Same-sex Christian couple provide catalyst for church’s change

Nigel Appleton and couples news bannerIt’s been three years since the United Reformed Church (URC) became the largest UK denomination to allow its churches to decide whether they want to register to perform marriages of same-sex couples.

Cumnor URC, in Oxford, was one of the first congregations to register. The Revd Nigel Appleton, who at the time was its associate Minister, reflects on the church’s journey.

Like many other congregations in the URC, Cumnor URC’s initial discussions around the place of LGBT+ people were tentative.

While one or two members of the congregation were vocal in their opposition to anything other than heterosexuality as the only acceptable orientation for those seeking membership or exercising ministry, the majority sought to express a more open stance.

The catalyst for a more positive attitude came in the presence of a same-sex couple who began attending the church in 2010 and who have since become members.

A year after the Same Sex Marriage Bill was passed in 2014, The URC’s General Assembly began debating equal marriage.

In Birmingham 2015, I was privileged to speak on the issue during debates at the special General Assembly held in Birmingham. The outcome of the debate was to resolve to allow local congregations to determine their own position, but implementation would rely upon endorsement by the full meeting of General Assembly in 2016.

The Cumnor Church Meeting on 30 September 2015 resolved “to register for the solemnisation of same-sex marriages as soon as General Assembly authorises local congregations to do so and the administrative processes are in place for this to happen.”

This ‘decision in principle’ was an expression of solidarity with the same-sex couple who had been worshipping at Cumnor URC. It demonstrated the congregation’s desire to support them and acknowledged the pain being unable to marry may have caused.

In July 2016, the URC became the largest UK denomination to freely permit the celebration and registration of marriages of same-sex couples in its churches.

And, on 2 October 2016, Cumnor URC became the first church in the Wessex Synod to register for same-sex marriages. Registration was confirmed in May 2017.

We felt it would be some time before a marriage took place, so we marked this step in the life of our Church with an act of contrition and commitment within our Communion Service in June 2017.

Since then, there have been two same-sex couples who have married in our church.

My experience of working with these couples and conducting their marriage services has only served to deepen my conviction that the celebration of their commitment to one another in marriage before God expresses the life of the Kingdom and is of God.

BBC Songs of Praise will broadcast an episode on 18 August that marks the third anniversary of the URC’s ground-breaking decision, entitled Faith and Marriage. The show can be watched here and will feature same-sex couples from around the URC how have married in local churches.