Gay-blessing apology

30 October 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Fabulous setting: St Bartholomew the Great in central London

Fabulous setting: St Bartholomew the Great in central London

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”.

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