The Church of England has announced that blessings for same-sex couples can take place within existing church services from this Sunday, 17 December.
Yesterday afternoon the House of Bishops voted by 24 -11 to commend the Prayers of Love and Faith - and the final texts have now been published, together with pastoral guidance on how they can be used.
The selection of readings and prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and asking for God’s blessing for same-sex couples, can be used in regular, scheduled services, such as a Sunday Eucharist or Evensong.
It's the result of a seven-year period of listening, learning and discernment known as Living in Love and Faith.
The online meeting of the House of Bishops also continued to discuss separate proposals for special standalone services for same-sex couples to be formally authorised under canon law.
This follows a motion agreed by General Synod in November calling on the bishops to consider whether standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis.
The House of Bishops has said it will consider pastoral provision to protect the conscience of those who wish to use the Prayers and of those who do not.
It is intended that there will be wide process of consultation regarding the provision to ensure that whatever is agreed serves to promote unity and has broad support across the Church.
The Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, and the Bishop of Newcastle, Helen-Ann Hartley, are chairing the group overseeing the introduction of Prayers of Love and Faith.
Bishop Helen-Ann said:
The Prayers of Love and Faith are resources to pray with and for a same-sex couple who are committed to one another in faithfulness and love. They are intended to enable those who wish to give thanks for and joyfully mark that commitment before God and their community of faith.”
Bishop Martyn added:
“We know not everyone in the Church of England agrees on these important questions which go the heart of who we are – about people’s lives, their love and our shared faith. This is reflected in the House of Bishops, where there remain different views on the best ways to proceed.
“These Prayers are offered as pastoral provision. It is our prayer that they can be used with grace and understanding. Sharing them will be a blessing to the whole Church.”
Bishops also approved a motion to commend Prayers for a Covenanted Friendship from the same date by 30 votes to six, with two abstentions. They are published together with the Prayers of Love and Faith resources.
In a press release, the Church of England said that because of the busy Advent season it expects the Prayers to be more widely used in the New Year.
It also re-stated that "the Church’s understanding of marriage – or Holy Matrimony – remains as a lifelong, faithful and exclusive covenant between one man and one woman. Yet some may wish to recognise the commitment same-sex couples make to each other and publicly pray for God’s blessing on them."