John Davis and Rob Whalley, both ministers in the Anglican Church, got married this week but not in a church.
The Anglican Church in Australia does not recognise same-gender marriage.
The gay couple were planning to have their union “blessed” this weekend at St Paul’s church in Milawa, a small town in northeast Victoria. The Wangaratta Diocese (region) of the Anglican Church produced and authorised an order of service – which the local bishop, John Parkes, a keen supporter of the couple, was planning to use.
The invitation to the Milawa celebration sent out by the couple is for “a service of Morning Prayer with music, prayers and blessings appropriate to the occasion”.
The question is “which blessing?”
Bishop Parkes has now resiled from using the new “blessing service” that his diocese authorised. This would have blessed people married under Australian law – and has been designed for same-sex couples.
Parkes’ latest move follows a request from the Anglican Primate (national leader), Archbishop Philip Freier of Melbourne, not to use the new blessings.
Freier has referred the question of the Anglican Church in Australia blessing same-sex marriages to the Church’s highest court, the Appellate Tribunal – a process that will take months.
“I can’t for the life of me believe that we won’t be able to bless people.” – Bishop Parkes
Bishop Parkes told the Border Mail newspaper he was not surprised, but insisted it was just “a delay, rather than an abandonment”.
“We will give the Appellate Tribunal a chance to meet and consider and we will be actively involved in presenting our views before the tribunal,” he said.
“I can’t for the life of me believe that we won’t be able to bless people but, if not, some of us will have to consider our position very carefully.”
“In the church we recognise holy matrimony.” – Archbishop Glenn Davies
Conservative Anglicans have responded strongly to the possible blessings, with the Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, saying it was “reminiscent” of a similar motion passed by a local diocese in Canada, New Westminster (based in Vancouver), which led to a split in the church. This caused a parallel church to be formed – the Anglican Church in North America – which makes up part of the conservative GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures) movement. GAFCON has strong Australian links.
Asked for a response to the same-sex blessing service, Davies told the ABC 7:30 program “I don’t approve of that. Because the way it’s constructed is blessing marriages under the Marriage Act – which are legal in this country, of course, I recognise that – but in the church we recognise holy matrimony.”
The Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church is made up of senior lawyers, judges and bishops (regional leaders of the church).
Both Davis and Whalley are in their 70s. They have been waiting a long time, both for the marriage law to change and to have a blessing. They told ABC’s 7:30 of how difficult it was to keep their relationship secret, and Eternity has heard that a conservative who served nearby “had no idea” of their relationship.
Eternity understands that there will be a service at St Paul’s Milewa on Saturday. Bishop Parkes and his two priests will be present. The new official service of blessing will NOT be used. But perhaps another form of words, such as a prayer with the couple in mind, will be.