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Exhaustion, hurt — and resignation after Synod same-sex debate

21 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Synod members during the LLF debate last week

Synod members during the LLF debate last week

A PROMINENT member of the House of Laity, Jayne Ozanne, resigned from the General Synod last Friday, as the motion concerning stand-alone services of blessing for gay couples received a muted response from campaigners for change.

In a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, which she published on social media, Ms Ozanne, a representative of the diocese of Oxford and, in 1998, one of the first appointed members of the Archbishops’ Council, wrote that she could “no longer in all conscience stay in an institution which continues to condone the abuse of LGBT+ people, particularly young LGBT+ people in our care.”

She described as “deeply abusive” and a “major safeguarding failure” the idea that LGBT+ people in the Church who wanted to see change should “just love and accept as a gift” people who had “harmed and hurt us”.

Ms Ozanne said that her biggest concern was for young LGBT+ people who attended conservative Evangelical churches, who were, she said, caused “untold harm” by those churches’ teaching on sexuality.

In September, a group of students at the University of Oxford produced a report on the churches in the city, rating how “safe” they were for LGBT+ students (News, 22 September).

Ms Ozanne told Archbishop Welby that the “unity at any cost” strategy that, she said, he was taking “causes great harm to those who are the least able to bear it. We cannot be unified with those who wish us ill, or worse, consign us to hell . . . I can only hope that you will one day see the harm that you have allowed to go unchecked.”

The co-chair of the General Synod Gender and Sexuality Group (GSGSG), the Revd Neil Patterson, expressed sadness at Ms Ozanne’s decision, and paid tribute to her work over 16 years on the Synod.

She had, he said, “faced an extraordinary amount of unjustified hostility and abuse, seen and unseen, for her courageous public stance” on LGBT+ inclusion in the Church. “I know that she will remain an important voice for LGBTQ+ Christian equality, and pray that outside Synod she will be able to do so with a new freedom and energy.”

The group Inclusive Evangelicals, which was founded last month (News, 31 October), released a statement on Saturday in which it also expressed concern about “deeply offensive and hurtful” language used in the Synod debate.

The group welcomed the decision that had been taken, however, and encouraged the House of Bishops to “act promptly on the Synod’s decision and to commend, for an experimental period, the standalone services, along with the rest of Prayers of Love and Faith for immediate use”.

Representatives from Inclusive Evangelicals were among the signatories to a joint statement co-ordinated by GSGSG. The statement, published on Monday, was signed by representatives of 14 Church of England organisations, which included Affirming Catholicism, the Evangelical Forum on General Synod, and Changing Attitude England.

“We welcome the decision of General Synod to endorse the proposal of the House of Bishops to authorise the Prayers of Love & Faith for public use, including the trial use of standalone services under the Bishop of Oxford’s helpful amendment, and to continue the wider work of pastoral guidance and provision,” the statement begins.

Concern is expressed, however, about the “hostile and negative manner in which many have engaged with the process”, and it says that “many of us would wish for much greater steps, much sooner, including equal marriage in church.”

The statement ends with a commitment to “seek the broadest possible space, including pastoral provision for those opposed to change, that does not impair the unity of the one Church under God for all people”.

On Friday, the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) announced that it had set up a panel of honorary assistant bishops in the C of E to provide informal episcopal oversight for clergy and parishes which considered themselves to be in “impaired communion” with their bishop (News, 18 November).

IMMEDIATELY after the nine-hour debate had come to a close on Wednesday of last week, the Church Times asked lay members from all sides of the debate how they were feeling.

Professor Helen King, a lay member from the diocese of Oxford who supported the motion, said: “The main thing I feel is exhausted, absolutely exhausted.”

She continued: “The nature of these debates is that you go through the same things over and over again. We don’t agree. That’s a fact. And some people admit that, and other people still want to try and persuade you to their point of view.”

Given the intractable nature of the debate, Professor King said that she felt “somewhat amazed” that a decision had been made, albeit by a narrow vote, to continue the work of LLF.

She welcomed a trial period of stand-alone services, acknowledging that currently there were not the votes in the Synod for such services to be authorised under Canon B2, which requires final approval by two-thirds in all three Houses.

A trial period would allow people to see what the services look like, and how they affect churches, she said, and this was progress, albeit “rather mild”.

The final speaker in the main debate was Ed Shaw, an Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Bristol and a director of Living Out, an organisation which aims to encourage Christians “who experience same-sex attraction to flourish through faithfulness to biblical teaching on sexuality and identity”.

He asked what “crumbs of comfort” there were for him as a “gay man watching the Church seemingly abandon teaching and discipline”.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Shaw said that the “time of uncertainty” that the Bishops referred to was, for all LGBT+ Christians, a “time of cruelty”: those who wanted equal marriage were not satisfied with a trial period of services of blessing, and people like him felt abandoned.

If he was going to stay in the Church, “serious conversations” needed to take place about formal provision for those who opposed the changes, he said. “There needs to be a sense that something’s happening, if they want people to feel as if the Church is a safe space long term,” he said.

Alianore Smith, a lay member from Southwark who was attending her first meeting of the Synod, said that the Archbishop of York using his presidential address to endorse an amendment calling for a trial period for stand-alone services was “not a good use of power” (News, 13 November).

She wished that the good will and warm relations between people of opposing views, which was evident in the break rooms, could be reflected better on the floor of the chamber: “There is no doubt that we disagree theologically, but you can disagree and not be an arse about it — excuse my language!”

It was important, she said, that honest conversations took place — a sentiment with which Sophie Clarke, a lay member from London, agreed. “Clarity is kindness,” she said; and she called for the Bishops to present further details about the pastoral guidance, as well as what provision could be put in place for people like her who opposed the introduction of the prayers.

Mr Shaw agreed: “The way to keep us united is to not keep on saying this doesn’t matter really. . . The way to be united is to be in the same Church, but with structures that set us apart, because we need to be set apart if we are all to flourish.”

Read more on this story in Angela Tilby’s column and Letters

Paul Handley, editor, and Francis Martin discuss the vote on the 
Church Times Podcast.

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