The Church of England response to the US Episcopalian consultation
From the Bishop of Buckingham, the Dean of Guildford, the Rt Revd David Gillett, the Revd Andrew Lightbown, 76 others of the clergy, and 36 members of the laity
Sir, — We have read William Nye’s letter to the Episcopal Church in the United States (News, 20 April) with considerable interest, surprise, and, to be honest, disappointment, and wish to dissociate ourselves from it.
Mr Nye writes about pressure from the Church of England to dissociate from the Episcopal Church. We think this is a misleading statement. Pressure may well come from various conservative groups in the Church of England, but (unless the content of the letter is tested synodically), he surely cannot claim to speak for the Church of England as a whole.
Mr Nye’s letter, written on Archbishops’ Council stationery, gives the impression that he was acting as an agent of the Council and its trustees and writing with its authority. But, as he acknowledges, his response is simply the fruit of conversations held among a small cadre of professional staff. As a governance matter, this will not, we think, do.
The letter refers to a majority belief in the Church of England that the only legitimate locus for sexual relationships is within heterosexual marriage. This sweeping assertion cannot, in fact, be substantiated, as the Church of England, to our knowledge, has never asked her regular worshipping community what it thinks and believes about this.
Given the House of Bishops’ work on human sexuality, now would be a good time to find out. Would it be too much to suggest a survey of worshippers on the middle two Sundays of October, the dates used for the compilation of mission statistics? We would not be surprised to find, for instance, that, among lay people, a majority would recognise same-sex relationships as a valid and joyous expression of human sexual loving, and would wish the national Church to allow for the liturgical affirmation of such relationships.
To discover what breadth of opinion is actually held within the Church of England would provide much-needed evidence to inform the Bishops’ teaching document and future communications with the Episcopal Church in the US and the Anglican Communion as a whole.
ALAN WILSON, DIANNA GWILLIAMS, DAVID GILLETT, ANDREW LIGHTBOWN,
DAVID MEAKIN, MICHAEL SADGROVE, FRANCES WOOKEY, ROSIE HARPER, DIARMAID MACCULLOCH, MIRANDA THRELFALL-HOLMES, JONATHAN DRAPER, ROBERT THOMPSON, ANDREW TEAL, JANET FIFE, RICHARD COLES, CHARLOTTE BANNISTER-PARKER, HANNAH-LEWIS, KEVIN SCOTT, ANDY MARSHALL, NEAL TERRY, PETER LEONARD, COLIN COWARD, JEREMY DAVIES, WILLIAM LAMB, JEREMY FLETCHER, NADINE DANIEL, WYN BEYNON, PHILIP COCHRANE, ANDREW ALLEN, JONATHAN CLATWORTHY, ANDREW HAMMOND, NICHOLAS ELDER, SARAH BRUSH, BARRY NAYLOR, JULIAN HOLYWELL, DAVID RUSHTON, DAN BARNES-DAVIES, RICHARD WATSON, MIKE TODD, ANDREW DOTCHIN, CHRISTINE ALLSOPP, JAMES ROSENTHAL,SIMON KERSHAW, NIKKI SKIPWORTH, ANDREW FORESHAW-CAIN, MARJORIE BROWN, PRU DULLEY, RICHARD HAGGIS, MICHAEL ROPER, JEREMY PEMBERTON, DAVID AUSTIN, RICHENDA WHEELER, ALICE GOODMAN, SIMON RUNDELL, MARION CLUTTERBUCK, ALLIANDRA ALLISON, MARK PUDGE, DOMINIC HOLROYD-THOMAS, CATH HOLLYWELL, ELAINE DANDO, JONATHAN PAGE, DAVID VYVYAN, RORY REYNOLDS, SHARON ELDERGILL, JANE BRADBURY, JACQUELINE STOBER, TIMOTHY GOODE, ANTONIO GARCIA FUERTE, ROBERT KOZAK, DWAYNE ENGH, MARK LETTERS, BRUTUS GREEN, STUART CRADDOCK, ANDY ATKINS, SIMON ROBINSON, JULIA FRENCH, JANE CHAMBERLAIN, EMMA DUFF, AND BRUCE KINSEY (clergy); SCOTT PETERSON, SIMON SARMIENTO, ERIKA BAKER, TRACEY BYRNE, JAYNE OZANNE, TIM HIND, JENNY HUMPHREYS, MARTIN SKIPWORTH, SIMON CULLEY, RAH FROEMMING-CARTER, JEREMY TIMM, JAY GREENE, ROB EDLIN-WHITE, KATE ALLREAD, RICHARD WELLINGS-THOMAS, RICHARD ASHBY, STEVEN HILTON, JOSHUA CAMPBELL, SUE JONES, ALICE WATSON, RUTH WILDE, SALLY BARNES, HANNAH GRIVELL, PENELOPE COWELL-DOE, JUSTINE RICHARDS, LIZ BADMAN, MARY SUTTON, KISORI MORRIS, LAURA SYKES, FIONA MACMILLAN, NIC TALL, SUSAN STRONG, ANN MEMMOTT, CHRIS RICKARD, JACKIE TWINE, AND NICK BASSON (laity)
