Church of England votes to allow full Christian funerals for people who died by suicide

(Wikimedia Commons/Brokentaco)View of St Andrew's Church and the church cemetery in Hingham, Norfolk, England.

The Church of England's General Synod has voted to lift the ban on full Christian funerals for people who commit suicide.

Previously, members of the clergy have been forbidden from using standard Christian burial services for people who took their own lives. Priests have been instructed by the Church to provide an alternative service instead.

The synod had reportedly learned that the ban was widely ignored, prompting calls to update the law.

According to The Telegraph, synod members voted almost unanimously to change the law, with just one member of the laity voting against it.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Alan Gregory Clayton Smith, said that the rule was now "honoured more in the breach than in the observance."

"The traditional attitude towards the burial of suicides reflected the belief that all suicide was grave sin," the bishop said.

"But public attitudes had changed markedly by the second half of the last century as understandings of mental health had developed," he continued.

While the Church does not consider suicide to be a sin, it has maintained its opposition to assisted suicide.

Smith noted that clergy will still be allowed to object to a full Christian burial if a person died by assisted suicide or where a person was not avowedly Christian.

"There may be cases, probably a very small number, where a minister would have a conscientious objection to using the normal form of service. That could arise, for example, where it is known the deceased was avowedly not a Christian or where he or she had died as a result of assisted suicide," he explained.

Up until the 19th Century, those who had committed suicide with a "sound mind," along with those who have not been baptized, were refused Christian funerals. But in the 1880s, the priests were allowed to bury those who had taken their own lives without the standard service set out in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

According to Premier, the synod also voted to lift the ban on full Christian funerals for those who were not baptized.

In another vote, the synod supported a motion to allow clergy members to dress down for services in an attempt to make the church more accessible and relevant to the modern world. The motion will allow priests to lead services in casual clothing such as jeans and trainers.

Leyland vicar Alistair McHaffie said that the changes would help the church by "reflecting the way society has gone in the way of informality."

He noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has led the charge by wearing a pair of blue trainers to the synod. The archbishop, however, argued that they were in fact "walking shoes."

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