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New ‘Living with Difference’ group is briefed to work for unity over same-sex blessings

01 September 2023

CHURCH OF ENGLAND

The Living in Love and Faith logo

The Living in Love and Faith logo

THE new group charged with offering “insight and reflections” on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) implementation process (News, 8 August) has been told that provision for objectors to the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples should not amount to a “concession to disunity”.

The Church Times has seen a briefing note, understood to have been circulated in July to members of the group, which seeks to “frame some of the questions that the new group might consider”.

In contrast with the LLF implementation groups that were convened in the spring and disbanded before the General Synod’s July meeting (News, 3 May), however, it is understood that the function of the “Living with Difference” group is not to contribute directly to the process, e.g. by drafting materials.

The group, “Living with Difference”, is due to meet three times in September, as the College of Bishops seeks to finalise the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) in time for the Synod’s November meeting.

A press release at the start of August described the group, not at that point given a name, as meeting for “facilitated conversations”, which would be reflected back to the College of Bishops.

A three-page document written by the Archbishops’ Council’s Director of Faith and Public Life, Canon Malcolm Brown, was circulated to the group.

It says: “The College of Bishops felt strongly that any differentiation should be the minimum that gave people confidence that those who use, and those who do not use, the PLF remain secure and honoured within the Church. There was resistance to the idea that structural differentiation should be a desired outcome. Rather it would be a concession to disunity.”

One of the new group’s tasks would be to “help define those aspects of differentiation that will deliver the required levels of assurance”, the note says. It suggests that consideration of whether an “opt-in” or an “opt-out” is preferable might be a useful starting point.

The note contains a reassurance that “in response to requests for a clearer theological rationale for this stage of LLF, a theological framework is being developed focussing on measures to help the church negotiate with theological integrity a period of uncertainty about both teaching and practice.”

The note continues: “Introducing the PLF does mean actual change — but not necessarily the shape of that change. How might Pastoral Reassurance be offered in a way which covered the period of initial discernment but did not prematurely determine the shape of the church that emerged?”

The document outlines the part that bishops might play, suggesting that for an “interim period” some “Extended Episcopal Oversight” might be necessary, in cases where the bishops in the diocese were “all of one mind” on the use of the prayers.

“Extended Episcopal Oversight” would involve “bishops acting together to
embody a collective focus of unity rather than seeing their unifying role only in personal or individual terms”, it suggests. In practical terms, this would mean some bishops’ offering support to parishes that use the prayers, and others’ supporting those which “could not, in conscience, use the PLF”.

A provisional list of members of the group names 15 people, including three bishops: the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker; and the Bishop of Horsham, the Rt Revd Ruth Bushyager.

The rest of the group comprises mainly members of clergy, with a handful of lay people, drawn from across the traditions of the Church of England. It is understood that the membership of the group is not yet finalised, and that the final list of names will not be published until after the group has met.

An Oxford Synod member, Professor Helen King, has published a blog post in which she set out the dates of the meetings of the “Living with Difference” group: 7, 14, and 28 September.

Professor King writes that several meetings of the LLF Steering Group of bishops are also scheduled to take place during this period, on 18 and 26 September, and that a residential meeting of the full College of Bishops is scheduled for 18-21 September.

More meetings are planned for early October, when representatives from various groups connected to the C of E will be invited to meet staff overseeing the LLF process, including the Bishop of Berwick, the Rt Revd Mark Wroe.

These meetings will occur before the House of Bishops meets in October. The groups invited to send representatives include those that campaign for same-sex church weddings, such as Inclusive Church and the Campaign for Equal Marriage, as well as groups opposed to the introduction of the PLF.

Explaining her decision to publish the dates, Professor King writes: “Why do these dates matter? Simply because, in the interests of transparency, many of us would like to know how and by whom decisions will be made on what to bring to General Synod.”

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