c/o The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Winslow, Bucks MK18 3BJ
From Canon Giles Goddard, Christina Baron, Jayne Ozanne, and ten others
Sir, — William Nye’s letter to the Episcopal Church in the United States was written in October. It was the result of consultation among staff, not among members, of the Archbishops’ Council.
Some may query whether this was the best way to deal with such an important matter. The letter was not reported to the General Synod in February, nor published by the Church of England. Thanks to the Episcopal Church’s culture of openness, we now know of the letter’s existence and contents.
Mr Nye asserts that for a majority in the Church of England “Holy Scripture is held to rule that sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman is contrary to God’s will.” It is not clear what steps he took to ascertain whether this is indeed the majority belief, and recent research surveys suggest that it is not.
Within the Church of England, there are widely differing views on this matter, including some strong support for affirming same-sex partnerships. (The number of heterosexual couples who both give the same address when marrying in the C of E seems to indicate significant disagreement with Mr Nye’s position.)
Further, it is telling that Mr Nye appears more concerned with the hypothetical impact on interfaith relations than with the very real impact on the lives and well-being of lesbians and gays.
The letter is, at best, an over-simplification of opinion within the Church of England.
GILES GODDARD (chair), CHRISTINA BARON, JAYNE OZANNE, TRACEY BYRNE, ROBERT COTTON, ANDREW DOTCHIN, JAY GREENE, SALLY HITCHINER, JENNY HUMPHREYS, PETER LEONARD, NEIL PATTERSON, CHRIS NEWLANDS, and PRISCILLA WHITE, members of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group
c/o The New Vicarage
Suffolk IP11 7PL
From Mr Anthony Archer
Sir, — The letter from the Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council to the Episcopal Church in the US has evoked much comment, from its status to its theology. It was courteous of the Episcopal Church to consult other Provinces, few of which seem to have replied.
It was to be expected that the letter would affirm current Church of England doctrine, but in it we see some thinking aloud about the future. For example, it expresses the view that to ameliorate fracture it is preferable for same-sex marriage rites to be provided as an alternative to the traditional rite, better on a trial basis, rather than for the definition of marriage to be redefined for all. But, above all, the Episcopal Church’s consultation is a clear reminder of the autonomy of each Province of the Anglican Communion in shaping its own doctrine and affairs, autonomy that will become starker if the Episcopal Church has to face further “stringent consequences” for its prophetic lead.
It is time the Church of England adopted that position rather than hide behind its de facto position in the Anglican Communion and wring its hands on the basis that it can do nothing until all other Provinces agree (in other words do nothing).
The letter seems indignant that the US Episcopal Church is pushing ahead in seeking to revise its Prayer Book while the Church of England is preparing a teaching document, not due for publication until 2020, a matter of no direct concern to the Episcopal Church.
The fact is, as others have noted, that the writing is on the wall on this issue, and debate needs to continue now. The next opportunity for the General Synod (the proper place for these discussions) to take stock and provide further input to the process will be in July, when my private member’s motion can be debated.
