A great letter in this week’s Church Times from Nigel Seed, the Chancellor and Vicar General of London Diocese (so basically, a very important and clever person).
Sir, â€” The Revd Gavin Foster (Letters, 17 February) accused Canon Giles Fraser of â€œtrotting outâ€ a view about possible services after a civil partnership.
Canon Fraser was not trotting out anything. He was explaining why he and other clergy had subÂscribed to a letter to the General Synod requestÂing that they should be allowed to have civil partnerships registered in their churches; I express no view about that. But, in his article, Canon Fraser quoted my setting out of the law as it stood in 2008, and as it is.
Canon Fraser made it clear that it was the legal position that he was describing. When Mr Foster deÂscribes it as â€œnonsenseâ€, he is doing no more than expressing the view of the law exemplified by Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, when he declared that the law was â€œa ass â€” a idiotâ€, notÂwithÂstanding that Mr Foster deÂscribes himself as â€œbarrister at lawâ€.
To explain away the clear words of Canon Fraser when quoting directly from the House of Bishopsâ€™ pastoral statement, Mr Foster refers to â€œwhat is meant byâ€; this is the logic of Humpty Dumpty (â€œWhen I use a word it means just what I choose it to meanâ€).
The unequivocal position, as I set out in 2008, is that â€œClergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnershipâ€ (House of Bishopsâ€™Â Pastoral StateÂment on Civil Partnerships, July 2005, para. 16).
But the statement also says: â€œWhere clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumÂstances of each caseâ€ (para. 18).
There is no prohibition on prayÂersâ€™ being said in church or there being a â€œserviceâ€ unless, of course, it is a â€œservice of blessingâ€, which is not defined. Canon B5 of the Church of England Canons provides:
â€œ2. The minister having the cure of souls may on occasions for which no provision is made in The Book of Common Prayer or by the General Synod under Canon B2 or by the Convocations, archbishops, or Ordinary under Canon B4 use forms of service considered suitable by him for those occasions and may permit another minister to use the said forms of service.
â€œ3. All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither conÂtrary to, nor indicative of any departÂure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.â€
Unless and until the House of Bishops expressly forbids any form of prayers or church service at all after a civil-partnership ceremony, anything conforming to the above is allowed. To suggest otherwise is the â€œnonsenseâ€ or the reasoning of Humpty Dumpty.
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Of course, it would be interesting to see some examples of “anything conforming to the above”. Does anybody know where we could see some?