While journalists focused on Church of England divisions over inclusion, the United Reformed Church made history. On 7 July 2012, its General Assembly, meeting in Scarborough, agreed that civil partnerships may be legally registered on URC premises if a local church in England or Wales requests this.
Some faith groups have already taken advantage of the change in the law allowing registration on religious premises – indeed Quakers, Unitarians and Liberal Judaism helped to achieve this legal shift. The URC’s historic decision to give congregations the freedom to host civil partnership ceremonies will be hugely encouraging to those who regard full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people as important for the church’s mission and ministry. It may also encourage other denominations to rethink their stance.
“The Christian faith on these isles faces vast challenges: the credibility of Church; the perception of church/religion as irrelevant and inconsistent; the silent takeover of ‘the religious’ by contemporary capitalist ideologies, and the danger of turning in on ourselves at every level of our life together,” one of the moderators, the Rev Dr Michael Jagessar, had earlier told the Assembly. “Are we able to model a theology of trust grounded on a generous God of abundant life?”
In its decision on civil partnerships, the URC perhaps indicated a willingness to strive to be “open for the Spirit to take us beyond presumed limits and boundaries, where we are all mutually inconvenienced for the sake of a larger story – for Christ’s sake.”
(c) Savi Hensman is a regular and widely published Christian commentator on public, political and religious issues. She works in the care and equalities sector, and she is an Ekklesia associate.