28 June 2006

Methodist Church votes on same sex blessings

The Methodist Church will not formally bless same sex Civil Partnerships, although ministers will be allowed to offer informal, private prayers to couples. The Methodist Conference yesterday voted on the report on Pilgrimage of Faith, the Church's ongoing discussion about human sexuality.

After a long and careful debate carried out in a respectful atmosphere, Conference confirmed the statement of good practice issued by the Methodist Council last December. While Methodist ministers may say private prayers with a couple in a Civil Partnership, the Church will not authorise a liturgy for blessing Civil Partnerships, and that Methodist premises cannot be used for any prayers for Civil Partnerships.

'As Christians we are naturally keen to mark all of the key moments of life with prayer,' says the Revd Jonathan Kerry, member of the working party and Methodist Co-ordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning. 'But earlier Conference resolutions make it clear that we cannot as a Church offer formal blessings for same sex partnerships. This is difficult subject, but we are glad that the debate has been conducted in a supportive and respectful atmosphere.'

Conference also passed a resolution confirming that there is no reason why a Methodist cannot enter into a Civil Partnership. But Conference reaffirmed the Church's traditional teaching that marriage can only take place between a woman and a man, and its requirement that Methodists remain faithful within marriage and chaste without.

The Revd Paul Smith served as a member of the working party and is a member of Methodist evangelical group Headway. He said, 'As a member of the working party, I am pleased that the Conference felt able to accept the various proposals that we brought. They accurately represent where the church is at the moment on this difficult issue and they make clear that the Methodist Church does not sanction the blessing of gay partnerships. However, they also encourage ministers and Church leaders to pray with anyone who requests it at every opportunity. Of course this involves an element of trust in that a minister praying with somebody should not misrepresent the decisions of the Church. But trust lies at the heart of the Christian gospel and part of the Pilgrimage of Faith is learning more and more to trust one another.'

The Revd Cass Howes, member of the working party and a member of Outcome (formerly the Methodist Lesbian and Gay Caucus) said 'It became clear to me during the life of the working group, having initially said we would not revisit the Derby resolutions, that in fact that is exactly what we needed to do. It is no good saying at this stage that the church is willing to bless same sex couples if the culture of the church is not ready to receive those couples. Passing the resolution to consider revisiting the Derby resolutions gives us an opportunity to listen to people's stories afresh, to continue the Pilgrimage of Faith and work towards a Church that is truly inclusive. Waiting for the culture of the Church to change is painful but if we walk together for a bit longer my hope is that the Church will be a more accepting place.'

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