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The Methodist Church was founded by two brothers, John and Charles Wesley in England during the 18th century. It is the third largest Christian denomination in Britain, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. It has about 6,100 churches, about 330,000 full members, and more than one million other adherents.

Of all of the faith groups in Britain, the mainline denominations like the Methodist Church are probably experiencing the greatest degree of conflict over the rights to be given to their gay and lesbian members. More liberal religious groups, like the Unitarians, accepted homosexuality as simply another normal and natural sexual orientation decades ago. More conservative denominations, like Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals have retained the historical Christian beliefs which condemn all same-sex behavior.

At their 2005 convention, they decided to allow their ministers to bless same-sex relationships in a formal church ritual.

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Methodists adopt local option on blessing of same-sex relationships:

At their conference which started on 2005-JUN-23 in the Riveara Centre in Torquay, the Methodist Conference discussed their denomination's in-depth report on human sexuality. It is a recent review of the "Pilgrimage of Faith" report adopted in 1993. The review took two years and involved contributions by in excess of 160 congregations, groups and individuals. A draft version of the report indicated that some Methodists reject full inclusion of sexually active homosexuals within the denomination. However, it found that other members "...are moving towards allowing the full inclusion of sexually active lesbians and gay men in stable and committed relationships, whilst not necessarily believing that same-sex sexual activity is what God intends."

Many speakers at the conference described the positive contributions that gay and lesbian church officials had made to the denomination. One speaker, Ken Holdsworth, of Somerset, mentioned that the presence of elderly same-sex couples in his congregation had not upset other worshippers. He said: "We need to get on with blessings." Only one speaker was opposed -- concerned that the church would move away from its biblical roots if it accepted homosexuals.

The delegates decided on JUN-29 that the denomination should become "welcoming and inclusive," and not turn people away because of their sexual orientation. Delegates decided to allow its ministers to bless same-sex relationships. The Methodists thus became the first large Christian denomination in Britain to take this step. They have asked their Faith and Order Committee to prepare guidelines to help ministers respond to requests by same-sex couples to conduct prayers or services of blessing. The document is expected to be distributed in the fall. Individual ministers will probably adapt the existing Methodist liturgy for the blessing of a opposite-sex couple for use with same-sex couples. The church intends that blessing services are not be regarded as weddings. However, church officials did acknowledge that many couples and the society as a whole might view them as marriages.

This move is in stark contrast to the situation in the Anglican Communion:

bullet An Anglican Church of Canada diocese in British Columbia, Canada has been blessing same-sex relationships for years.
bullet A gay priest in a committed relationship was consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, USA.
bullet The rest of the Anglican Communion has, in essence, expelled its Canadian and American provinces for taking these steps.

The decision by conference delegates appears to have been influenced by new government legislation which will come into effect on 2005-DEC-05. The "Civil Partnership Act" creates civil partnerships for same-sex couples which grant them many of the economic benefits, rights, and protections of married opposite-sex couples.

An unidentified spokesperson said: "We have decided, with the law changing in December, we as a Church need to provide guidance to our ministers, who will be allowed to take an individual decision as to whether or not they want to bless gay couples. We will leave it on the conscience of each minister as to what they want to do. No minister will be forced to do it or forced not to do it. It would be on the conscience of the Church to allow that. It will be allowed once the law is introduced in December."

The Rev Jonathan Kerry, coordinating secretary for worship and learning, said: "There is clearly still a very wide range of opinion within the Methodist Church on this issue. But thanks to the positive approach people have taken to discussing this 'Pilgrimage of Faith,' we continue to share our views without conversations becoming arguments....This is not the end of this Pilgrimage. We will keep the process going, and revisit it at future conferences. The evidence gathered this time makes it clear that peopleís views do change with time. The challenge for us as a Church is to keep discussing the small number of areas where we disagree, while celebrating and drawing strength from the many areas where we do agree. As a Church we want to be outward looking and active in doing Godís work in the world, whilst still finding time honestly to discuss difficult areas like this." On another occasion, he said: "People are saying if we register civil partnerships, can we have prayers or services. Is there something we can do in the church? It would be OK in certain circumstances." 1,2,3,4

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Impacts of the 2005 decision:

The Methodist Church and the Church of England have been holding unity talks. They recently signed a "covenant" agreement. One impediment has been the lack of bishops in the Methodist Church. The delegates to the 2005 conference also decided to begin discussions about creating bishops within the denomination. This might help the two denominations move closer together. However, the Methodist's move towards recognition of same-sex relationships may well cause severe consternation in the Church of England.

The Methodists will still refuse to ordain gays and lesbians in loving, committed relationships. If past history of other denominations is any guide, that will undoubtedly be the next conflict to settle.

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References used:

  1. Ruth Gledhill, "Methodists will bless gays," Times Online, 2005-JUN-30, at:
  2. Stephen Bates, "Methodist leaders vote to bless gay couples," Guardian Unlimited, 2005-JUN-30, at:
  3. Ruth Gledhill, "Methodists may bless gay couples," Times Online, 2005-MAY-07, at:
  4. "Methodists to Respond to Same-Sex Blessings to Keep Unity with Anglicans," Christian Today, 2005-MAY-09, at:

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2005-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson
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