News Saturday, October 21st Words by: Adam Knight, pictures by: HerefordshireLive/Freepik/HerefordDiocese

Yes, Hereford is driving the debate on gay marriage in churches

News Saturday, October 21st

Yes, Hereford is driving the debate on gay marriage in churches

Yep, Prince William shook some hands and kissed some babies at the Cathedral this week – but actually something far bigger happened in the Hereford diocese on Thursday.

The Bishop of Hereford – rural, conservative Hereford – has put forward a motion for the Church of England to debate whether the church should introduce a formal blessing for married same-sex couples.

It could mean that, one day, Christian couples will be able to get married at the Town Hall, then stroll down the street and have a big church ceremony at the Cathedral with all the hymns and psalms they want.

It's about "radical Christian inclusion," the Rt Revd Richard Frith, The Bishop of Hereford, told BBC Radio 4 on Saturday morning. How radical it really is, I guess, depends on where you're coming from.

He added: "The House of Bishops has committed itself to a ‘fresh tone and culture of welcome' - we believe it is right and consistent.... to be more welcoming of these couples. Of course, there is tension and difficulty as to how that is done."

At the moment, priests aren’t allowed to marry gay couples. And the CofE doubled down on that fact following the motion; “Clergy…are unable to marry couples of the same sex and…’services of blessing’ should not be provided for those who enter into civil partnerships or same-sex marriages.

“The [Hereford] diocesan synod’s decision does not change the teaching or practice of the Church of England, whether in Hereford or anywhere else in the Church.”

But the motion does shift the discussion in a more progressive direction – at a time when declining attendance figures nationwide show that the Church doesn’t need to give people another reason not to show up on a Sunday.

Lesbian and gay Christian movement OneBodyOneFaith thinks the debate will be “parked” in the short-term but will stay on the agenda until it's discussed. A statement from the group said:

“We are delighted.

"Support for such a motion in a predominantly rural diocese like Hereford reflects what many of our members and supporters know to be true - that in communities across the country, in all kinds of contexts, there is widespread support for affirming same-sex couples, and being alongside them as they experience the joy and blessing of their relationships.”

The motion was passed with overwhelming support by the Hereford clergy – by a ratio of more than 2:1 – after priests found themselves unsure with how to deal with requests from same-sex couples around the county.

 

 

The official statemnet from Bishop Frith said:

“The motion which is part of a much wider debate asks for guidance on materials to be used in affirming and praying with same-sex couples.”

“Clergy are already encouraged to respond pastorally and sensitively when approached.”

You can read the full motion here. Or, click here to hear Bishop Frith counter the concerns of Reform campaigner Susie Leafe over where the Hereford Motion may lead, on BBC Radio 4.  

Yesterday a report came out that showed for the first time, more people were #praying that actually praying. 1.5m people visit the CofE’s websites each month, while the church’s followers on FB and Insta have tripled in the last twelve months and the church has spent big on ‘digital evangelism’.

Hereford Cathedral hosted a gig this month – folk singing, but still.

The Church seems to be trying to find its place in the 21st century, and the move towards recognising and formally celebrating the love of its gay congregation would seem to be a pretty big piece in that puzzle.

The fact that a vote in Hereford may be central in pushing that forward should be celebrated every bit as much as the Wills and Kate rolling in to town for the afternoon.

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