The Welsh challenge

The decision by the Church of Wales to offer ‘pastoral prayers,’ for same sex couples will no doubt please, annoy and frustrate.

For many the prayers and ‘liturgy’ offered –  for there can be little doubt that Form 2, shown below reads as a liturgy – will be a step too far, for others it doesn’t go far enough. For pragmatists who believe that the church needs to do something it might do; for a while.

The Church of Wales have tried to be sensitive to the needs of all. In the pastoral letter issued at the same time as the prayers (and the ‘liturgy’), it is made clear that the Church of Wales has paid heed to the communique issued by the Primates at their conference, whilst also making it clear that the Bench of Bishops recognize the integrity, and crucially legitimacy,  of differing theologies of sexuality:

‘Since 2005, the Bench of Bishops has acknowledged that there are a range of views with respect to homosexuality, which have to be recognized as “honest and legitimate differences” within the diversity of opinion in the Church in Wales.’

In the pastoral letter the Bench of Bishops have stressed that the Primates unanimously agreed (but did they really, as Uganda was absent at the time) to oppose homophobia institutionalized through legislation. The ‘pastoral letter’ comes with a challenge and a reminder to other provinces in the communion, reminding them of their communal pledge.

The ‘pastoral letter’ is not, in my view, addressed solely to the church in Wales. And, we need to be clear, for many GAFCON types any move made to affirm or support same sex couples is always going to be a step too far.

The letter makes clear that the Church of Wales expects other provinces within the communion to up their game in the battle against homophobia. I think there is a hidden message in the text which reads as follows ‘we have stopped short of what many regard as the logical and final destination, now over to you.’

So in Wales a twin-track solution has now, it seems, been accepted. Time will tell whether the tracks will be upgraded or left as they are.

Some  in the C of E suggest that a twin-track solution cannot work, presumably because whilst happily accepting that differences can be honestly held, this does not imply that there is theological legitimacy in the divergent views. Those taking this view will presumably be dismayed by the Welsh approach?

My own view, for what it is worth, is that Grace asks us to respect both the honesty and legitimacy of differently held views; but as a ‘liberal’ I would say that, wouldn’t I? I struggle to understand, unless the view is held that same sex relationships are first order and therefore  salvific issues, the credibility of seeking to close off the possibility of a twin track approach. But as I say as a ‘liberal’ on this issue I would say that, wouldn’t I?

So what exactly does the Church of Wales believe about the nature and quality of covenanted same sex relationships? I think Order 2 (below) is most revealing, after all liturgy is ‘doctrine in action’:

Almighty and everliving God: look tenderly upon N and N
Lift them up in joy in their life together.
Grant them so to love selflessly and live humbly,
that they may be to one another and to the world
a witness and a sign of your never-failing care;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, to the ages of ages. Amen

Leader: We pray for N and N
Lord, in your mercy
Response: Hear our prayer.

Leader: For a spirit of loving kindness to shelter them all their days;
Lord, in your mercy
Response: Hear our prayer.

Leader: For friends to support them and communities to enfold them;
Lord, in your mercy
Response: Hear our prayer.

Leader: For peace in their home and love in their family;
Lord, in your mercy
Response: Hear our prayer.

Leader: For the grace, when they hurt each other,
to recognise and acknowledge their fault,
and to seek each other’s forgiveness and yours;
Lord, in your mercy
Response: Hear our prayer.

Leader: For the outpouring of your love through their work and witness;
Lord, in your mercy
Response: Hear our prayer.

Most gracious God,
we praise you for the tender mercy and unfailing care
revealed to us in Jesus the Christ
and for the great joy and comfort bestowed upon us
in the gift of human love.
We give you thanks for N and N
who stand before you this day.
Pour out the abundance of your Holy Spirit upon them.
Keep them in your steadfast love;
protect them from all danger;
fill them with your wisdom and peace;
lead them in holy service to each other and the world.

A useful exercise might be to read this ‘liturgical text’ alongside the Preface to the Marriage Service in Common Worship. I suspect that you might start thinking we are talking about roughly the same thing! So here comes my irritation:

The ‘liturgy’ affirms the couples love for each other, it prays that through the quality of their relationship they might reflect God’s love, it asks that the ‘abundance of the Holy Spirit’ might be poured out ‘upon them,’ and that they will be led in Holy Service to each other and the world.’

‘For  the grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and acknowledge their fault,and to seek each others forgiveness and yours,’ has echoes of ‘for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health….’ It is in other words a prayer for permanence and stability.

If it is all of these things then why, o why, can’t the couple and their relationship be blessed? That for me is a mystery. Or is a master stroke in pragmatism and a real challenge to those opposed to any form of twin track solution?

I think the Church of Wales has gone as far as it can at this stage and should be applauded for doing so. It has also laid down a serious challenge to both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

Only time will tell how ‘we’ respond.

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