Same-Sex Services in the Church of England

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, — The Revd Gavin Foster (Letters, 17 February) accused Canon Giles Fraser of “trotting out” 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 sub­scribed to a letter to the General Synod request­ing 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 de­scribes it as “nonsense”, 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 “a ass — a idiot”, not­with­standing that Mr Foster de­scribes himself as “barrister at law”.

To explain away the clear words of Canon Fraser when quoting directly from the House of Bishops’ pastoral statement, Mr Foster refers to “what is meant by”; this is the logic of Humpty Dumpty (“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”).

The unequivocal position, as I set out in 2008, is that “Clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership” (House of Bishops’ Pastoral State­ment on Civil Partnerships, July 2005, para. 16).

But the statement also says: “Where 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 circum­stances of each case” (para. 18).

There is no prohibition on pray­ers’ being said in church or there being a “service” unless, of course, it is a “service of blessing”, which is not defined. Canon B5 of the Church of England Canons provides:

“2. 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.

“3. All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither con­trary to, nor indicative of any depart­ure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.”

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 “nonsense” or the reasoning of Humpty Dumpty.

NIGEL SEED
3 Paper Buildings, Temple
London EC4Y 7EU

Of course, it would be interesting to see some examples of “anything conforming to the above”. Does anybody know where we could see some?

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