Churches should hold gay weddings in order to ‘market’ themselves to potential new worshippers, a study has found.
Academics in the University of Leeds and York said in a report that receiving a license to carry out the services can be “a positive ‘brand’ for a place of worship”.
The commitment to same-sex marriage “can provide a vehicle for articulating the broader values of the place of worship to a wide audience,” the paper says.
Churches can even benefit from becoming known as “the gay church”, it suggests.
Places of worship must actively “opt in” to carry out the weddings, and just 182 are thought to have done so since the law was changed in 2014.
More than 40,000 places of worship allow heterosexual couples to marry, the researchers found.
The paper said: “As one Unitarian church reported, the commitment to same-sex marriage ‘gives us something distinctive to promote’.
“Or, as one Baptist church stated: ‘As a city centre church, this has positioned us more clearly in the ‘market’ – meaning those who want such a church know clearly who we are, and will travel to come to us (very few live nearby).’
“Being known for solemnizing same-sex marriage may therefore be a positive ‘brand’ for a place of worship and not, as some members of some congregations experience it, a negative attribute.”
The study found that in particular Unitarian churches, which number 170 in the UK, have been boosted by new worshippers after gay couples who get married there find their faith.
Around 44 per cent of the churches are now registered for same-sex marriage, the largest proportion of any denomination in the UK.
Churches which opted in found that they attracted new members who were attracted by the liberal ethos or who found it a more welcoming place than other denominations.
“Several places of worship also reported that opting in to same-sex marriage had attracted new LGBT visitors or congregation members.
“For example, one Unitarian church stated that ‘there has been an increase in attendance at services by gay and trans people’, and another Unitarian church stated the decision ‘may have encouraged some LGBT people to join the congregation’,” the report, entitled “Religious marriage of same-sex couples”, found.
In some cases couples are joining the congregations after they have left another church, such as the Church of England, because of its more conservative attitude to same-sex marriage.
Rory Castle Jones, 30, married his husband Rhys, also 30, at Gellionnen chapel in west Wales in August last year.
Both had previously attended churches from different denominations but rediscovered their faith after getting married.
“I had never heard of Unitarianism, I didn’t go to church or anything, wasn’t really religious before.
“But we wanted to get married and my husband wanted it to be in a chapel, because he’s originally from this area.
“He did want it to be in his family’s chapel, but they had a vote and voted against it, which was not very nice for his family,” he said.
“It’s become quite a big part of our lives. A couple of years ago I never thought I’d be going to church at all.”
The couple says the congregation has grown significantly since they began attending.
Numbers have grown from less than 10 people attending a Sunday service early last year to up to 30 attending now.
“Not an insignificant number of those are same-sex couples,” he added. “It attracts gay people but it also attracts other people because it’s a signifier that we’re a liberal place.”
Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, said: “We have seen people join and become active in several local congregations as a direct result of our welcoming stance on same sex marriage.”
Gay couples are still prohibited from marrying in the Church of England, and many other religions have also declined to register as venues for same-sex weddings.
Article Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/13/liberal-churches-boosted-lgbt-weddings-couples-join-congregations/