The Church of England on Jan. 20 released draft prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing for same-sex couples who are in a civil marriage or civil partnership.
The draft texts, proposed by the church’s bishops, will be considered by General Synod next month alongside other proposals in response to a six-year process of listening, learning and discernment on questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage known as Living in Love and Faith.
However, as Episcopal News Service reports, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said at a news conference that he would not use the draft prayers since he is an “instrument of unity” for the Anglican Communion.
“Because of my pastoral care and responsibility in being a focus of unity for the whole Communion, I will – while being extremely, joyfully celebratory of these new resources – I will not personally use them in order not to compromise that pastoral care,” Welby said.
The bishops also made a direct public apology to LGBTQI+ people for the way in which the church has rejected or excluded them, saying, “We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong.”
The apology was set out in a pastoral letter from the bishops, which also recognizes that they disagree over same-sex marriage and proposes a way forward which could be put in action within months.
A report – Living in Love and Faith: A response from the Bishops of the Church of England about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage – sets out the bishops’ proposals and recommends areas for further work.
There is also a book of draft worship resources – Prayers of Love and Faith, a range of prayers and readings which could be used in a church service, such as a Service of the Word or a Service within a Celebration of Holy Communion.
There are prayers of thanksgiving and dedication and a prayer for God’s blessing as well as prayers for use with specific elements of a service, such as a Prayer when Rings are Worn and Prayers at the lighting of a candle.
Opening the letter the bishops write: “We want to apologize for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people – both those who worship in our churches and those who do not.
“For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry. The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent. As we have listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people.
“We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong. We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God.”
They explain that the prayers will be entirely discretionary and that the formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorized liturgies – that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life – would not change.
“While there is a range of convictions held by the bishops about this important matter, we have not found sufficient consensus to propose a change in doctrine at the present time,” they wrote.
The bishops’ proposals will be discussed in detail at General Synod which meets at Church House, Westminster, Feb. 6-9.