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Bishops’ same-sex motion survives first round of debate

14 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally

HALF-TIME was reached on Tuesday evening in the nine-hour Synod debate on how, or whether, to introduce blessings for same-sex couples. No significant changes were made to the House of Bishops’ motion to continue working towards their implementation.

Before Tuesday afternoon’s debate even began, however, there was contention on the floor of the General Synod, as an attempt was made to alter the Synod’s standing orders to undercut those who want to trial stand-alone services of blessing using the draft Prayers of Love and Faith.

A lay member from the diocese of London, Debbie Buggs, tabled an amendment specifying that any forms of service to emerge from the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process be automatically classified as “liturgical business”, and therefore requiring a full synodical process stretched over several years.

The implication was that any attempt to introduce stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples on an experimental basis would fail, blocking the amendment to this end tabled by the Bishop of Oxford, due to be debated on Wednesday, which seems likely to attract significant support within the House of Bishops (News, 13 November).

Canon Simon Butler characterised the Buggs amendment as an attempted politicisation of the standing orders. It was, he said, “narrow and partisan”, and therefore an “inappropriate” use of synodical process.

After a counted vote by Houses, the amendment was lost, however. Only one Bishop voted in favour, and there was only about 20 per cent of support in the other two Houses.

After a short break, during which the few members who were not already in the hall made their way in, the main debate began in earnest, chaired, as earlier LLF debates have been, by Geoffrey Tattersall KC (News, 9 February).

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the Archbishop of Canterbury were the first two speakers. Both spoke in broad terms about the value of the LLF process, and expressed their hope that the Synod would endorse a way forward together.

Neither sought to dismiss the existence of strong disagreement within the Church and the Synod. The world, Archbishop Welby said, was supposed to know Christians “by their love, not their unanimity of thought”, echoing Bishop Mullally’s statement that “our unity does not come from our commonality but from Christ.”

Mr Tattersall opted to call seven members to make their maiden speeches, with four speaking in favour of the main motion to encourage the House of Bishops to continue to work on the implementation of LLF, three against.

Thirteen amendments had been tabled, which increased to 14 on the order paper as an amendment by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, was taken in two parts. The first was successful, changing the motion’s acknowledgement that “many in the Church on all side feel pain at this time” to remove the words “feel pain” and insert “are deeply hurt”.

Bishop Butlers’ second amendment — changing the description of the Bishops work from “progress” to “work and consultation undertaken” — received 207 votes in favour over the whole Synod, and 207 against.

The vote, however, was taken by Houses, requiring a separate majority in all three: the Clergy and the Laity were narrowly in favour, but the amendment fell in the House of Bishops, who voted it down by 23 votes to 11.

Clive Scowen (London) proposed an amendment calling on the House of Bishops to publish the formal advice that they had received about the legality of the new proposals, speculating that the fact they hadn’t suggested that it was not favourable to their view.

Responding, Bishop Mullally said that this was not the case: the legal foundation for the proposals was contained within the paper published by the Bishops last month, known as GS 2328 (News, 20 October).

Speeches for and against the amendment seemed to depend largely on whether a speaker favoured the proposals or not. Mr Tattersall remarked that something of a “war” was taking place as to which side could applaud the loudest.

There was no contest, though, for the speech that received the biggest laugh. The Revd Dr Tom Woolford (Blackburn) joked that he had been tempted to contact the British Transport Police after reading GS 2328, as he had “seen something that didn’t look right”. He argued that the legal advice should be published, and concluded: “I’ve said it, let’s see it, then it can be . . . sorted!”

Despite Dr Woolford’s eloquence, Mr Scowen’s amendment was defeated in all three Houses — although ten of the 24 Bishops who cast a vote favoured publishing the advice.

Several speeches made emotional appeals for there to be no further delay in implementing the Prayers of Love and Faith. “We can wait no longer,” said the Revd Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), in the final speech before the debate was adjourned until Wednesday morning.

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