THE College of Bishops meets in Oxford next week, when the main item on its agenda is how to follow up the Shared Conversations about sexuality, which have been taking place over the past two years.
This week, those who are planning to attend the meeting, which includes all diocesans and suffragans, were in receipt of three separate letters urging them to encourage the Church to be more open to people in same-sex partnerships.
On Wednesday, an open letter signed by 131 members of the General Synod, calling for “greater clarity and consistency”, was published. It asked the bishops to lead with a “sense of urgency and sensitivity”, and to develop the “relational approach” of the Shared Conversations.
“We are keen that the College of Bishops is unequivocal in its acknowledgement that all, including those who identify as LGBTI, are essential to the health and future of our Church and mission to the wider world,” the letter said.
The signatories, who represent more than a quarter of the Synod, are drawn from 38 dioceses; half are clergy, and half lay people.
The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, one of the organisers of the letter, spoke of a “growing consciousness across the Church that our response to lay and ordained LGBTI Christians cannot stay as it is. We need far greater honesty and transparency with one another.”
Another letter, signed by eight members of the clergy, all married to same-sex partners, and eight lay people also in same-sex marriages, was published in The Sunday Times this week; it called for “greater inclusion that will enable those parishes that wish to do so to celebrate the love that we have found in our wives and husbands”.
They wrote: “We fully appreciate that the time may not yet be right for a change in the Church’s official understanding of marriage. But many in our parishes have already made that move and it is time to respect that a diversity of theology within the Church now exists and that there is more than one understanding of what a faithful Christian may believe on these issues. . .
“We look forward to welcoming a first step in that process and a move away from the harm and hurt that has so often been done in the name of the Church.”
A further seven clergy couples and Readers had indicated their support “whilst wishing to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves, and often their bishops, from attack”.
A third letter was produced on Wednesday by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM). Its chief executive, Tracey Burne, wrote: “We remain hopeful that the God who has been faithful to LGBT people thus far, will lead the Church into new ways, and that the time is now.”
The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, said that the bishops were receiving “letters from all sides”.
There has been little indication from the bishops of what the next steps might be. In a response to a question at the Greenbelt festival about when it might be possible for a civil partnership to be blessed in church, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that he did not know. “I can’t see the road ahead.”