Gay Marriage and the United Reformed Church.

In my post last week that the URC was “preparing the way” for gay marriage, in church, the heading has proved accurate – but my conclusion in the text, that final approval was imminent, has turned out to be premature. What I failed to take into account, was that the United Reformed Church takes very seriously each part of its name – specifically including “united”. That means that unlike the assemblies of other churches, resolutions are not simply passed by majority vote, or even some kind of super-majority, but by consensus. The gay marriage proposal at General Assembly 2014 achieved overwhelming support, but that wasn’t enough. In the end, the proposal was scuppered by just 6 people who held out in conscience, and refused to go along with the majority in favour.

English: Flowchart of consensus based decision...

Even so, there’s abundant good news in this, concerning the process if not yet the final result.

3 Family Synods for Rome: “Bonkers”, Real Families, Queer Families

In just a few more months, the senior bishops of the Catholic Church will be gathering in Rome for an “Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod”, to debate matters around marriage and family. This is extraordinary in several respects. First, in that it really is unusual, outside of the regular cycle of these things. Second, in that preparations for the synod included for the first time, a serious attempt to assess what ordinary Catholics actually believe (a badly bungled, poorly handled attempt, but a serious, groundbreaking one all the same). Third, in that the whole idea of the Church leaving decisions on marriage and family exclusively in the hands of celibate men who have never been married, never raised children, and are not in any long – term intimate relationships of their own, is very extraordinary indeed. Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, is quite correct to describe the whole idea as “bonkers”.

Mary McAleese

Will “Ministries of Welcoming” Include LGBT Catholics?

Saturday 5th July saw a well – attended all – day workshop at London’s Heythrop College, to mark the UK relaunch of the “Landings” program to welcome back into the church Catholics who for one reason or another feel disaffected or alienated from the Church, and have either stopped participating in the life of the Church, or who do so only sporadically.

When I first read about this UK relaunch some months ago, I was enthusiastic, and signed up immediately: I was a beneficiary of the program a few years ago, when it was a key point in my own journey (not back into the life of the Church, but into full participation in a local parish).

The published promotional material, under the title “Ministries of Welcoming in the Church A Conference on Healing and Reconciliation” sounded good, with two keynote addresses, and supporting workshops dealing with specific groups of disaffected or alienated people:

  • Those separated or divorced
  • Women
  • Prisoners
  • Those who have been traumatised or abused
  • An ecumenical model of reconciliation
  • Interfaith reconciliation

But there’s a problem: can you spot the obvious omission?

URC Moves Forward on Gay Marriage, in Church.

This afternoon, the United Reformed Church General Assembly meeting in Wales discussed the difficult subject of possibly providing for same – sex marriage, in Church. I was able to watch some (not all ) of the debate, live – streamed on-line.  Among the striking features of the discussion, beyond the expected disagreements and strength of feeling, was an obvious desire by the Assembly to respect difference, and to remain united even so (“United” is not just a word in their name, it goes to the core of how they see themselves). Also striking, was the openness of honest, frank sharing, most strikingly by two transgender people who pointed out that debates about “opposite – sex” or “same – sex” couples simply make no provision for their circumstances.

At the conclusion of the debate, the moderator asked for a “sense of the assembly” by show of hands, whether people felt that there was a need for more time and wider consultation, or if it was time for the church to find a way to move forward, allowing those within the church who wished to accommodate same – sex couples in marriage, to do so. The ruling was that although clearly not unanimous, a strong majority favoured the latter. He then announced that the next step would be for a “facilitating team” to consult with a wide range of opinion within the assembly, and then draft a resolution with the potential to achieve the widest possible consensus, which will be put to the assembly later for such approval..

So – if I understand things correctly, we have a situation where the clear mood of the Assembly is that they wish to permit, but not compel, their ministers and congregations to conduct same – sex marriages in their churches. Details of the exact wording, and the formal vote, are awaited, but in principle, the breakthrough is there.

UPDATE: For a more reliable account of where the church is, see the report by the URC’s own communications team, which concludes:

Assembly agreed that the comments settled loosely into two viewpoints: a belief that more time is needed for the church to discern how to respond to the advent of equal marriage for same and opposite sex couples in law, and a feeling that congregations should be enabled to provide marriage of same sex couples more urgently if they feel called to do so.

Assembly adjourned to allow a facilitation group, to be appointed later this evening, to seek a form of words that would help the church to seek a way forward

Congratulation, URC!

United Reformed Church to Debate Gay Marriage

The United Reformed Church is currently meeting in Wales, in their biennial General Assembly. On the agenda for today, Friday 4th July, is the subject of marriage – more specifically, same – sex marriage. Last month, the American Presbyterian Church (USA) and the largest region of the Moravian Church both approved resolutions that will permit (but not compel) their pastors and local congregations to conduct and host same – sex weddings, in church (just as some other US denominations, and the Lutheran churches across Sweden, Denmark and Iceland already do).

We won’t know until later if the URC is to become the first major British denomination to follow suit, and it would be premature to speculate. (Worth noting though, is that their US counterparts, the United Church, have been doing so for years, and two years ago the United Church in Canada elected an openly gay, partnered moderator to lead them).  However, it’s worth taking a look at the preparatory material the URC has prepared for this debate. It’s deliberately even – handed, and quite explicitly avoids offering any conclusions, stating that’s a matter for the Assembly to resolve. That said, it’s careful, thoughtful, and considers the entire question of marriage, from a range of perspectives. There’s some historical information which is specific to the UK, and a willingness to consider even the possibility that the church should withdraw from marriage altogether, leaving the whole business to the state. (There’s an intriguing observation that this was the view of both Luther and Calvin. In the Reformed tradition, that may well be the way to go). There’s also welcome, repeated, insistence that however much church members might disagree, its essential that they remain respectful of each other, and of views we may not like.

One Plus One

There’s a great deal, in short, that the Catholic Church could seriously learn from.

Rainbow Jesus Joins London Pride

Rainbow Jesus, at London Pride

 

The purple t-shirts are for “Christians Together at Pride”, with some for “Soho Masses”. The “Welcome” banner is for “LGBTCatholicsWestminster”, the successor to what were once known as the “Soho Masses”.

The next picture shows the old and new banners, for Soho Masses and LGBTCatholicsWestminster side by side. (“Soho Masses” have not been shut down – just moved):

All are welcome, Soho Masses

Also at London Pride this year were “Positive Catholics”, a mutual support group for Catholics living with HIV / AIDS.

Positive Catholics at Pride

(All pictures courtesy of Martin Pendergast)

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