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Blessing and Chastity

blessing same sex couples

This is Part 3 in a series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The PDF of The Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group (on blessing Committed Same-Sex Couples in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) downloads by clicking here.

The discussion around sexuality has occupied Anglicanism with inordinate energy for decades. I have been complicit in the overemphasis on this topic only because of being urged on by many LGBTQI+ persons who feel at risk to speak up in our Church. They often feel unsafe in church contexts. In most of our Church, we have dioceses without a single gay clergyperson openly in a relationship. They also regularly feel they are being “talked about” rather than “with”.

On balance, the Report is an improvement on the draft. But, it presents a very complex solution which continues to confuse even those who have been closest to this debate; it does not go anything like far enough for many; it provides absolutely no security (no certainty of their position) for the clergy or licensed persons in a committed same-sex relationship (surely, one of the most important goals); whether the blessings can be given in a diocese or episcopal unit is solely in the hands of the bishop; and it appears that, even with recent Constitutional changes which the Report understands as enabling the implementation of the Report’s approach, there is ambiguity which may mean a bishop cannot, by definition, authorise such a blessing.

My own proposal
1) to change the formularies in a simple manner so that our practice is in line with our teaching, or
2) to use our approach to divorce and remarriage as a template for committed same-sex couples
has garnered little political energy. So, it may very well be that this Report turns out to be where our Church decides to draw a line for the moment. Read my lips: a ‘mark’ of the Anglican Church will continue to be … an obsession with sex, same-sex to be clear and precise.

Rather than providing a commentary on the whole document, I am only going to focus on a few points.

Orders of Consecrated Life – Christian Communities

It is distressing to me that our Church is considering initiating what it is calling “Christian Communities” not for, say, those committed to a rigorous spiritual discipline of four Daily Offices, meditation, and regular communion and confession; not for, say, those who will live sacrificially amongst poorer people in our country; but for differing attitudes to homosexuals. And the “Christian Communities”, membership of which for individuals, parishes, and other ministry units will be defined by their attitude to homosexuals, are under the heading of “Orders of Consecrated Life” no less.

Although we keep no national statistics, we are a relatively small church. I would guess there were fewer than 30,000 in our pews on Sunday. For this, we have a structure second to none. We have diocesan structures which increasingly look unsustainable (Would the ratio of stipended clergy to bishop be down to about a dozen in some places? A diocesan office can have more people working there than are in our pews in many of our parishes. One diocesan bishop’s stipend is now subsidised by St John’s College Trust Board. Another diocese is now reflecting whether it can afford to replace its bishop). We have a unique three-tikanga structure complete with three archbishops/primates. Alongside these already top-heavy structures we now propose to have “Christian Communities”, each with its own statement of belief and its own constitution, a Visitor or Protector who is a Bishop of this Church, discussion and recognition required by the House of Bishops, and so forth.

Bishops Authorise

Recently, our Church altered its Constitution to allow bishops to authorise services. Our Church is so flexible in its worship practices that I could see little new that a bishop could authorise other than a service blessing committed same-sex couples. We were assured that all that was being done was adding a definition of “authorised services” that was lacking in our Constitution [the alteration to our Constitution is not yet online].

In the Notes provided to support the Constitution-changing Bill, we were told that if we voted in favour

Services could be authorised by Bishops or whole Tikanga, but would have to be… generally be suitable for occasional and non-controversial services in the life of the Church.

All the other parts of the proposed amended canon have been included, but the requirement that bishops only authorise “non-controversial services” has not been included.

The dependency of blessing a committed same-sex couple on the permission of the bishop is a significant limitation. If a bishop authorises such a service, clergy in that episcopal unit who wish to will be able to bless such a couple, and clergy who are unwilling to officiate at such a service will not do so. But in a diocese or other episcopal unit where the bishop does not authorise such a service, clergy in that episcopal unit who wish to will not be able to bless such a couple.

Bear in mind that it has been suggested that we now have the most conservative House of Bishops since the 1970s.

There may even be a more fundamental issue. When the Constitution was altered, we were told that in speaking of “authorised services”, we had “no definition of this important expression in the life of the Church.” “Authorised services” now refers to the recently-altered Title G Canon XIV

Any form of service authorised under this Canon… must not be inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies.

