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Prayer Books

Anglicans Abandon Common Prayer
and Allow Blessing Same-Sex Couples

Prayer Books

To my mind, one of the most significant decisions made at the meeting of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW2016) of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia was the alteration to our Constitution which put one of the final nails into the coffin of our common prayer. An obvious consequence is also that, with the failure to move forward, this is now a clear pathway for local authorisation to bless committed same-sex relationships.

Once again I say: If you are not interested in the (possibly-esoteric) internal workings of Anglicanism in these islands in the South Pacific, come back here tomorrow and read about something of more general interest in tomorrow’s post. Go and walk out in nature; have a coffee; talk to a friend.

OK. You are still here…

Until now, an authorised service in our Church was one that had gone through what is nicknamed the “twice-round” procedure (it required passing at GSTHW; then by a majority of dioceses and hui amorangi; followed by a 2/3 majority at a newly-elected GSTHW; and finally a year’s wait for anyone to make an appeal). Let me be crystal clear: That process of authorisation, with its checks and balances, is as of now no longer required.

In spite of some diocesan reservations and dissent, this GSTHW2016 altered our Constitution to read:

Authorised Services” includes (a) Formularies, (b) Experimental uses as authorised by the 1928 Act, and (c) other services authorised under Title G Canon XIV.

It is the new addition of (c) that abandons the twice-round process. As of GSTHW2016, this Title G Canon XIV now includes the following:

[Tikanga Maori bishops and Tikanga Polynesia bishops may determine their own conditions, and in Tikanga Pakeha] Diocesan Bishops and other Bishops with episcopal jurisdiction within a Diocese in New Zealand may authorise forms of service to be produced and used in individual ministry units, after consultation with the Vestry or equivalent body, and in other particular areas of the Church’s work, upon such conditions as they may individually determine in each case, and in consultation with their Diocesan liturgical committees.

Blessing Committed Same-Sex Couples

I have, because of liturgical and theological principles, written repeatedly, lobbied, spoken, and voted against the alteration to our Constitution that has now come into effect. Now that it has come into effect, however, this allows for a far better way forward to bless committed same-sex couples than that proposed by the A Way Forward Report (the proposal before GSTHW2016 which did not proceed).

The constraints within which the A Way Forward group was working no longer apply. Until now, as I have indicated, authorising new services in addition to our formularies required the “twice round” process. That is no longer the case.

Now, the only limitation on what may be authorised “locally” is that it “must not be inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies.” Significantly, the best legal and theological minds of our Church cannot come to an agreement about what is actually even meant by “The Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ” as taught by our Formularies. I lost count of the number of different interpretations they provide in Chapter 6 of the A Way Forward Report.

As reported in its Executive Summary, “the majority of the group” (of the best legal and theological minds of our Church) do not see services blessing a committed same-sex couple as being “a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by Te Pouhere.”

It may be helpful if, in the comments below, local communities, dioceses, and Tikanga noted if they make application to their bishop to bless committed same-sex couples and the result of that application.

[I also suggest that, with blessing a committed same-sex couple being understood as not being in breach of the teachings of our Church, officiating at such a blessing may not even require the bishop’s authorisation as long as it fits within our formularies of A Form for Ordering the Eucharist, An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist, or A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word (see Timeline following). But such a discussion goes beyond the focus of this post which is examining the change to our Constitution to abandon common prayer.]

Timeline of Abandoning Common Prayer

1984 An Order for Celebrating the Eucharist provides a framework for the Eucharist which “…requires careful preparation…not for the regular celebration of the Eucharist”. It is essentially a number of bullet points (Gather in the Lord’s Name… Pray for the world and the church… Exchange the Peace…) with a framework for producing one’s own Eucharistic Prayer.

1989 A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa
A Form for Ordering the Eucharist is slightly revised to be “not for the regular Sunday Celebration”. In the Prayer Book, the “may” principle is expanded. Eg. “Individuals or groups may adapt the pattern found here to their own needs” (page 54).

