So who performs Same-Sex Blessings?

Over at Changing Attitude, a recent blog post caught my eye, not for the coherent argument being made that *technically* the Church of England hasn’t formally made up its mind as to whether its churches can or can’t be use to register Civil Partnerships once the law changes this month. No, what was more interesting was what amounted to essentially “outing” some clergy and bishops as to condoning and engaging in same-sex blessings.

CA reminds Mr Fittall and the House of Bishops that blessings of lesbian and gay relationships already take place in Church of England churches. In the diocese of Southwark they happen in many churches including St Luke’s Charlton, with the formal consent of the PCC and the knowledge of the previous two bishops. They happen in many churches in the Diocese of London including St Martin in the Fields which conducts the public blessing of lesbian and gay relationships with the formal consent of the PCC. The Bishop of London has been informed of this practice. Fees are charged, sent to the diocese saying they are for the blessing of a civil partnership, and are banked by the diocese.

So let’s be clear what Colin Coward is asserting.

  1. St Luke’s Charlton performs same-sex blessings with the knowledge of the incumbent, The Revd Erica Wooff, and with the knowledge of the previous Bishops of Southwark. It is unclear whether Christopher Chessun, the current Bishop of Southwark, is aware (though I suspect that will not be an issue very shortly).
  2. St Martin in the Fields, the previous parish to the now Bishop of Salisbury, performs same-sex blessings. Not only would Nick Holtham have known this, but apparently also the Bishop of London knows this.
I’ll leave it to others to decide what to do with that information. What I find most curious though is that Colin Coward asserts that St Martin in the Fields actually sends the “fees” for such blessings off to the Diocese of London! Surely since there are no statutory fees to be paid for such an (illegal) service, this can be nothing more than a blatant political stunt. This was, I remind you all, at the church which was until recently run by the now Bishop of Salisbury.
I have one more question. Are newly appointed bishops obliged to “sign up” to previous statements / pastoral letters of the House of Bishops, say for instance the 2005 pastoral letter on Civil Partnerships? Perhaps that’s one for the Church Times’ Questions and Answers column.
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  • Blair

    Hello Peter,

    long time no comment and all that ;)

    Only want to say I cannot see how it could be news that St Luke’s Charlton performs same-sex blessings. Jeffrey Heskins had Unheard Voices published over 10 years ago, and followed it with Face to face in 2005 (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Face-Holiness-Reflections-Committed-Partnerships/dp/0334040035/ref=pd_sim_b_1?tag=peterould-21) so I can’t see the sky falling down at this.

    OK, one other thing :) as to your closing question: do pastoral letters have the status of ‘policy’ or settled prise de position statements such that talk of ‘signing up’ to them is appropriate? I’d struggle to believe every bishop endorsed every word of the civil partnerships one when it was issued, though that is no more than a hunch. And I’m aware that the status of documents can change in a sense: George Carey said, of Issues in human sexuality when it was published, something like “we do not claim this to be the last word on the subject” but that tentativeness has since hardened into claims that it is current policy and represents the mind of the C of E…

    in friendship, Blair

    • peterould

      @Blair Hi Blair,

      Yes, for many it’s old news, but it’s been one of those things that no-one advertised deliberately. Until now. Strikes me that once again Colin Coward has “outed” people without thinking about the consequences.

      • Blair

        @peterould Hello Peter,

        I wouldn’t defend Colin C’s every action but I would quibble with you over this – if “for many it’s old news” (about St Luke’s at any rate) what harm is there in highlighting it? St Luke’s have been doing such blessings since 1978, Jeffrey Heskins has written two books either about this or referring to it, and has spoken about it too (e.g. at Greenbelt in 2010 and doubtless other places). Maybe none of that constitutes deliberate advertising, but nor does it equate to secrecy or covert practice. I wouldn’t call it ‘outing’ when the information is publicly available (a review of ‘Unheard Voices’, posted on Amazon in Oct 2002, identifies St Luke’s Charlton).

        Secondly, given your latest post about the bishops reviewing the statement on civil partnerships, do you think that might mean the statement isn’t one that new bishops would be asked to sign up to?

        in friendship, Blair

        • peterould

          @Blair The problem is when it is so blatantly advertised in this manner. You might be right about St Luke’s, but there is also the matter of the revelation (to many) that a newly appointed Bishop permitted same-sex blessings in his church. In that sense it begins to force people’s hands. Let the reader understand.

          Can’t comment on the collegiality of the House of Bishops on new statements. I’m really interested in whether new Bishops have to agree to old statements.

  • Richard Ashby

    The point ,surely, isnt about churches which send fees for blessings of Civil Partnerships to the Diocese (you unkindly call that a ‘blatant political stunt’,I would charaterise it as a further example of the open-ness of the congregation), but the Dioceses accepting them. Isn’t this tantamount to living off immoral earnings since the Dioceses keep and bank them.

    • peterould

      @Richard Ashby Frankly, there’s culpability on both sides isn’t there?

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