Because of the nature of the English language, it is not immediately clear whether this sentence is descriptive or prescriptive. If it is prescriptive, then a bishop shouldn’t authorise a service which is inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies. But, the approach of the Report is that, even if blessing a committed same-sex couple is inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies, “the Church is still able to regulate for itself what it does and does not discipline” (Section III, page 4). However, if “must not be inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies” can be understood as descriptive rather than prescriptive, then what is being said is that, if blessing a committed same-sex couple is inconsistent with the teachings of the Formularies then whatever the rite is, by definition it is not an “authorised service”.

If the canon is understood in this descriptive manner, GSTHW can simply clarify the canon at this meeting of GSTHW. A canon can be altered by simple majority at one sitting of GSTHW.


Although in some dioceses it might be possible for a gay person to receive a license from the bishop (either to function as a clergyperson or to hold a role as a lay person), a canon of the Church rules that such a person is “to be chaste” and “chastity” is “the right ordering of sexual relationships.” The right ordering of sexual relationships is not defined, but the highest legal challenge decided that “Such relationships can only occur within a Christian marriage which is defined by the Formularies as a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman…Those ineligible for entry [into ordained ministry] include those in a heterosexual de facto relationship and those in a homosexual relationship which is committed and monogamous in nature. Being gay or lesbian is not in itself a bar to ordination. But any candidate not in a marriage between a man and a woman must be celibate (page 2).”

The Final Report is clear that

The WG felt that the question of ordination fell outside it terms of reference. The WG notes that the status of ordination remains unchanged in this Church, and the recommendations in this report do not necessarily lead to a redefinition of the accepted meaning of chastity. We also note that there is an opportunity for GSTHW to consider this question further if it deemed it appropriate to do so. (Section V page 4)

In other words, there is no change to what is formally allowable in ordaining or licensing persons in a committed same-sex relationship. Anyone might still put forward a challenge against the clergy or licensed persons who is in a committed same-sex relationship – with possible loss of licence and livelihood. Similarly, the licensing or ordaining bishop might be challenged, with ultimately similar consequences for him/her.

In case some people are missing the breadth of the issue here, principals in Anglican schools, as just one example, are licensed by the bishop. Any principal in an Anglican school, hence, “not in a marriage between a man and a woman must be celibate”.

Others will note that the suggested blessing is, hence, explicitly a blessing of a relationship that is formally understood as not being chaste.

Gender or Sex

There continues to be discussion whether it is preferable to talk about same-sex or same-gender couples. The Report has opted for the latter. I think it is more helpful to distinguish gender, sex, and orientation. I also think that the days of binary definitions have gone. Here is a link to a helpful illustration.


The process leading up to this Report has been fraught with confusion. Even in the last week, we received three different pieces of information about how the Report proceeds: (1) that the whole report requires two separate meetings of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui (GSTHW), (2) that the whole Report requires only one meeting of GSTHW, and (3) that part of the Report can be passed at one sitting of GSTHW, but another part will require two meetings.


The Ven. Dr Peter Carrell has a series discussing it: Part 1; Part 2. This Report will be debated at the Christchurch diocesan synod (March 3), and there are four pre-synod meetings on this. GSTHW meets about this in May 4-11.


On Sunday, The Rev. Richard Bonifant, Vicar of St Andrew’s (Epsom, Auckland), published his decision that he would no longer officiate at weddings because the church only permits the marrying of heterosexual couples. Richard writes, “I don’t want to celebrate at the marriage of anyone until I can celebrate at the marriage of everyone!” As I have stressed previously, our canons are quite clear: “Any minister shall have full discretion to decline to conduct any marriage service” (2.11).


Related news: Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, said that priests should be permitted to bless gay couples on a case-by-case basis. The decision should be taken by “the pastor on the ground, and the individual under pastoral care”.


Comments are to follow the usual culture of this website: no anonymous comments; no ad hominems. We have a culture here of light not heat – we can disagree with each other’s positions respectfully. Also be conscious that, reading your comments are real people – many readers have suffered significantly around the issues dealt with in this series.

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36 thoughts on “Blessing and Chastity”

  1. Hi Bosco
    There is a simpler option, theologically speaking, and that is planned dismemberment of our church, into two parts, one of which follows the simpler approach you advocate above and one which follows the current status quo (re canons, constitution and formularies). This option is, of course, complicated from a legal and financial point of view.

