For some the Cathedral’s approach falls far, far short of what the church should do to welcome and celebrate same-sex couples. From this perspective, if this is all that can be offered to gay and lesbian couples within the current law then it is, in truth, unjust and insulting. If even this is not permitted by current teaching and guidance then all talk of “welcome” and “radical Christian inclusion” is simply pious, prelatical platitudes.
For a second group this solution represents an acceptable, even admirable, Anglican via media of legitimate pastoral accommodation and compromise for the sake of unity. It should, therefore, be commended more widely (as apparently it is to enquiring parish clergy in Southwark dioceses). It is a good example of what the Bishop of Chelmsford set out as his vision in his March Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod, leading to widespread concerns among evangelicals in the diocese:
Let me plain: LGBTI+ people are welcome in the churches of the Chelmsford diocese. They are welcome and we want to listen to them and work with them so as to find appropriate ways of expressing their love – for it is not good for human beings to be alone – in permanent, faithful, stable relationships. At the moment there is no consensus in the Church of England for those relationships to be formally blessed in Church, or for the Church of England to embrace same-sex marriage, but the current arrangements do welcome lay people and clergy into civil partnerships and there is no reason why prayers of thanksgiving for these relationships – perhaps a Eucharist – cannot be offered. We do not want same-sex couples to be cut off from the Church, and we want those who come to us seeking God’s blessing for their love to receive the guidance, challenge and support of the Church.
For this to happen, however, it either needs to be clearly shown that such services are (as the Cathedral claims but Davie disputes) within the bishops’ guidance or that guidance needs to be adapted to enable this form of accommodation.
For a third group, however, as the widespread concern among evangelicals in Guildford and Southwark dioceses shows, such services clearly reject the spirit and probably the letter of the church’s current teaching and guidance.