Dispute over whether Tutu ceremony was a “blessing” or “celebration” of a same-sex marriage
The Rev Canon Mpho Tutu was asked to surrender her license as a priest of the Diocese of Saldhana Bay before, not after, her same-sex marriage was celebrated this month at a private hotel in the Western Cape. In an ad clerum letter to the diocese at the end of April, the Rt. Rev. Raphael Hess said that Canon Tutu had agreed to abide by the South African bishop’s agreement forbidding clergy to be participate in the blessing or solemnization of same-sex marriages.
On 3 May 2016 the Rev. Charlotte Bannister-Parker,an associate priest at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford presided at a ceremony blessing or celebrating the marriage of the Rev. Mpho Tutu (pictured) and Dr. Marceline van Furth at Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle Hotel.
Ms Bannister-Parker was given permission by the Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt. Rev. Colin Fletcher and Bishop Hess to preside at a ceremony celebrating the civil marriage held in Holland last December of the couple.
However, photos and press reports from the gathering report that before a congregation of some 80 people what may have been a blessing ceremony took place with the couple exchanging vows and rings, prayers offered and Scripture read with the service concluding with a nuptial blessing pronounced by Ms Bannister-Parker. “We now recognise you as wife and wife. You may kiss each other,” she told the couple according to the Cape Town City Press.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Oxford has rejected claims the ceremony was a blessing, saying it was a celebration permissible under protocols put forward by the Church of England’s 15 Feb 2014 House of Bishops Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage. The spokesman said it was their understanding the ceremony was faithful to the protocol, which states in part:
Acts of worship following civil same sex weddings
19. As noted above, same sex weddings in church will not be possible. As with civil partnership, some same sex couples are, however, likely to seek some recognition of their new situation in the context of an act of worship.
20. The 2005 pastoral statement said that it would not be right to produce an authorized public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships and that clergy should not provide services of blessing for those who registered civil partnerships. The House did not wish, however, to interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances. The College made clear on 27 January that, just as the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage remains the same, so its pastoral and liturgical practice also remains unchanged.
21. The same approach as commended in the 2005 statement should therefore apply to couples who enter same-sex marriage, on the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.
The diocesan spokesman said they would ask for a copy of the liturgy from the celebrant, which Anglican Ink believes will illumine the question whether the ceremony was a pastoral celebration or a blessing.
Writing to his diocese in his May ad clerum, Bishop Hess said he disagreed with the Anglican Church in Southern Africa’s stance rejecting same-sex blessings and marriage. He stated it was
“not permissible at the present time for Clergy to:
(i) Pray for same gender couples to celebrate their union
(ii) Bless the Union/Marriage of same gendered couples
(iii) Solemnise the union of same gender couples
(iv) Enter into such a union themselves.
To do any of these shall result in the withdrawal of the cleric’s licence, or the requirement to voluntarily hand over the licence.”
Bishop Hess further stated:
It is necessary for me, now, to refer to this couple, because Mpho Tutu is a licensed cleric and Honorary Canon in the Diocese of Saldanha Bay. I shall keep my comments to a minimum regarding my personal pastoral relationship with Canon Mpho, suffice to say in this Ad Clerum that Mpho Tutu has complied with the canonical requirement that the consequence of her marriage to Marceline van Furth has caused