THE RECTOR of St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield, the Revd Dr Martin Dudley, has issued a statement of apology to the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, for conducting the blessing of a gay relationship at the church on 31 May. He confessed that it was “inconsistent” with the pastoral guidelines issued by the Bishops in 2005.
He does, however, declare that he is “profoundly uneasy” with much of the content of the Bishops’ statement, “which anecdotal evidence suggests is being widely, though discreetly, disregarded in this Diocese [London] and elsewhere”. It is open to differing interpretations, he says.
The high-profile service followed the civil-partnership ceremony between the Revd Peter Cowell and the Revd Dr John Lord, and was attended by 300 people. It used a liturgy closely modelled on the 1662 Book of Common Prayer marriage service.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York reprimanded Dr Dudley in a joint statement soon afterwards, which said that clerics who disagreed with the Church’s teaching were “not at liberty simply to disregard it”. Bishop Chartres also warned Dr Dudley: “St Bartholomew’s is not a personal fiefdom” (News, 20 June).
The Bishop initiated an investigation, and further warned that he would be referring the matter to the Chancellor of the diocese. In Bishop Chartres’s absence last week on holiday, Dr Dudley’s letter of apology was issued, with Dr Dudley’s permission, by the Assistant Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent.
The investigations had involved a “series of frank discussions” with Dr Dudley, Bishop Broadbent said in an accompanying statement. “As a consequence, the Rector has made expressly clear his regret over what happened at St Bartholomew the Great and accepted the service should not have taken place. Bishop Richard considered the matter and has decided to accept the Rector’s apology in full. The matter is therefore now closed.”
The House of Bishops’ 2005 statement suggested that clergy had a certain amount of leeway: “Where clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership they should respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case.”
Dr Dudley writes that he regrets the embarrassment and notoriety the service attracted. “I now recognise that I should not have responded positively to the request for this service.”
Referring to the bishops’ pastoral statement, he says that, despite his unease: “Nonetheless I am willing to abide by its content in the future, until such time as it is rescinded or amended, and I undertake not to provide any form of blessing for same sex couples registering civil partnerships.”
In a further response to three Evangelical churches near St Bartholomew’s — St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, St Peter-upon-Cornhill, and St Botolph-without-Aldersgate — who have declared their fellowship with Dr Dudley to be broken, he addresses schism and the Donatist heresies. He describes St Bartholomew’s as a “pantechnicon” church, “a wonderful large van into which you pile everything and sort it out later”.