The Church of England is facing renewed pressure to reconcile its divisions over homosexuality after the Church of Scotland agreed plans it hopes will enable openly gay clerics to serve as ministers without a split in the church.
Under plans agreed by the General Assembly, which is meeting in Edinburgh, congregations will be able to invite people in civil partnerships to become their minister without formally changing the Church of Scotland’s traditional teaching on sexuality and marriage.
Instead, those congregations will be able to “opt out” of that aspect of the Church’s teaching.
The Assembly will discuss whether a similar approach could be applied for same-sex marriage as civil partnerships later this week.
South of the border, the Church of England already allows clerics to form civil partnerships as long as they claim to be celibate. But the Church of Scotland’s approach does not require celibacy.
The Very Rev David Arnott, who coordinates the General Assembly’s business, said that although the Presbyterian structure of the Church of Scotland is different from that of Anglican churches, he hoped the plan could offer a “template” for the Church of England to consider.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme: “We are not going to change people’s minds, we have to come to a way of living together with our differences and living with our diversity and I hope that we’re able to do that.”
The Church of England has begun a process of “facilitated conversations” on the issue of sexuality following a call by the Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev Justin Welby to find a model of “mutual flourishing” for both sides rather than a vague compromise.
The Rev Sally Hitchiner, an Anglican priest and founder of “Diverse Church”, a group for young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians, said the Church of England should “look carefully” at the Scottish arrangements.
“It sounds very similar to the Church of England’s policy on remarriage of divorcees and I think that works very well and actually I think that protects conservatives,” she said.
“In the conservative wing of the Church of England people genuinely are concerned that in 10 or 20 years they won’t be able to hold those views.
“If we can find a model like the Church of Scotland I think it could protect conservatives within the church while still allowing those of us who want to marry people of the same sex and indeed be married ourselves we should do so.”
Canon Rosie Harper a prominent liberal cleric added: “This is a very interesting thing which at least makes what they doing overt rather than smoke and mirrors like it is in England.”
The Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain, one of the first Church of England priests to enter a same-sex marriage, tweeted: “I am deeply glad that the Church of Scotland has followed where the Spirit of God is leading.”