Global Briefs for Feb. 22

Marriage and Doctrine: In the same week two Anglican provinces have resolved to move in opposite directions on same-sex marriage. A commission of the Church in New Zealand said last week that gay marriage does not entail a change in church doctrine because it has presented blessing rites as “additional formularies” rather than a revision of the existing marriage rite.

“It is the view of the majority of the group that the proposed liturgies do not represent a departure from the Doctrine and Sacraments of Christ, and are therefore not prohibited by Te Pouhere [the province’s constitution],” a commission report said.

For the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, however, same-sex marriage involved a fundamental change in church doctrine and will not be permitted.

The South African bishops wrote:

The bishops again discussed and worked over their draft Pastoral Guidelines in response to Civil Unions within the wider contexts of Marriage and Human Sexuality in readiness for decision at Provincial Synod. These reaffirm our assurance that all baptised, believing, and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ. However, they do not change our current policy, which is that the Province “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions” (Resolution 1:10 of the Lambeth Conference of 1998).

The Prayer Book affirms “that marriage by divine institution is a lifelong and exclusive union partnership between one man and one woman”; therefore the draft guidelines affirm for now that “partnership between two persons of the same sex cannot be regarded as a marriage … accordingly our clergy are not permitted to bless such unions … nor are they permitted to enter into such unions while they remain in licensed ministry.”

New Archbishop: The Most Rev. Ng Moon Hing, 61, Bishop of West Malaysia, is the new archbishop of the Anglican Province of South East Asia. He was installed Sunday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and will serve a four-year term. Bishop Ng was ordained deacon in 1985 and priest in 1986. He spent an early part of his career leading outreach work to remote villages in the Malayan interior. He has been Bishop of West Malaysia since 2007.

Renewal and Reform Project: The Church of England’s Renewal and Reform project will receive £72 million ($101.5 million) in an effort to stem the tide of decline and stimulate growth.

The program aims to modernize the church and boost numbers of priests in training by 50 percent, or 600 new recruits annually. Part of the funding will come from withdrawing subsidies to rural parishes with dwindling elderly congregations and directing support to urban areas seen as having a potential for growth.

Church leaders had said it might take at least five more years for decline to bottom out. But John Spence, the church’s finance chief, told the Guardian that decline could continue for three more decades, from 18 people per 1,000 regularly attending church likely to 10 per 1,000. An 81-year-old was eight times more likely to attend church than a 21-year-old, he said.

The Rev. Arun Arora, the church’s director of communications, moved quickly to clarify the 30-year number, saying it was based on projections that assumed no change.

“They do not factor in the changes being proposed,” he told reporters. “Most crucially, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said this morning, we trust in the grace and transforming power of the spirit of God, who empowers and equips the church.”

A loud debate continues both about causes and remedies. On the whole evangelicals are strong advocates of the Renewal and Reform project. Their major critic is Professor Linda Woodhead, a sociologist from Lancaster University who claims that the project is putting ordinary people off because it demands too much of people.

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