By John Martin

Hopes for union between U.K. Methodists and the Church of England are in the balance as Methodists moved a step closer to allowing same-sex marriages in their places of worship.

The Methodist Conference, meeting in Birmingham July 3, overwhelmingly approved a report titled “God in Love Unites Us,” by 247-48. It will now be discussed by regional synods in the countdown to final approval.

“God in Love Unites Us” represents major changes to how Methodists understand marriage and will pave the way to same-sex ceremonies. The recommendations include drawing up new liturgy to offer prayers for when marriages end in divorce and, controversially, also suggest that celibacy before marriage is no longer a requirement. Churches can “offer thanks for and bless” unmarried cohabiting couples.

The resolution states: “The Conference consents in principle to the marriage of same-sex couples on Methodist premises throughout the Connexion and by Methodist ministers, probationers or members in so far as the law of the relevant jurisdiction permits or requires and subject to compliance with such further requirements, if any, as that law imposes.” In a final step after local debates the national conference will consider final approval in summer 2020.

The Rev. Dr. Barbara Glasson, conference chair, said: “The debate was full of grace and prayerful thought. There were many personal, often painful, stories shared and representatives listened with great care and attention. My prayer is that this spirit of generosity and love shown today will be reflected as the proposals are discussed across the Church.”

In supporting same-sex marriage, the U.K. Methodists have moved in the opposite direction from their counterparts in the United States. In late May, the United Methodist Church “reaffirmed its stance barring ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals’ from ordained ministry and toughened sanctions for clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings,” TLC reported.

The Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Church of England have reversed roles in the other direction, with TEC enabling same-sex marriage, and the CofE reaffirming that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriage is strongly opposed by the U.K. church’s evangelical constituency, but they had too few votes to derail the plan. Methodist Evangelicals Together has issue repeated calls for the church to retain its traditional understanding of marriage and sexuality.

The chair of the Methodist Evangelicals Together group, David Hill, told Premier Radio: “I’m very saddened by that decision. The conference will claim that this is a decision that is being put out as a consultation — and it’s right that this is going to be discussed.

“We believe that as part of that good news God’s plan for creation is either that we are married as one man and one woman for life or that we are single and celibate just as Jesus was, and both of those ways of living are absolutely good news and part of God’s good news. To move away from that is to move away from the good news.”