Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The London Service

In case anyone's visiting here without catching up on the 'gay wedding' story via Dave Walker or Thinking Anglicans, the Archbishops have issued this statement:

Joint statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York regarding St Bartholomew-the-Great

“We have heard the reports of the recent service in St Bartholomew the Great with very great concern. We cannot comment on the specific circumstances because they are the subject of an investigation launched by the Bishop of London.

On the general issue, however, the various reference points for the Church of England’s approach to human sexuality (1987 Synod motion, 1991 Bishops’ Statement- Issues in Human Sexuality- , Lambeth motion 1:10, House of Bishops’ 2005 statement on civil partnerships) are well known and remain current.

Those clergy who disagree with the Church’s teaching are at liberty to seek to persuade others within the Church of the reasons why they believe, in the light of Scripture, tradition and reason that it should be changed. But they are not at liberty simply to disregard it.”

Judging by the liturgy, it was clearly a wedding in all but name. However, the person who conducted it has the freehold of St. Bartholemews, and so can't be sacked or suspended for flouting church rules (not that the church has 'rules' on this - as the statement above shows, there are 'reference points'.) Within the CofE structure, it's a matter for the Bishop of London, the Archbishops can't wade in and take over, but the statement is pretty clear on what they think about it.

Contrary to reports in the press, the Church of England is not in meltdown, but there are a lot of very confused people. Those who look to the church to uphold traditional morality and the teaching of the Bible are asking why the priest in question hasn't been sacked (answer: he can't be), and the church is trying to deal with it properly rather than follow the knee-jerking legions of commenters. Amidst all the cries to 'do something', there will be a measured investigation, which will base its conclusions on facts rather than feelings. The church is counter-cultural in how it deals with these things, and rightly so. If you're not sure what happens when the crowd dictates penal policy, read the passion narratives or watch last Saturdays Doctor Who.

The CofE is facing the impossible task of holding together a liberal and conservative wing who are both pulling hard in opposite directions, and demanding a clear choice of roads, rather than finding a way of remaining one church in unity.

All clergy swear to use only the forms of service recognised by church law. The Rector of St. Bartholemews has broken this vow, but so have I, and many of my colleagues (not, I hasten to add, in blessing civil partnerships, but I doubt the communion service at our parish weekend this Sunday will tick every canonical box). However in the current context, he's done much more than that. Bishop Alan comments:

I suspect this particular service, will generate far more heat than light. The theological confusion inherent in taking off a 1662 Prayer Book wedding, lock stock and two smoking barrels, may actually make it harder to define the significance of covenanted friendships before and within the whole Christian community.

Post-Freudian anthropology, whilst most triumphant in the West, is incomprehensible to the vast majority of people in this world. Many post-Colonials note that it flowers in the least relational, most depressed, screwed up and confused societies. They just don’t buy it. More work needs to be done about this aspect of the concept before it can go global.

I don't really want to add to the bubbling pot on this issue, but I'm with the Archbishops both theologically and practically. Provocative actions - including the planned gathering in Jerusalem, which I'm glad to see is focusing on poverty, AIDS and mission as well as Anglican politics - don't help us to love one another, and in the end the reason the church exists is the mission of God, and we are in serious danger of taking our eye off the ball.

Update: The Bishop of London has made public a letter to all his clergy about the case. He's clearly not impressed by Martin Dudley's actions. Meanwhile Dave Walker is looking for evidence of meltdown in the Church of England


  1. Hello,
    I think I'm in much the same place as yourself. However, is it true that in medieval times Priests' used to bless friendships?
    All the best.

  2. Hello Jake

    I don't know about that, sounds like a good idea. Unfortunately we've become so sexualised that it's hard to celebrate friendship without people nudging each other in the ribs and asking 'are they.......?'