English bench. I would say that the announcement from Emmanuel College is a “first” and merits the interest it has attracted. The Dean has chosen to make his intentions clear and not just “got on with the job” as is happening elsewhere.

As to Jeremy Caddick not having a leg to stand on that is patently not the case. There are no authorised liturgies for same-sex couples so then all he can offer is a service that has been privately designed to express the proper pastoral concern for the couple involved. If there is a problem here it lies with the English bishops attempt to split hairs in their “advice”, and let us remember that it was advice and nothing more.

Jeremy Caddick is not alone in believing that advice was poorly informed and pastorally inept. Apart from anything else it appears to have been based on incorrect legal advice, still, I expect no revisions; the “local option” will most likely prevail here. The code of practice suggested by the Kirk and published today seems eminently more sensible and pastorally appropriate

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Wednesday, 22 February 2006 at 2:58pm GMT

Dear John Henry, What a horrendous story ! On the other hand, friends of mine, from a *very* conservative / puritanical church, used to work on the "buddy" schemes for gay people dying of AIDs in London in the 1980's...

Posted by Dave at Wednesday, 22 February 2006 at 10:33pm GMT

Martin Reynolds - my question was an expression of puzzlement. You stated above that neither Jeremy Caddick+ nor Nicholas Henderson+ is registered as a member or supporter of the British LGCM. However, I thought I had once read you on Titusonenine saying that membership was confidential and not known to you or anyone else. My apologies if my recollection is incorrect here.
As for the San Diego funeral, I can't see how anyone who claimed a church connection should be denied a church funeral, however they lived. Only God knows our hearts at the last, whether we have really believed and repented.
On the other hand, I recall reading on the BBC website about the cathedral funeral of the Labor politician Robin Cooke, who was an outspoken atheist and an adulterer who walked out on his wife, and I could not understand why a church funeral (led by a bishop, IIRC)was given then. Very inappropriate.

Posted by Peter Bergman at Thursday, 23 February 2006 at 4:22pm GMT

That funeral did not take place in an Anglican cathedral. St Giles' Cathedral, also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh is described on its own website as Presbyterianism's Mother Church. It is part of the Church of Scotland, which in Scotland is the Established Church. Richard Holloway was a personal friend of Robin Cook.
It is customary in Britain for leading public figures to be given church funerals. You may find Magnus Linklater's article from The Times of interest:,,2-1733157,00.html

This has of course nothing to do with civil partnerships, but hey I am the blog owner.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Thursday, 23 February 2006 at 9:52pm GMT

Dave commented "Presumably, although the Chapel belongs to the College, the Dean will have taken vows of canonical obedience to the Bishop."

I don't know about the position of the Dean of Emmanuel, or any other particular dean or college chaplain for that matter, but I have made some enquiries about the general position, which appears to be as follows.

Colleges in Cambridge and Oxford claim to be peculiar, ie not under the jurisdiction of the Bishop. This means that a dean or chaplain does not need a licence from the Bishop to take services in the college chapel. The practice, however, is for most, if not all, college clergy to have a licence from the Bishop to enable then to help out in local churches, which of course are under the Bishop's jurisdiction, and to maintain some sort of a link with diocesan structures.

Posted by Peter Owen at Thursday, 23 February 2006 at 10:19pm GMT

Peter, Interesting background info. Thanks for looking it up.

Posted by Dave at Friday, 24 February 2006 at 11:32pm GMT
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