On Wednesday 15 November, General Synod voted to approve the Prayers of Love and Faith and a ‘standalone service of prayers for same-sex couples’. This is one small but welcome step towards what will always be our ultimate goal – equal marriage for everyone.
As you may remember, the motion and its accompanying paper (GS 2328) that were tabled in October were extremely disappointing, to say the least, and Equal sent a forthright message to every bishop in the Church of England – see this news item (https://cofe-equal-marriage.org.uk/nothing/). The paper was not redrafted before the Synod meeting, but quite a few amendments were set to be debated.
Pretty much all the progressive amendments were passed, and pretty much all the conservative amendments failed, though in some cases the margins were tiny – almost too close to call. A crucial amendment brought by the Bishop of Oxford to open up the way to standalone services of blessing was passed, although by very tight margins in a close vote. The final motion as amended passed in all three houses (Bishops, Clergy and Laity).
Our Synod reps have done an incredible job, as have other Synod members in the GSGSGGeneral Synod Gender and Sexuality Group. Thanks to those Synod members from the Equal team who played a significant part in ensuring that the debate’s outcome went as well as we could have hoped – Nic Tall, Brenda Wallace, and (as one of the chaplains) Steve O’Connor.
For those who can manage to watch video of the whole debate, the two sessions (Wednesday morning and afternoon) are available on the Church of England’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcc_HT5TeqjrJfbxMjjnG19tZiCla3WB-.
A selection of some of the best inclusive speeches is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPlEBsyhVVg.
Reports on the debate and its outcome
- Church Times: https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2023/17-november/news/uk/general-synod-agrees-to-trial-services-for-same-sex-couples-after-marathon-debate.
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/nov/17/the-guardian-view-on-the-c-of-e-and-same-sex-relationships-love-finds-a-way.
We now await the Pastoral Guidance (the replacement for the horrendous Issues in Human Sexuality), which we urge the bishops to issue swiftly. We continue to hope that it will allow clergy and those offering for ministry in same-sex relationships to marry without fear of discipline or of being required to live celibate lives.
The next General Synod elections, due to be held in 2026, will be key for the next steps in achieving equal marriage. We have to increase the inclusive voice on Synod if we are to get beyond the knife-edge votes, especially in the House of Laity.
It is not too soon to prayerfully consider offering yourself to serve on General Synod. If that feels too daunting, diocesan synods and deanery synods can also play a crucial role, so please consider standing for these too. Each parish, at its APCMAnnual Parochial Church Meeting, can elect two lay members to their local deanery synod – and it is these deanery synod members who choose which lay candidates to send to their diocesan synod and to General Synod.