    If, for any ecclesiastical, theological, financial or legal reason we do not want planned dismemberment, then I suggest we are left with a complicated theological option, along the lines the WG proposes, including the complexity of not being quite sure yet what to do re the definition of chaste.

    In particular, if we do not want planned dismemberment then we need the Christian Communities option (but preferably without the nomenclature of Orders of Consecrated Life), such option giving room for specific theological commitments to be pursued with some sense of security from bishops running interference.

    In short, I have a much more positive appreciation of Christian Communities than you offer here!

    1. Thanks, Peter.

      Could we have the concept of “Christian Communities” (from which you already suggest removing the nomenclature of Orders of Consecrated Life) but using another nomenclature – eg. “Network” – so one would have, I’m just pulling names out of thin air, “The Ridley Network” and the “Aelred Network”… rather than having “Christian Communities” defined (however cleverly disguised) by their attitude to homosexuality?

      I stress a point of mine again – it doesn’t matter how large a pro-SSB Network is, if the diocesan bishop, under this proposal, doesn’t “authorise” a rite, blessing committed same-sex couples doesn’t happen in that diocese. Belonging to the pro-SSB Network, in that context, simply continues the situation pro-SSB people have long been in now.


      1. Hi Bosco
        If our church agrees to the proposal a huge amount then depends on bishops (both local diocesan and House of Bishops); in particular, yes, there could be dioceses/hui amorangi where no SSB takes place and no CC to that effect can be formed.

        1. The confusion continues, Peter – and increases. Are you telling me that in a diocese where the bishop does not “authorise” blessing of a committed same-sex couple, you understand the proposal to be that not only do such blessings not occur, but individuals, groups, parishes, and ministry units will be unable to join a pro-blessing “Christian Community” (Network)?!!! I cannot see where you are getting such an idea. All this underscores that there is even more confusion than I thought – and at the highest level of leadership in our church!

          A second, different point: previous to these working groups (etc) parishes and clergy have been happily blessing committed same-sex couples without any loss of licences etc. In the diocese you describe, where the bishop does not “authorise” the blessing of committed same-sex couples, what might happen to parishes and clergy who continue to do so? You approach things from a pragmatic, political perspective – is the most likely scenario that nothing will happen…


          1. Hi Bosco
            I wrote “no CC to that effect can be formed”. That is, a pro-blessing CC might be formed but if the local bishop will not approve such blessings the pro-blessing CC will not effect any blessings.

            I imagine that if a bishop does not approve blessings and they happen anyway then any licensed minister conducting them would be disobedient to the lawful authority of the bishop. What discipline which then follows is speculative but presumably current and past experiences of discipline for disobedience to lawful authority would be a guide …

          2. Thanks. And yes, to all that, Peter.

            Might you humour me, and allow me to press this a little further: if the bishop forbids the blessing of committed same-sex couples, that would be one thing. But, if the bishop simply had not “authorised” such a rite, the question then shifts to: is such a blessing allowed (with “current and past experiences” of services allowed but not “authorised” coming into play)?


          3. In that case Father P, I should hope that Alternative Episcopal Oversight would be available to the CC in an episcopal unit where the bishop has forbidden SSB.

            Otherwise, you end up with the US conundrum, dioceses where the bishop forbids SSM and SS couples in those dioceses must travel long distances to find a location where they might receive a church-based SSM.

            The only saving grace for those couples is that TEC is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the bishop of the episcopal unit for the ELCA that overlaps the TEC diocese may allow SSM in their parishes.

          4. Who knows, David – remember we have three overlapping episcopal units (called Tikanga) just in the one Church – we may not need to seek out full communion with others 😉 Blessings.

          5. I have realized that there are Pakeha and Maori episcopal units that overlap each other in New Zealand, but I’m not aware of how the Diocese of Polynesia figures into that. Does it only cover its included Polynesian nations? Or does it also overlap all of New Zealand as a whole? Are there also any overlaps of Pakeha and/or Maori episcopal units with Dio Polynesia?

            This inquiring mind would be curious to understand how this works.

