On Thursday evening the Hereford Diocesan Synod passed the following motion:
‘That this Synod request the House of Bishops to commend an Order of Prayer and Dedication after the registration of a civil partnership or a same-sex marriage for use by ministers in exercise of their discretion under Canon B4, being a form of service neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter, together with guidance that no parish should be obliged to host, nor minister conduct, such a service.’
Well done Hereford. Incidentally I believe that the Bishop spoke in favour of the motion; well done +Richard.
So, what are we to make of this motion and the work of Hereford diocese?
Well, first of all, it is important that ‘progressives’ don’t get too carried away. This motion could get parked in General Synod’s Business Committee for years to come.
However, if a number of other diocesan synods chose to adopt the Hereford motion then maybe the Business Committee will feel obligated to accelerate the process? In a very real sense Hereford Diocese have laid down the ‘will you come and follow me’ challenge, asking other dioceses if they are also prepared to be ‘called’ by ‘name.’
I would suggest that, whatever those who self style as orthodox claim, this motion shows that there is a clear direction of travel towards far greater levels of inclusivity and affirmation. It is the first significant and concrete manifestation of GAFCON’s worst fear.
Previously all initiatives to celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships have been highly localized, taking place in ‘rogue churches.’ The Hereford Motion is the first time that a synod has requested a formal liturgy available for use across the entirety of the Church of England.
The Hereford Motion rightly implies that it is inappropriate for the Church of England, as a liturgical church, to offer ‘informal prayers,’ for same-sex couples. The Hereford Motion celebrates the fact that as a national and established church what we offer is common and formal prayers. The Hereford Motion is therefore a statement of liturgical Church of England orthodoxy. It is also a rejection of strange, but unverifiable notions, such as ‘change in tone and culture.’ The Hereford Motion in a very real way builds upon the decision of General Synod not to ‘take note,’ of the House of Bishop’s report.
I have often argued that real and significant institutional change comes not from the centre but from the institutional and geographic margins. Sometimes institutional leaders become so taken with their own plans and ways of doing things that they lose their peripheral vision. So I wonder whether ‘the institution’ saw the Hereford Motion coming? I suspect not.
I also wonder whether the Hereford Motion exposes weakness in the idea that the process towards some form of resolution on issues of human sexuality can be centrally, planned, coordinated and controlled? After all isn’t the next step in the process supposed to be the publication of the (in) famous teaching document? Surely, in producing the document its authors cannot simply ignore the fact that at least one diocese accepts that loving, monogamous and covenanted same-sex relationships may be formally and liturgically affirmed?
I wonder, if when ecclesial historians chart the history of the Church of England, the Hereford Motion will be regarded as a decisive, epoch changing, event?
The answer to this question, I guess, depends on whether other dioceses also allow themselves to be ‘called by name,’ and similarly adopt the Hereford Motion.