A Uniting Church sub-group is trying to reignite debate on recognising gay and lesbian relationships within the organisation.

The move follows the blessing of four couples at a Sacred Union ceremony in Melbourne last month, led by Reverend Dr Robert Stringer and witnessed by 16 other clergy.

Stringer, who is national convenor of GLBT church group Uniting Network Australia (UNA), said despite a backlash from “conservatives” within the church, UNA members want the organisation to stop ignoring gay and lesbian parishioners.

“We want to raise the question of the pastoral recognition of gay and lesbian relationships in the church to be something more than it is at the minute,” Stringer told Sydney Star Observer.

“That’s a conversation we want to have over the next few years.”

On June 4 SSO reported online that the Sacred Union ceremony would take place on June 12 as part of the UNA’s biennial gathering.

Stringer said Uniting Church in Australia president Reverend Alistair Macrae was pressured to not attend the meeting after the story appeared.

“Conservatives picked [the story] out of the gay press and bombarded the president, who they knew would attend the conference on Sunday evening, and tried to persuade him not to go,” Stringer said.

He said he was also warned against potential repercussions for presiding over the ceremony.

“We would argue that it was within our powers to do it, but there is a possibility the conservatives might try and make a case against me. It’s been indicated to me that it might happen,” he said.

“If that does happen, I say bring it on — I’ll argue the case.”

Despite the Uniting Church deciding in 1997 to ordain gay and lesbian clergy, the church is yet to recognise formal blessings for same-sex couples.

The Sacred Union ceremony was developed by the UNA for same-sex couples as an alternative to a marriage liturgy.

Stringer said he welcomed debate within the church to make the Sacred Union liturgy formal.

“The differences are, we called it a Sacred Union. Marriage is by definition in the church between a woman and a man and there was no attempt to say this was a woman and a man,” he said.

Stringer intends to take the Sacred Union liturgy to the church’s Assembly Standing Committee and National Working Group on Worship for consideration.

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