          6. Thanks, David. I am not agile in the theology, theory, canonical details, and practice of our Tikanga structure – other readers here may be. I can point you to our province’s website. I would imagine that, especially in Auckland, there will be individuals and communities, some identifying themselves as Pakeha, others Maori, and others Polynesian. Within this discussion, as you may have noticed in the Report, is the issue that, while in New Zealand we have marriage equality, in Polynesia male homosexual acts are illegal. Blessings.

    2. Marion Fairbrass

      I find it difficult to see these Christian Communities likened to Religious orders that are part of the Anglican Church. But I have not read the latest report and it may have changed since the last one which I did read.
      As someone who joined the Anglican Church because of the breadth and diversity of interpretation and theological beliefs I am very uncomfortable with the encroaching narrowness. I see the danger of arrogance in an assumption that any one of us knows the mind of God to such a degree that we need to separate ourselves from others with different understandings.

  2. “Related news: Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, said that priests should be permitted to bless gay couples on a case-by-case basis. The decision should be taken by “the pastor on the ground, and the individual under pastoral care”. – per Bosco –

    Just one more indication that there are Church Leaders who really do believe that same-sex committed and faithful relationships may be blessed by clergy who share that belief.

    This, one hopes may help the Bishops and clergy of ACANZP to realise that this is a pastoral provision that affects only the lives of those involved – like any other pastoral provision that the Church elects to exercise in a clear, purposeful demonstration of the Love of God at work in the lives of All God’s children.

  3. Thank you Bosco for your ongoing effort to achieve a just resolution here – I am sure Jesus is proud of you and in fact inspiring you.

    “Those ineligible for entry [into ordained ministry] include those in a heterosexual de facto relationship and those in a homosexual relationship which is committed and monogamous in nature. Being gay or lesbian is not in itself a bar to ordination. But any candidate not in a marriage between a man and a woman must be celibate (page 2).”

    This is very poorly worded. Simply being in a chaste same sex relationship ought not preclude one from ordination because it violates no Christian principle. The last sentence is a tautology – by definition those who are not in a marriage between a man and a woman are, in the mind of the Church, celibate, because celibate means unmarried. They may or may not be chaste.

    Catholic priests, or example, in the Latin rite are mostly celibate. They may or may not be sexually abstinent.

    It is tragic that some ordained ministers are declining to celebrate any marriages and others have left the Anglican Churches for other Churches more open to celebrating same sex unions.

    Many Blessings

    1. Thank you, Chris, for your encouragement, and for highlighting the confusion in the Human Rights Review Tribunal Decision. I absolutely agree with you that sexual orientation should not affect ordination – but that is not always the case. Blessings.

    2. Bosco, those Vatican criteria, if properly interpreted according to the meaning of the terms used and in accord with cannon law, most certainly do NOT preclude ordaining homosexuals. And neither do they, certainly in this country, as the seminary rector at the time indicated.

      Many Blessings

      1. With our complex Tikanga/Christian Communities structure, Chris, I wonder if we can propose having an Anglican “Christian Community” in NZ with a German RC Visitor or Protector bishop?! Blessings.

  4. Be more specific please with network names so that everyone’s hands are on the table and not in their lap; The Ridley anti-SSB Network and the Aelred pro-SSB Network.

  5. What could potentially happen is, with every geographical location being simultaneously in a Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pakeha diocese, that there could be two quite different policies in the same “space”. Jonathan.

  6. Rev Deborah Wilson

    Somewhat startled by your comment regarding the Principals of Anglican schools- surely this only refers to the Principals of diocesan schools?

    1. I am fascinated by your being startled, Deborah. Why does this particularly startle you? Why are you suggesting the current requirements are limited to diocesan schools? I am certainly aware of principals of non-diocesan Anglican schools who hold a licence for their position from the bishop – I was present at such a licensing just recently. And my point wasn’t to focus on principals. There are any number people who have a licence from the bishop for their particular role. They are all explicitly included in our Church’s requirements as they currently stand. And, as the Report indicates, the situation is unchanged by the Report’s proposal. Any in breach of “chastity” are particularly vulnerable should people take umbrage at the Report’s implementation without a redefinition of “chastity”. Blessings.

    2. The German Catholic Bishops gave up discriminating against gay employees of the Church who are in same sex relationships a few years back in a public change of disciplinary policy. Unfortunately such discrimination is still rife in the rather more conservative US Church.

      many Blessings

  7. Would that include those involved in licenced lay ministry? (I’m guessing there might be more of these than those in ordained ministry!) Jonathan.

