Clergy will soon be allowed to utilise prayers for same-sex couples, as confirmed by the Church of England's steering group overseeing the Living in Love and Faith process.
Rt Rev Sarah Mullaly, the group's co-chair, confirmed that a set of liturgical prayers will soon be accessible for clergy to incorporate into existing services, while a standalone service will undergo formal authorisation later.
The development was announced during a media briefing on Friday. It followed the publication of Synod papers, outlining the bishops' approach to implementing what are known as the 'Prayers of Love and Faith' (PLF), which were approved in principle in February, and will be presented to Synod in November.
In the papers the bishops argue that, given the significant disagreement within the church on same-sex relationships, there is a "theological rationale for 'pastoral provision in a time of uncertainty'". Importantly for more orthodox Christians, it is a provision that the House of Bishops - the upper house in the Church's Synod - says does not alter doctrine in any fundamental way, but rather adapts the Church's "practical pastoral response" and the way it interacts with those seeking guidance.
Earlier this month, 12 of the bishops dissented from this announcement, publicly sharing their concerns about PLF. They argue that going through with them fails “to safeguard the pastoral stability, mission and unity of the church”.
However, the final proposal being put to Synod argues "the essential doctrines of the Church of England are safeguarded" as the prayers “do not seek to simulate marriage, or pretend that the Church has made a decision to extend marriage to same-sex couples”. The papers state they will seek to “discern and affirm what is good, and pray for God’s presence and blessing over the people within the relationship”.
While bishops admit that blessing an actively sexual same-sex couple might be perceived as a change in doctrine by some, they believe PLF does not do so in “any essential matter”, which is wording that would allow it to be commended under Canon B5 - a church law that allows the CofE's senior leadership to approve new liturgies faster.
The next General Synod will meet in London next month.