This week the General Synod Working Group “A Way Forward” published its report by the same name after 20 months of deliberation since General Synod in May 2014.
The group were tasked with seeing if a way could be found whereby people in same sex relationships could have their relationships recognised by the church and then to see how those in such relationships could also be ordained.
The group was specifically not tasked with debating the question of same sex marriage which the Synod motion affirmed as between a man and a woman.
So the results of this report fall short for those of us who advocate for marriage equality within the church. We note that the Episcopal Church of the USA has changed its marriage canon (rules) to allow for full marriage equality. We would like to follow suit. But this report was never going to deliver that for us.
So what will it do?
The report recommends the adopting of a service “The blessing of the relationship of those who have entered a civil marriage” and a full liturgy is provided. The service is intended for a same sex or heterosexual couple who have had a civil marriage (ie in the Registry Office or by a civil celebrant) and then come to church for a blessing service. This could for example happen on a day after the civil ceremony or some years after for couples who might join the church and want a marriage blessing.
This might be seen as a “second class” system for same sex couples, which I think it is, or a step on the way towards the church arriving at marriage equality, which it also is.
The most important thing that can then happen though, is that people living in a same sex relationship and who want to be ordained, will be able to do so with no barriers. Of course LGBTI people have always been amongst the ordained, and many have been living in long term committed relationships. But in recent years as the spotlight has come upon this issue it has become harder rather than easier for these members of our church to be accepted for ordination. As we saw with the case of Geno Sisneros and the Human Rights Tribunal in 2013.
This report does give a way forward for LGBTI couples. If civilly married and then blessed by the church they could be seen to be in “rightly ordered relationships” which is a requirement of all clergy (for example heterosexual clergy must be married and not living together). Of note also – heterosexual clergy, married in only a civil marriage, will also be required to have a blessing service.
Now you might well ask – why not just marry everyone! rather than have this two step process. Good question – but many in the church are not ready for this step and so in the interests of bringing the majority of the church along – this process has been recommended to us.
The process will also be a long one – if the recommendations are passed at General Synod in May 2016 – they then have to go to all dioceses and hui amorangi for approval and come back to General Synod in 2018, plus one year for appeals to May 2019.
So that is still a LONG time to wait and we still only get blessings and not marriage.
I think it is really hard for me as a married woman of 33 years and ordained for nearly 25 years to say if this report is a step forward or not. It is for those who are waiting for marriage and ordination to say. And of course many who would have had an opinion have already left the church. I am sure more will walk away while we debate the finer points of liturgies and paths to ordination.
However, it is what we have, it is on the table, and it will bring us progress. Just not enough and not soon. As the psalmist says “How long, O Lord, how long?”
Meetings are planned for the Diocese this week as follows:
Tuesday 1 March – 7:30 pm – Selwyn Library, 10 St Stephen’s Ave, Parnell
Wednesday 2 March – 7:30 pm – Holy Cross Church Albany - 222 Dairy Flat Highway, Albany Village
Thursday 3 March – 7:30 pm – Christ Church Papakura - 40 Coles Cres, Papakura
Anyone interested is welcome to attend.