  8. Hi Bosco and David

    Bosco: humour me all you like, but I don’t know the answer to your question! 🙂

    David: we do not have a strong signal one way or the other from our bishops whether they are prepared to support some form of AEO. If they do, I entirely agree that AEO should be available to those on either side of the issue who dissent from the existing or new status quo of their Diocese.

  9. The one thing I will say about this topic Bosco- the world would be a way better place if chastity was the default state.

    Men seem to abuse. It’s not right and it’s not fair. And I’d like to think that the strict rule towards celibacy would influence at least a few priests to stay chaste.

    Instead it seems to have introduced more sin to the equation.

    Is sex inherently abusive and how would the churches deal with it seems to be the logical culmination of this discussion.

    And chastity until the issue is decided?

    All cultures/religions/people- no discrimination?

    Homosexuality is the least of human sexual issues regarding abuse.

    1. Thanks, Tracy. I think that like other powerful aspects (electricity, wind, money, power, politics,…) sex can be used for great good and for great evil. Blessings.

  10. A thought provoking article, Chris. Makes me curious as to whether we could agree on blessing the relationships of same sex couples here, which would still leave open our disagreement on whether to marry or offer marriage-like services for same-sex couples. Jonathan.

  11. Dear David and Bosco
    Re overlapping episcopal units:
    a. I am not aware of any Maori or Pakeha episcopal units which overlap with the Diocese of Polynesia (= islands to the north of Aotearoa NZ);
    b. I believe there are congregations in Auckland led by ministers licensed by the Bishop of Polynesia (but I am not 100% sure of this). (There was a time, a few years ago, when Polynesia had one of its bishops resident in Auckland and exercising episcopal authority over Diocese of Polynesia congregations there).
    c. There is a certain amount of dexterity in some places which is hard to keep up with: we have a Tongan congregation in Christchurch city, Pakeha Diocese of Christchurch, which was led by a priest licensed by and accountable to the Bishop of Polynesia. Recently that priest has changed jurisdictions and become licensed by and accountable to the Bishop of Christchurch.
    d. There are Maori congregations in major Australian cities, overseen by NZ Maori bishops, who have worked out relationally with local Australian bishops how this ministry takes place. (I am not clear on what precise jurisdictional responsibilities belong to which bishop or whether they are jointly shared.)

    1. Fathers P & B, do either of you have a handle on how the Maori as a Tikanga feel about same-sex relationships? Do they have a cultural past where there was a place for LGBTQ folks in their historic communities? Did they hold a place of honor or spirituality?

      Many different tribes in North America (Canada & USA) did. Modern, especially young (Millennial) Native Americans sometimes reach back in cultural time and recapture the concept of referring to themselves as Two-Spirit people. Some federally recognized tribes in the US have legalized SSM on their reservation lands, especially after the US Supreme Court decision.

      However, many Episcopalians in the US, have been taken by surprise that the indigenous tribes that are part of the Anglican Church of Canada have been opposed to that church authorizing SSB/M. Especially since the National Indigenous Bishop in ACoC, is the former Bishop of Alaska in TEC and had always seemed friendly and accepting of LGBTQ folks when he worked in various capacities in TEC. There are two episcopal units in ACoC that are Indigenous and those two bishops, plus the National Bishop say they have consulted “the Elders” and Canadian indigenous are opposed to same-sex relationships, claiming no historic cultural heritage of anything such as Two-Spirit people. However, the young Canadian indigenous, similar to their US counterparts, especially those in Southern Canada, state that isn’t true. The border is the white folk’s imaginary line that didn’t separate the that indigenous folks and the traditions are the same.

      It is similar for indigenous people in Northern Mexico as well

      1. I have no expertise in the historical dimension you ask about, David. I was not a member of General Synod Te Hinota Whanui at its previous meeting, but my understanding is that both Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pacifica were wanting to move forward, but Tikanga Pakeha was not able to come to sufficient consensus – there was some frustration about this from the other two tikanga and a determination to move forward at this meeting (in May this year). One meeting cannot bind a future meeting, of course. But many (most?) of the same people will be present this time. Peter, as you may realise, is a member this time. Blessings.

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