1998 A Form for Ordering the Eucharist may, from now on, be used for “for the regular Sunday Celebration”.

2002 GSTHW passes “A Template for Worship” – essentially worship is to have three movements: “Gathering; Story; Going out”.
This template is used as a framework for services produced by the Province’s Liturgical Commission in 1992:
Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship (pdf)
Liturgy of Healing from Abuse for Women (pdf)
Liturgy for Recognising the End of a Marriage (pdf)
A Liturgical Resource for Addressing Experiences of Abuse in the Church (pdf)
New Beginnings (pdf)

2006 An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist further extends options – the Eucharistic Prayer, now, may be one authorised anywhere in the Anglican Communion.
A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word provides for a flexible framework for non-eucharistic services not covered by the two Forms for Ordering the Eucharist.

2016 a bishop “may authorise forms of service to be produced and used in individual ministry units”.
Until now, various alternative baptism rites, ordinals, etc. have been used from time to time, but they have not been understood as “authorised”. These may now be regarded as authorised.

It is noticeable that our Church’s official news source claimed the change to our Constitution and Canons were “confirmed and passed into law” at GSTHW in 2014, even prior to consideration by dioceses and hui amorangi. And now that it actually has passed, there appears no reporting about this.

If you appreciated this post, you can anticipate further reflection on GSTHW on this site soon, and do remember to like the liturgy facebook page, use the RSS feed, and sign up for a not-very-often email, …

No Prayer Books were harmed in the making of this blog post.

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23 thoughts on “Anglicans Abandon Common Prayer<br>and Allow Blessing Same-Sex Couples”

  1. I’m interested in your parenthetical comment: “officiating at such a blessing may not even require the bishop’s authorisation as long as it fits within our formularies”. It wasn’t clear to me whether you thought this is a result of the change to the Constitution.

    Also, am I right in saying that (c) *requires* diocesan consultation prior to using an alternative liturgy?

    Finally: just to say that his is phyrric victory, even if it did allow us to bless same-sex relationships.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. Officiating at services that are within Anglican teaching, using A Form for Ordering the Eucharist, An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist, or A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word, did not require a change in our Constitution and was possible before this meeting of GSTHW2016.

      There is no requirement for “diocesan consultation” in (c) or the altered canon.


  2. Peter Carrell

    Hi Bosco
    There are some nuances here, if not some challengeable statements!
    1. “Abandoning common prayer” can sound like a church unwisely on the road to liturgical rack and ruin, but (as one part of the 1998 decision) I suggest these changes have also been “adapting to changing contexts”: as Anglican parishes have responded to (e.g.) influx of non-Anglicans into worshipping communities; seeking connection with fellow Kiwis in our relaxed, informal culture, they have sought to be flexible in the style, shape and structure if not content of their services (especially “family” and “youth” services). History may or may not be kind to the path we have taken, but it is more than “loss” of common prayer, it has been an attempt to “gain” (or “retain”) worshippers. And, to an extent, it has worked, I say, as I visit both small ageing congregations faithfully following the prayer book, and larger, more youthful congregations not so faithfully following the prayer book.
    2. There is an anodyne aspect to this recently approved approach to “authorised services”: bishops approving (say) “bless the pets” services; as well as a more controversial aspect, that bishops could use this new approval to foster matters on which (arguably) our church should have a “common prayer” at its disposal rather than a diocese by diocese approach (and SSB is the obvious such matter at this time). And, I am in agreement with your musing out loud that, for this particular matter, this may be “the” [most peaceful, least divisive way forward].
    3. I am with you in concern that we might see alternative baptismal etc rites under this legislation.
    4. I think the legislation as passed is a potential nightmare re assessing how an authorised service might be not inconsistent with our doctrine.

      1. An unnecessary response Bosco which does your argument (which I happen to agree with), no good. Let’s stick to the issue: our church is loosing/ has lost any sense of discipline in its worship life and with it any sense that we, as a whole church, have any confidence in what we pray/ teach/ celebrate in our liturgy. The question is how to respond.

        1. Thanks, David. I do not believe that Peter Carrell’s comment jeopardises my central points (and you seem of my opinion), and so I stand by my response which you find “unnecessary” – lifting my comment from his response, and underscoring that I was doing that by the emoticon.

          Now to your substantive: “how to respond?” I have blogged for years about the loss and my hoped for restoration of this discipline, written a book from which I receive no remuneration to help people worship together, moved and passed motions at diocesan level to take to General Synod, had a formulary passed at GSTHW, taught and produced resources, written an open letter to General Synod Standing Committee,… Now tell us what you have done, are doing, and intend to do. Blessings.

    1. I suggest these changes have also been “adapting to changing contexts”: as Anglican parishes have responded to (e.g.) influx of non-Anglicans into worshipping communities;

      Is Kiwiland really that starkly that different from say, Wales & England?