General Synod member
Barn Cottage, Little Gaddesden
Berkhamsted, Herts HP4 1PH
Speaking lives ended by two assassins
From the Revd Angela M. V. Robinson
Sir, — As we read the content of services in memory of the death of Martin Luther King (News, 6 April), it is important to do what some did: open a debate on what killed him rather than who. This made me think of the cost to our nation of our failure to do this after the assassination of the MP Jo Cox.
It was both sad and bad that her death was not debated with much seriousness. In retrospect, something should have been done (the referendum delayed?) to acknowledge the significance of what had happened, and to make time for all of us, helped by the best of the media, to realise that her death exposed the threat of a revolution in our nation which would brutally divide it and, if not avoided, would bring dreadful consequences.
The only clear trumpet call came from your leader on the Friday before the referendum, which argued that it should be cancelled. On the many occasions that I have re-read it, its summons to retreat has rung true.
The perpetrators of both assassinations were unbalanced men, in whose minds opinions that could sound quite reasonable to some were infested with a pathological hatred that demanded to be expressed in murders that they excused themselves for because they considered them justified: an often repeated pattern.
Martin Luther King’s legacy has lived on in his nation, but, for most of us, in ours, Jo Cox’s has been neglected — and here we are, having learnt nothing at all from it, drifting towards a situation that few desire but few resist: the typical harvest of the feebleness that refuses to put evil under the spotlight and see it for what it is.
ANGELA M. V. ROBINSON
32c Lulworth Road, Southport
Merseyside PR8 2BQ
From the Ven. Bill Brison
Sir, — Thank you for the article on Martin Luther King (Features, 6 April).
I was there. I had gone to Mississippi against the advice of my family, the Bishop, and a parishioner in Christ Church, Bethany, in the United States, whom I respected; but they paid the air fare.
The Council of Churches in the US provided cars to clergy who would go to the South and give transportation to blacks who needed to go to regional meetings. I arrived at a Baptist church in Cleveland, Mississippi, to find a large crowd of black people singing “We shall overcome some day”, the song of the protest.
I went into the church and was received with obvious joy. A police car was circling around outside with its siren growling. The singing stopped, and everyone looked at me. I was told that they would ask me to say a blessing, which I did.
We stopped for petrol one day, and the owner of the station picked up the phone, looking at the licence plate.
I was put up by a black family, who also fed me. On day, I was driving a group of black girls to a meeting, and it turned out that they had never seen the Mississippi River; they said they would like to. As we drove by the river, a car followed us with white men whooping and shouting. I said to the girls, “Hold on.” I did a U-turn, put my foot down, and headed for the black area in Cleveland, where I knew we would be safe, telling the girls to let me know if the car followed; but we got home safely.
2 Scott Avenue, Bury
Lancs BL9 9RS
Musicians need to be able, not just willing
Sir, — I write in response to “Suffolk churches are out of tune, music survey reveals” (News, 23 March). The report draws attention to the fact that there is a paucity of younger people exercising their gifts in this part of the Church’s ministry.
I am afraid that, in my experience, this is only one of the issues that the Church has in getting its relationship right with its organists and musicians. These problems cross areas of the theology of worship, aesthetics, and other areas of conflicting expectation.
I would suggest that the increasing ageing of organists and choristers is not the primary issue, although it is an astute observation that not everyone is going to last for ever. The main issues concern the proposed solutions to the problem that the diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich puts forward. It proposes that the most positive way to remedy the situation would be to invite anyone who happens to play any musical instrument, to whatever standard, to come forward.
This has all the hallmarks of clergy who understand and apply their theology of the priesthood of all believers, but have very little appreciation of the work that is involved in trying to get musicians up to a standard that the public would at least pay to hear. There also seems to be an implicit assumption that younger people will be attracted only to worship bands and choruses.
In my experience, young people are often attracted to choirs that are unified, disciplined, purposeful, and free of bossism. The proposed “return to the west gallery” custom is simply a rehashing of the music-group phenomenon that blights our churches — a derivation, and a throwback to the 1970s and 1980s, when parts of the C of E decided to throw away the transcendent dimension of worship and make the Almighty the “All-matey”.
Parishes that do not have an organist would be better seeking out amateur pianists in the congregation and sending them on reluctant-organist courses at the cathedral, or investing in organ lessons.
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED