PICTURE the scene: the Bishop's post is being opened, and among
the invitations, job applications, and clerical outfitters'
catalogues are three troubling pieces of correspondence.
The first is from the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, informing
the Bishop that an ordinand in training, who is in the process of
looking for a title post in the diocese, has entered into a
The second is a letter of complaint from a group of parishioners
that the Vicar of X has just used the form of service for
prayer and dedication after a civil marriage from Common
Worship: Pastoral Services to bless a same-sex marriage in
The third is from the churchwarden of Y to say that the
Rector has just come back from holiday with the news that the trip
was a honeymoon, and a new (same-sex) spouse has moved into the
What is the Bishop to do? So much of the comment aired since the
publication of the House of Bishops' statement on same-sex marriage
News, 21 February) has revolved around how a bishop would
enforce the policy set down in that statement. The reality,
however, is probably that it will be others who will make
complaints, seeking to force bishops to act.
This is not new. This bishop's predecessors in the 1860s and
1870s would have faced multiple complaints and probably lawsuits
over ceremonial and liturgical practices, and powerful individuals
and pressure groups frequently and regularly promoting and funding
NONE of these scenarios is straightforward. In the first, it may
be noted that a recommendation for training for ministry does not
bring with it a guarantee of a title post or of ordination.
The Church of England, like other religious organisations, is
exempt from those parts of equality legislation that could make
refusing to place or ordain this ordinand open to challenge as
unlawful discrimination, but the question is yet to be tested in
In the second scenario, the Bishops have stated that "services
of blessing should not be provided" after same-sex marriage,
continuing the policy from 2005, relating to civil partnerships. It
is arguable that the use of an order for prayer and dedication
after a civil marriage after same-sex marriage falls within the
definition of services of blessing prohibited in the Bishops'
This question falls outside the scope of the Clergy Discipline
Measure 2003, as it concerns things doctrinal or liturgical. The
relevant statute remains the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure
Six people on the electoral roll of the parish concerned can
trigger a complaint under this Measure, and the bishop must first
give both accused and complainant the chance of a private
interview, and then he may dismiss the complaint, or submit it
first to a committee of inquiry, who may then dismiss the
complaint, or submit it for trial in the Court of Ecclesiastical
Causes Reserved. There is a great deal at stake in this process,
and legal, financial, and pastoral costs lurk around every
The third scenario also presents difficult legal and pastoral
issues. A churchwarden may make a complaint under the Clergy
Discipline Measure (CDM). The statement of the House of Bishops
indicates that to enter a same-sex marriage would not be
"appropriate conduct" for an ordained minister. To do so could, on
one hand, be seen as potentially amounting to misconduct, for which
proceedings may be started under the CDM.
It could, however, be argued in the face of such proceedings
that it is a matter involving ritual, doctrine, or ceremonial, and,
as such, not justiciable under the CDM, but rather under the 1963
Measure, as above.
MUCH has been made in recent comments of whether clergy acting
contrary to the House of Bishops' statement would be, by that
action, contravening their obligations under the Oath of Canonical
Obedience by not obeying their bishop in "all things lawful and
honest". Unfortunately for everyone, there is no clear definition
of the meaning of this obligation, nor of the scope of what is
lawful and honest.
There are actions that, while lawful, are not appropriate
conduct for ordained ministers. Ultimately, it will be for the
relevant court or tribunal to decide all these matters, if and when
a test case is brought.
In the late 19th century, court cases were frequent, but did not
bring much in the way of peace, happiness, or resolution. What is
undisputed today is that anyone who is involved in scenarios such
as those outlined above, be he or she a bishop, cleric, or lay
person, needs to seek reliable professional legal advice, the like
of which is not available on social media and blogs, or in
There is a great deal at stake: mission and pastoral care in
parishes, the ministries and livelihoods of the clergy, the mission
and peace of the diocese, finances, and, in the words of Section
42(7)(a) of the 1963 Measure, "the interests of the Church of
England". A test case may well come. Until then, we are all sailing
in uncharted waters.
The Revd Dr Will Adam is Vicar of St Paul's, Winchmore Hill,
in the diocese of London, and the editor of the Ecclesiastical