BISHOPS held “fruitful” conversations with LGBTQ-inclusion groups last week, as the College of Bishops considers what proposals to put to the General Synod when it meets in February.
The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Bev Mason, was one of four bishops from the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) “Next Steps Group” who met campaigners for LGBTQ-inclusion in the Church on Friday.
After the meetings, which were billed as a listening exercise and took place in Lambeth Palace, Bishop Mason said: “We were very pleased for the opportunity to meet with the particular groups and grateful for their time, their insights and reflections.” Meetings with groups that campaign for a more conservative approach to sexuality are planned to take place shortly.
The other bishops who took part on Friday were the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; the Bishop of Fulham, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker; and the Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley.
A spokesperson for the Bishops of London and Fulham said that they could not comment on the content of the conversations, but described the encounters as “fruitful”, an assessment with which Bishop Mason agreed.
In total, representatives from 21 organisations are meeting bishops from the Next Steps Group. A Church House statement said that “the purpose of these meetings is to offer these organisations the opportunity to share their particular hopes, concerns, and insights.”
It continued: “The learning from these meetings will be fed into the Bishops’ discernment process that begins at the end of October 2022, and will conclude in time for the meeting of General Synod in February 2023.”
Some of the meetings have already taken place, while others are scheduled for next week.
The eight groups which met bishops on Friday were Changing Attitude England, the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, the Ozanne Foundation, MOSAIC, OneBodyOneFaith, Inclusive Church, Diverse Church, and the General Synod’s Gender and Sexuality Group.
The other groups on the list are The Society, Affirming Catholicism, the Society of the Holy Cross, the Church Missionary Society, the Church of England Evangelical Council, New Wine, USPG, the Church Society, the HTB Network, Living Out, the Junia Network, the Society of Catholic Priests, Fulcrum, and the Evangelical Group of the General Synod.
Professor Helen King, who is vice-chair of the General Synod’s gender and sexuality group, took part in a meeting on Friday, and described the bishops as “genuinely wanting to listen”.
“There’s a general recognition that there is an appetite for change,” she said, referring to the contents of the LLF reports published at the start of September (News, 6 September).
Asked what she thought the “mind of Synod” might turn out to be in February, when bishops are expected to bring some form of proposal to the group of sessions, Professor King said that some members might accept blessings for same-sex unions, in line with the position adopted by the Church in Wales (News, 6 September 2021), but stop short of endorsing same-sex marriage wholesale.
The chair of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, the Revd Nigel Pietroni, who also participated in the meetings, said on Tuesday that the group were “looking for a roadmap for how we get to equal marriage”, but acknowledged that provision for blessings could be a staging post in this journey.
Two weeks ago, Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, the daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was prevented from conducting her godfather’s funeral on account of her marriage to a woman (News, 27 September), which Mr Pietroni described as a huge own goal” for the C of E.
“It is damaging to the Church’s mission to the country,” he said on Monday. He suggested that even those opposed to same-sex marriage or blessings none the less recognised the need for “a decision to be made. . . We have to move on.”
The Revd Colin Coward, who was representing Changing Attitude England, commended the united front presented by the groups on Friday. Among the areas on which there was unanimity, he said, was the need for a “conscience clause” in any change to the C of E’s approach to same-sex unions.
Professor King and Mr Pietroni also spoke of the importance of provisions to enable priests to opt out of conducting same-sex marriages or blessings were they to be permitted.
The Campaign for Equal Marriage is currently asking serving C of E priests to indicate, anonymously, whether they would conduct same-sex marriages were they to be approved by the Synod.