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The Archbishops and the Smithfield gay blessing

25 June 2008


From the Revd Dr Kenneth Leech
Sir, — The furore about the blessing of a civil partnership between two priests (News, 13 June) is as striking for its apparent lack of awareness as for its embodiment of “denial”.

Blessings of same-sex unions have been happening for many years in the Church of England, and even the most naïve of bishops cannot be unaware of this; yet they speak as if it were not the case. So much for “The truth shall set you free.”

The late Austen Williams, for many years Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, told the Westminster deanery chapter in 1968 that he had held many such blessings; and the Revd Malcolm Johnson held more than 300 at St Botolph’s, Aldgate, between 1974 and 1992. There must have been many hundreds more.

Twenty years ago, Dr Rowan Williams, in his foreword to Speaking Love’s Name (Jubilee Group, 1988), said that the approach of the Church of England to homosexual clergy was threefold: to encourage concealment; to reward successful concealment with promotion; and to abandon to the “gutter press” those who did not manage such concealment.

A former Bishop of London was happy to bless a Polaris submarine, but not happy about blessing human beings who loved one another. Which is the greater scandal for the Church?

89 Manchester Road
Mossley OL6 9LZ

From the Revd Dr Allan Jenkins
Sir, — Instead of rapping the knuckles of clergy concerned to demonstrate God’s love for all his people, bishops would do better to take more seriously their responsibility in their own dioceses to ensure adequate pastoral and spiritual care for church members who are homosexual.

Instead of setting themselves up as rule-makers and enforcers, Church of English bishops would serve God better by working to dispel the present atmosphere of fear and repression fomented by self-styled “orthodox” Christians as well as by their own attitudes and pronouncements.

If, as the Archbishops’ statement concerning the service in St Bartholomew the Great maintains, clergy are free to disagree with “the Church’s teaching”, then why did Archbishop Williams block the appointment of Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading for doing so? It is tragic that from that moment the present Archbishop of Canterbury has allowed the agenda of Anglicanism to be hijacked by those whose relationship with God seems so insecure that they cannot tolerate any disagreement with their views.

It is surely not “unscriptural” to take seriously the gospel promise of the future guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16.13), and be open to the possibility that God is leading other equally devout Christians to different interpretations of how the richness of scripture applies to life today.

The love, joy, and liberation of celebrations like that at St Bartholomew’s is much more redolent of the gospel than the intolerant mindset of those who hold that the physical expression of love between committed Christians of the same sex condemns them to hellfire.

Lecturer in Biblical Studies,
University of Chichester
The Vicarage, Church Farm Lane
Sidlesham, Chichester PO20 7RE

Lecturer in Biblical Studies,
University of Chichester
The Vicarage, Church Farm Lane
Sidlesham, Chichester PO20 7RE

From Dr Christopher Knight
Sir, — More disturbing than the press reports of the blessing at St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, of two priests who had a civil partnership has been the public acknowledgement that numerous same-sex blessings and celebrations in church buildings have been conducted since 2005, the year in which the House of Bishops issued its guidelines barring such services. Why have no disciplinary measures been applied to these wayward churchmen?

To my knowledge, one of the earliest infringements occurred in 2006 in a parish church in the diocese of Southwark, and the Bishop failed to intervene or take disciplinary action.

90 Crescent Drive
Orpington, Kent BR5 1BE

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