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Do you want me to resign over same-sex blessings, Archbishop Welby asks conservatives

09 November 2023

Testy exchanges held at Lambeth with groups on both sides of the debate

Sam Atkins/Church Times

Archbishop Welby prays at the General Synod meeting in York, in July

Archbishop Welby prays at the General Synod meeting in York, in July

ACCOUNTS have emerged this week of two fractious meetings between the Archbishop of Canterbury and representatives of groups engaged with Living in Love and Faith (LLF).

The meetings, held last Friday, were billed in the invitation as a “further engagement opportunity ahead of the meeting of General Synod in November, so that we are able to share with you the intentions of the bishops and so you are able to share your thoughts and concerns with us”.

In the event, it appears that the expectation was that the invited representatives would voice their thoughts, with just a short response from the Archbishop.

Two meetings were held, both hosted at Lambeth Palace Library. In the morning, about 25 representatives from groups who oppose the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples, or any change to the rules barring the clergy from entering same-sex civil marriages.

In the afternoon, it was the turn of representatives from groups campaigning for such changes to meet Archbishop Welby and members of the LLF staff team.

The director of the Church Society, a conservative Evangelical organisation, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, wrote about the morning meeting, revealing a testy exchange with the Archbishop.

In a post on Facebook, Dr Gatiss wrote that Archbishop Welby had asked those in attendance whether they had “confidence in his leadership or whether he ought to resign prior to his planned retirement”. Two people, including Dr Gatiss, raised their hands.

Another of those invited to the meeting corroborated this account, and regarded Archbishop Welby’s question as “very inappropriate”. They said that the participants did 90 per cent of the talking in the meeting.

Dr Gatiss reported that he told Archbishop Welby that clergy who taught “serious, soul-destroying error” ought to leave the Church, and “to be disciplined by the Bishops, who promised to banish error at their consecration services”.

Others at the meeting called for a pause in the implementation of the LLF process until the publication of pastoral guidance for ministers and chance to assess what structures could be introduced that might be acceptable to all sides of the debate.

Those attending the afternoon meeting were also given an opportunity to express their thoughts freely to Archbishop Welby. In a blog post, the Revd Colin Coward, said that more than half of the 34 representatives from progressive groups spoke at the meeting. “People’s contributions were universally thoughtful, heartfelt, and personal,” he wrote.

“Anger, frustration, and disappointment were expressed, plus, repeatedly, disbelief at the content of [Synod paper] GS 2328 and the retrograde step that it marks” (News, 27 October).

A member of the House of Laity, Professor Helen King, wrote in her account of the meeting that she spoke of “anger and sadness, and reflected that one thing I was thinking was whether the many hours I have spent on the LLF process over the last six years have been a complete waste of time”.

Both Mr Coward and Professor King reported that Archbishop Welby responded angrily when told by the facilitator, his former Chief of Staff David Porter, that he had only two minutes to respond to the points that had been raised over the previous 90 minutes.

“The Archbishop came across as very grumpy — at one point it looked like he was packing up to go home — and said he couldn’t do it in the time,” Professor King wrote.

“Rather than acknowledging and lamenting what had been shared . . . much of what followed also came across as self-defence,” she wrote.

Mr Coward’s account agreed: “There was no acknowledgement of the shock and distress in the room, and no response to the heartfelt, personal stories and experiences that many had recounted.”

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