Our Australian Anglican cousins have just published a 5-1 majority decision made by that Church’s highest legal authority, the Appellate Tribunal. They hold that a service of blessing for civil marriages, including those between same-sex couples, authorised by the Synod of the Diocese of Wangaratta last year is valid (sic). It also accepted the ordinance the Synod of the Diocese of Newcastle drafted in 2019 removing the possibility of disciplinary action taken against a member of the clergy married under the Marriage Act to a member of the same sex or who blessed – or declined to bless – a same sex marriage.
Bishop Peter Carrell, at his blog Anglican Down Under, deals well with the central point(s).
I would highlight that this Newcastle approach is essentially the approach in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia: this Church explicitly teaches that the doctrine of marriage is that it is to be between a man and a woman, life-long, and monogamous. But, long story short: there are canons in this Church that mean there will be no disciplinary action taken against clergy who are divorced and remarried, are married to a divorcee, officiate at a wedding with one or both persons divorced, in a marriage to a member of the same sex, or who blesses (with the bishop’s permission) – or declined to bless – a same sex marriage.
Peter pointed me to some of the liturgical nuances.
In this post, I want to focus on the Australian Anglican 1992 Canon (as amended in 2017):
4. (1) The following forms of service are authorised:
(a) the forms of service contained in the Book of Common Prayer;
(b) such forms as may have been authorised, as regards a parish,
pursuant to the Constitution of a canon of the General Synod in force
in the diocese of which that parish is part;
(c) for use within a diocese, any other form that has been –
(i) approved for use, on the recommendation of the Liturgy
Commission with the concurrence of the Doctrine
Commission, by a decision of at least two-thirds of the
diocesan bishops including all of the Metropolitans; and
(ii) approved for use within the diocese by the diocesan council
of that diocese.
(2) Every minister must use only the authorised forms of service, except so far as the
minister may exercise the discretion allowed by section 5.
5. (1)The minister may make and use variations which are not of substantialAPPELLATE TRIBUNAL OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA page 10 Section 50
importance in any form of service authorised by section 4 according to particular
(2) Subject to any regulation made from time to time by the Synod of a diocese, a
minister of that diocese may on occasions for which no provision is made use
forms of service considered suitable by the minister for those occasions.
(3) All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used must be reverent
and edifying and must not be contrary to or a departure from the doctrine of this
(4) A question concerning the observance of the provisions of sub-section 5(3) may
be determined by the bishop of the diocese.”
This Canon limits what ministers can use, and also allows some flexibility to, with sensitivity, appropriately adapt what is formally authorised. To my knowledge, other Anglican (Episcopalian) provinces have similar allowances. Here is the Church of England’s equivalent:
B 5 Of the discretion of ministers in conduct of public prayerChurch of England Canon on Divine service and the administration of the sacraments
1. The minister who is to conduct the service may in his discretion make and use variations which are not of substantial importance in any form of service authorized by Canon B 1 according to particular circumstances.
2. The minister having the cure of souls may on occasions for which no provision is made in The Book of Common Prayer or by the General Synod under Canon B 2 or by the Convocations, archbishops, or Ordinary under Canon B 4 use forms of service considered suitable by him for those occasions and may permit another minister to use the said forms of service.
3. All variations in forms of service and all forms of service used under this Canon shall be reverent and seemly and shall be neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.
4. If any question is raised concerning the observance of the provisions of this Canon it may be referred to the bishop in order that he may give such pastoral guidance, advice or directions as he may think fit, but such reference shall be without prejudice to the matter in question being made the subject matter of proceedings under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963.
To my knowledge, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia allows for no such flexibility, even though worship leaders, all the way to bishops, act as if we do.
I recently argued that:
People do (without any authority) make changes to [our authorised liturgies] (sometimes producing a disturbing result; at other times improving the original). I think we should have a clear canon that allows some adaptation of texts, encouraging (requiring?) adaptation of international texts (that are allowed here) to have our agreed responses, and limiting the adaptation of agreed texts to what the text clearly intended to communicate.An Alternative Form for Ordering the Eucharist