      His deduction is that, in a group of 100 Anglicans, 93 will have been brought up as such, five will have started life in another Christian denomination, and only two would have belonged to no religion.

  3. That’s actually in step with Ireland… our Canon 5 reads as follows:-
    5. The prescribed form of Divine Service to be used in Churches

    (1) The services contained in the Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, or such services as may be otherwise prescribed or authorised, and no other, shall be used in churches: Provided that there may be used in any cathedral or church

    (a) at any hour on any Sunday or weekday an additional form of service, provided that such form of service and the mode in which it is used is for the time being approved by the ordinary, and
    (b) upon any special occasion approved by the ordinary a special form of service approved by the ordinary:
    Provided that, save with the leave of the ordinary, neither such additional form of service nor special form of service shall be in substitution for any of the services so prescribed.

    That said, of course, the Service of the Word covers just about anything the Minister wishes.

    Indeed, the Church of England Canon B4 allows considerable leeway where the Service of the Word is insufficient – and in Ireland, Morning and Evening Prayer in modern language have been reframed as Service of the Word with an optional sermon.

  4. Please, everyone let us know when the same gender blessings commence in the various local congregations around ACANZ&P.

    I’m happy Father B that you didn’t harm any of those NZ Prayer books when you set up your photo shot!! 😀

    I shan’t even think to wade in on any of this. We’ve had a post up at the Café regarding your province’s General Synod that generated 50 some comments. A number from a certain Aussie of a conservative bent who seems quite misinformed about the situation and whom I referred to your posts regarding A Way Forward, but the appeals appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

    1. Thanks, Br David. Yes – I am hoping, as I suggest in this post, that such permissions be noted at least in comments here. There is off-line discussion, none of which makes me think there’s anything incorrect in my post. Regarding your third paragraph: this post is limited to discussing the new facility that bishops may now authorise forms of service to be produced and used in individual ministry units. [For overseas readers: “ministry units” expands the understanding of parishes to include them but not be limited to such communities]. Blessings.

  5. Thanks Bosco, I have raised the possibility in my own diocese the we might spend the next two years ‘modelling’ what a church such as that envisioned in the ‘A Way Forward’ report might look like. The parish I am vicar of would be very glad to offer blessings and model respectful dialogue with those who disagree with us. If the revision to the liturgical canons makes this more possible, excellent! I have wondered though whether the restrictions contained in Motion 30 from GSTHW 2014 still apply, or whether that Motion lapsed at the recent meeting? Either way, we’re still game!

    1. Thanks, Brian.

      Just so others know the relevant piece of Motion 30 passed at GSTHW2014, I copy it here:

      Clergy who so wish are permitted to recognise in public worship a same-gender civil union or state marriage of members of their faith community:
      (a) with the permission of their licensing Bishop; and
      (b) with the permission of their Vestry or equivalent leadership body.
      Such recognition cannot be marriage or a rite of blessing of a same-gender relationship.

      As GSTHW2016 neither reaffirmed these restrictions, nor made them a standing resolution, I suggest this no longer affects discussions, and that bishops are free to authorise such blessings as your parish seeks to offer following the change to our Constitution.


  6. Sometimes it’s difficult to discern a way forward. From my US perspective, the idea of “throwing away” the NZ Prayer Book, as we informally know it, is horrific–many of us consider it the best in the present AC in language, spirit, doctrine, etc. But if dissolving the Prayer Book’s canonical and legal bonds to the three provinces in NZ opens a way to extending the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples in some circumstances and jurisdictions, it’s a step worth taking. Perhaps we can find a similar way forward in TEC, whose progress on many fronts has been made at the cost of “illegal” actions (such as the first ordinations of women).

    1. Thanks, John. To be clear – this allowance for bishops to authorise services locally does not “open a way to extending the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples.” That would require a change of doctrine. We have the (twice-round) process for that. The episcopally-authorised rites need to conform to current doctrine. Blessings a committed same-sex couple is understood (by the majority as my post indicates) as not in breach of current doctrine. I hope that makes sense. Blessings.

  7. Cameron Pickering

    The Spirit has nothing to say about School Cert/Bursary v NCEA History, so perhaps I’m keyboard warrioring at the wrong end of the stick.

    An Analogy of Catholicity.

    Giving carte blanche to teachers across New Zealand with regards the curriculum, under much the same guise – to enable teachers to set context appropriate to their (students) context (the document said something along these lines) has: a. not increased the number of students studying History, b. not improved the overall level of student achievement. What it has done has made a.students study the context that is the particular whim of their teacher at a given moment in their “history journey’, b. made the marking of external examinations darn near impossible due to a subjectivity unheard of under standardized themes/contexts.

    When I saw your lead photo it made me think of those Tudor/Stuart texts we abandoned 10 years ago.

    That’s all.

    1. Yes, Cameron! I think the underlying philosophical foundations of Kiwi culture is this dovetailing of post-modern abandonment of authority with our historical frontier history (which may or may not be studied at school!).

      To clarify for overseas readers: our curriculum does not specify a canon or required content for subjects – these are chosen by individual schools and teachers.


  8. Phillip Tovey

    In terms of Communion wide common prayer, did General Synod pass the material on confirmation?

    1. I have seen no official report on this, Phillip, but I understand that it did not pass. Blessings.

  9. The confirmation and baptism material was tabled by the mover for two years (a lot of that going on at GSTHW). I am hoping that over the next two years we will do some proper talking about it (if we can find time between all the conversations about sex).
    I am intrigued by the linking of confirmation to “Communion wide common prayer”. That hasn’t been my experience …

  10. So, Bosco, in your opinion (which I value) the following text would be allowed – without prejudice – to be offered at a Blessing of a Same-Sex Union (Marriage?) in any church of our Province of ACANZP?


    Parents, family and friends are invited to express their support for [name] and [name] by offering personal statements, prayers and good wishes. Symbols or gifts may also be offered.


    For the couple [Name] and [name], you have brought us together to witness and celebrate your love for each other.
    Go now with God’s blessing and the good wishes of us all. May your partnership mature within God’s grace and may God’s love surround and sustain you always.
    For the people Now may God the Creator, renew us all and give us peace, God the Redeemer renew us all and give us peace, God the Giver of Life renew us all and give us peace, this day and forever. Amen.

    Further resources:

    Prayer at Night by Jim Cotter (including the Covenant of Friendship p.87)

    Women Church by Rosemary Radford Reuther

    A New Zealand Prayer Book
    March 1992”

    If this format could be endorsed by our Bishop, are you of the opinion that it could be used in churches of our diocese at any time? OR, do we even need the permission of a Bishop to offer such a service?

    1. As my post makes clear, yes, Fr Ron, the change in the Constitution means that the overseeing bishop can now authorise a service locally (so, currently, however, not your all “churches of our diocese at any time” – unless all such churches sought such permission).

      As to your other questions:

      To be clear, for others reading this, what you have quoted, Fr Ron, is the final page of an eight-page rite, Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship (click on that link to access the full rite). This rite, along with a cluster of other rites, was produced by our church’s liturgical commission in 1992. The services in that cluster have been used by clergy (of every “rank”) for the last quarter century without any “consequences”.

      And I guess that “consequences” are one of the only “objective” measures that can be used (would a clergy person be at risk of losing his/her licence or permission to officiate?).

      You ask about marrying a same-sex couple. The rite you quote from would not IMO effect a marriage. Current doctrine of our church is that marriage is between a man and a woman. I suggest that Anglican clergy here, taking the wedding of a same-sex couple, are open to the possibility of discipline. But I would note that our doctrine also holds that marriage is lifelong – I have recently written to leaders of our church (sent to members of our General Synod Standing Committee) in the hope that there is clarification around our regular practice of ignoring that part of our doctrine when it comes to heterosexuals. We await their response.

      Your third point: do we even need the permission of a Bishop to offer such a service? I suggest that any Anglican clergy blessing a committed same-sex couple are at risk of someone, opposed to such blessings, initiating a complaint under Title D of our Canons. One might wonder whether no such complaint, to my knowledge, having ever been formally laid indicates an uncertainty: it would not benefit those opposed to blessing committed same-sex couples to have such a complaint not upheld. In other words: if such a formal complaint were not upheld, that would provide a formal precedent underscoring the majority position of the A Way Forward group that this is not contrary to our doctrine and hence that it is within the rights of clergy to do this within the frameworks of A Form for Ordering the Eucharist, An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist, or A Form for Ordering A Service of the Word – all three being agreed formularies of our church.


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