THE College of Bishops has concluded three days of debate about how the Church might solve its differences over sexuality.
Although no decision has been made about what formal proposals will be presented to the General Synod in February 2023 — these will be finalised at the next College of Bishops meeting, 12-14 December — it is understood that the bishops acknowledge that simply to restate the existing ban on same-sex blessings or marriage in church is not an option.
During the bishops’ discussions at the High Leigh Conference Centre, in Hertfordshire, largely in small groups, it is said to have been clear that many bishops recognise that a change of policy is needed — whether a national shift or some form of pastoral accommodation is not yet clear. Even those who wish to see no change in the C of E’s policy, which also bans clergy from marrying same-sex partners, accept that the case would need to be freshly argued.
The agenda for the meeting was entirely given over to discussion about the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project, which attempted to clarify the Church’s mind on the issue of sexuality and gender identity, but left decisions about its practical application to the bishops.
A press release described how the bishops “shared their different views, and discussed how the Church should approach questions relating to same-sex marriage and civil partnerships, as well as other pastoral and theological concerns relating to human identity and sexuality in a way that honours the different deeply held convictions that exist among bishops and the wider Church”.
It was only at the final sessions on Wednesday morning that they looked formally at possible ways forward. The bishops are aware of a groundswell of opinion in parishes that the Church’s ban on same-sex marriage needs to be lifted (News, 28 October) — as they are aware of a minority of conservative Evangelical churches that consider such a move unacceptable.
At the conclusion of this week’s meeting, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, acknowledged both the continuing disagreement between bishops and their desire to find a solution. “The bishops’ honest and fruitful conversations were undergirded by a deep desire to walk together and to find a way forward that will be good news to the Church and to wider society. Bishops were united in their determination to come to a clear sense of direction in time for the meeting of the Church’s General Synod in February 2023.”
A spokesperson for the Next Steps steering group said: “The flow of the three days allowed the space for participants to speak openly and honestly, listening to diverse views with deep respect both in plenary and in structured and unstructured group sessions.”
The Archbishop of York said that the conversations had been held in an “atmosphere of collegiality, mutual respect, and understanding”.