THE Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, has criticised a letter extending welcome to same-sex couples last month by Lichfield diocese.
Bishop Thomas, who chaired the conservative Evangelical pressure group Reform until 2015, was responding to recent guidelines issued by the Bishops in the diocese of Lichfield to all clergy and lay ministers which seek to end “intrusive questioning” on sexual practices (News, 18 May).
“Our basic principle”, the Bishops wrote, “is that all people are welcome in God’s Church: everyone has a place at the table.”
In his letter, Bishop Thomas disagrees with the Bishops that “nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
He writes: “The 1987 General Synod motion [on marriage, Canon B38], which remains the Church of England’s official position, speaks of the need for all sexual relationships outside marriage to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.”
He argues that the reference to “a place at the table for all” in the Lichfield document “might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion. This understanding would create a tension with the BCP Article 25 distinction between ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ participation.
“One of the practices in many churches is to draw attention to this distinction and to welcome those who have sought to repent and have placed their trust in Christ’s atoning work on the cross; it is then up to the individual members of the congregation to decide on their participation.”
Ordained and lay ministers should, however, discuss this issue with communicants, which, he says, “might lead to a decision not to participate in Holy Communion for the time being”.
“A fuller exploration of the consequences of discipleship may be needed before a teaching ministry can be considered” for those in sexual relationships outside of marriage, he concludes.