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Who answers for the Church of England when the Episcopal Church asks about marriage?

Who answers for the Church of England when the Episcopal Church asks about marriage?

The publication of a response to the Task Force on the Study of Marriage from William Nye, Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council in the Church of England has been stirring up responses of its own since it was highlighted by the Church Times late last week.

The Ecclesial Working Group of the Task Force sent a request for comments to each province of the Anglican Communion, all five of The Episcopal Church’s full communion ecumenical partners, and to the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission for Unity, Faith, and Order. All were asked the question:

From your perspective and specific setting, what has been the impact of The Episcopal Church’s authorization and use of liturgical rites for same-sex marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions on “the Church”?

Nye replied on behalf of the Church of England in an eight-page letter, providing the longest response received by the Task Force. Within his response, Nye wrote:

I do not need to rehearse the history within the Anglican Communion of issues concerning human sexuality, or the reactions to TEC’s decision to alter its understanding of marriage, and the consequences which flowed from this decision.  …

By promulgating the new marriage rites, TEC has taken a step which appears to conclude, at the level of an individual province acting unilaterally, a discussion that is still very much “live” in the Church of England and the wider Communion. Because much of this debate concerns the question of whether or not same-sex marriage is a first-order issue which precludes continuing together in communion with the Communion and within the Church of England, TEC’s action in promulgating the new liturgies is, at the least, unhelpful to those of us seeking to bring the Church of England’s deliberations to a good outcome. …

It is a source of great regret – shared by many in the Church of England, including many who are deeply sympathetic to LGBTI+ people, that this step has been taken by TEC without a much wider consensus across the Communion and among our ecumenical partners. Whatever the formal consequences which may follow for TEC in relation to the Communion, the introduction of the new liturgies cannot but hinder, in numerous small ways, the good relationships and close cooperation between our two Provinces for which we in the Church of England pray daily.

Nye also questioned the way that the “gift of children” is received in the liturgies currently in trial use in the Episcopal Church, arguing that procreation should be explicitly preserved as a key purpose of marriage:

Despite the careful wording of the preface to the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, in which the “gift of children” is cited as one of God’s purposes for the union of two people “when it is God’s will,” it remains that the purposes of marriage as understood through the ages have been substantially altered in this new rite. The phrase, “the gift of children,” is (presumably deliberately) ambiguous. … The best one can say about effectively erasing one of the key traditional purposes of marriage is that it is a very big step to have taken unilaterally in the face of global understandings of our shared traditions across the Church of God.

Read Nye’s full response, along with others received by the Task Force, here.

At the head of his letter, Nye states that his letter does not stem from any formal discussion of the Task Force’s question among the “deliberative structures” of the Church of England, because there was not time for such debate. “This response,” he wrote, “reflects discussions among staff of the Church’s Archbishop’s Council only.”

This point was reinforced by a member of the Archbishops’ Council, Simon Butler, in a statement quoted by the Revd Canon Susan Russell on her blog:

It’s worth making clear that, in my time on Archbishops’ Council, we have never had a discussion on same-sex marriage, here or in the United States. 

I’m not sure it is appropriate for a discussion among the Archbishops’ Council staff to be sent as a formal letter to another Province on AC notepaper. 

If you have any connection with those who are doing the work on same sex marriage liturgies in TEC, please do let them know that, as a statement of the views of the Archbishops’ Council, it has no particular weight. 

I have no problem with a statement of the current position of the Church of England being a broadly conservative one, but I am afraid it does not reflect the views of the Archbishops’ Council. We have never been asked. 


Read more commentary from Russell – who is a member of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage – here.

Since the Church Times report came out, One Body One Faith, a group advocating for LGBTI inclusion in the Church of England, has sent a “strongly worded” letter to Mr Nye, copied to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. In part:

You will be aware that your previously undisclosed letter to The Episcopal Church has been met with anger, frustration and disappointment by many across the Church of England, on whose behalf you presume to speak.  We wish to add the voices of our members to those calling for a more courageous, just and Christ-like response to what has become – we wish it were not so – the issue on which many will judge our church, and find it sorely wanting.

Your letter raises a wide range of issues – about governance and accountability, about process, about how the Holy Spirit might move in the lives and structures of the Body of Christ across generations and nations, about simple pastoral care and concern for those who don’t fit the received ‘norms’ we’ve imposed on people down the years.  In particular, your focus on procreation seems to ride roughshod over all those who have ever known the anguish of unwanted childnessness [sic], or the loss of a pregnancy.  To them, and to all who bear the human costs of your carefully chosen words, we say: not in our name.

Perhaps we should share something of the response of LGBT people to the developments in TEC, since our voices so often seem absent in your pronouncements. We saw in ECUSA’s brave and costly decision some hope that change might come for us too.  We saw our brothers and sisters listening intently to the Spirit speaking through the Body – and having listened, acting with courage, integrity and the determination to keep walking with Christ and with one another. And if it should prove impossible, to know that walking with Christ is our highest calling.

Read One Body, One Faith’s letter here.

While Nye’s letter was the longest response that the Task Force received, the shortest came from the Anglican Church of Tanzania. It read, in its entirety:

From now onward be informed that we are not having any church partnership. Please do not write me back on this matter.
The Most Rev’d Jacob Erasto Chimeledya
Archbishop of Tanzania & Bishop of Mpwapwa

All of the Communion partner responses are available here.

The Church Times report on William Nye’s letter is here.

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage presents its full Blue Book report here.


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Michael Hartney

A couple of typos. 1) …the introduction of the new liturgies cannot be hinder … I think this should be “cannot but hinder”; 2) … anguish of unwanted childnessness …. I think this might be childlessness, as awkward-sounding as this British usage is.

Michael Hartney

Well, I guess fixing one of the typos is a good thing. The other got a [sic}. “Sic” indeednessness. 🙂

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