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Prayers of Love and Faith commended, despite final HTB plea

14 December 2023


THE House of Bishops’ decision to commend the prayers of blessing for same-sex couples was made despite a last-minute plea from leaders in the HTB network. Inclusive groups are urging churches to use the prayers this Sunday.

A group calling itself “the Alliance”, which comprises the current and former vicars of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), the Revd Archie Coates and the Revd Nicky Gumbel, along with 23 other figures in the C of E, wrote to the Bishops on Monday, the day before the meeting at which agreement was reached to commend the prayers (News, 12 December).

The letter says: “It is not too late to delay the commending of the Prayers of Love and Faith until the complete package of the Prayers, the full Pastoral Guidance and the Pastoral Reassurance are all presented to Synod.”

The Bishops are also urged to provide “formal legal structural provision” for those who object to the introduction of the prayers. Such a settlement “will enable those who feel compelled to pursue changes to doctrine and practice to be able to minister freely without their actions causing growing schism in the Church of England”, the group writes.

They add that structural changes “will allow those of us who hold on to the received Anglican heritage to have oversight, training, licensing and appointments that are aligned with current doctrine and practice”.

The group asserts that the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) are “a departure from the doctrine to which the Church of England has always held fast”, and seems to raise the spectre of legal action: a recurring theme in previous letters from the same core group (News, 5 July; News, 1 September).

“If continued, the present path is a risk-laden one, both for clergy and for bishops, because it vitiates the oaths of canonical obedience which includes the words ‘in all things lawful and honest’,” the most recent letter warns.

Catholic as well as conservative Evangelical traditions in the Church are represented among the membership of the Alliance. The director of Forward in Faith, Tom Middleton, and the chair of the Catholic Group in the General Synod, the Revd Adam Gaunt, are both among the signatories.

Along with Mr Coates and Mr Gumbel, the letter was signed by the chief executive of the HTB-linked church-planting organisation Church Revitalisation Trust (CRT), the Revd Sarah Jackson.

An independent review of the C of E’s Strategic Development Funding notes that 14 per cent of all funds had gone to projects exclusively run by CRT, and a further 29 per cent to projects in which CRT was involved along with churches from other traditions.

Other signatories to the letter include the leader of New Wine, the Revd Dr Rich Johnson; the director of the Church Society, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss; and the president of the Church of England Evangelical Council, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, the former Bishop of Blackburn.

After the November vote in the General Synod made the commendation of the prayers a near certainty, it was announced that Bishop Henderson would be involved in offering alternative episcopal oversight for parishes that were unable to accept oversight from a bishop who had supported the introduction of the prayers (News, 18 November).

Although previous letters from the same signatories have referred to the grouping as “an alliance”, this is the first letter that uses the term as an official name, and suggests that it is expanding.

“There are also a growing number of parishes and clergy that wish to come under our umbrella of partners whilst not being linked to any of the main networks that are represented by the Alliance,” the letter states.

The Church Times has seen evidence that at least one church has been approached by Mr Gumbel and Ms Jackson with a view to joining the Alliance. They spoke of hopes that 3000 churches will eventually sign up.

Companies House records show that a company called “AZ Alliance” was incorporated in July, with Ms Jackson listed as one of the officers. The nature of the business is recorded as “activities of religious organisations”.

AN INVITATION to use the Prayers of Love and Faith at the first opportunity this Sunday was issued on Wednesday evening by a collection of inclusive groups in the C of E, led by the General Synod Gender & Sexuality Group.

The statement describes the introduction of the prayers as a “moment of rejoicing”: “For the first time the goodness and holiness of committed same-sex relationships will be formally recognised in the liturgies of the Church of England.”

While acknowledging that the wait for stand-alone services continues, the statement, which is also signed by representatives of Inclusive Church, the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the Church of England, and MOSAIC, suggests that this Sunday “suggests a beautiful opportunity. . .

“In very many churches there will be in the regular congregation same-sex couples, faithful worshippers for years who have never had the opportunity to be named and celebrated in the words of the liturgy. . .

“We therefore suggest that, in as many parishes as possible where same-sex couples are regular worshippers, they should be named and prayed for as couples this Sunday, probably in the regular intercessions.”

Doing so, statement says, “entirely conforms with the current strictures on the use of the Prayers. But more importantly, it owns in the public space of Sunday worship, in the fellowship of God’s gathered people, the love and commitment that many couples have shown for years in spite of the disregard and hostility of the official Church of England.”

Other reactions to the announcement that the prayers had been commended were less enthusiastic about embracing their use.

On Tuesday evening, the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, wrote to all the clergy in his diocese, explaining why he had been one of the 11 bishops who voted against commending the prayers.

He writes: “The bishops have been advised that it is likely that such use is indicative of a change of doctrine,” and, “as your bishop I simply cannot advise you to use prayers that indicate a departure from the clear teaching of the Church of England.”

He urged incumbent priests who, “after considering my reasoning and guidance . . . still conclude that you wish to use your discretion” to use the prayers, to consult first with their PCC and churchwardens.

Bishop Williams asserts that “where a parish is presently in vacancy, I direct that the PLF are not used at this time”.

On Thursday the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) responded to the decision to commend the prayers. The national director, Canon John Dunnett, wrote that the CEEC “deeply regrets” the decision of the House of Bishops.

“In view of this announcement, CEEC remains convinced of the urgent need for structural provision to secure orthodox life and witness in the Church of England for the future. CEEC will continue to advocate and press for this,” Canon Dunnett said.

The statement highlighted the arrangements the body has already announced for alternative episcopal oversight, led by Bishop Henderson, and the establishment of a fund into which parishes can pay that will be used to support others that oppose the introduction of the prayers (News, 18 November).

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