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General Synod digest: Living in Love and Faith

24 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft

THE best part of two days was devoted to the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) debate, which began on Tuesday afternoon and continued for most of Wednesday.

Geoffrey Tattersall KC (Manchester) was in the chair, as he had been in February, and opened proceedings with dry humour. He recounted asking his wife whether he should accept the invitation to chair another LLF debate. She told him: “You like all that standing-order stuff, and, deep down, I know that you enjoy it.” Mr Tattersall ended his comments with a plea that members debate the motion in a manner that would not make him regret his decision.

Introducing the debate, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that, over the past three-and-a-half years in which she had chaired the LLF process, “I’ve often found myself asking: what am I doing here?” The answer, she suggested, was that God was “in this place”, and that the House of Bishops was calling for a way forward in which the Church could live with the disagreements in the General Synod.

She acknowledged the pain that the debate caused people on all sides, and that some had “red lines which, if crossed by other people, bring forth judgement”. She continued, however: “If an excess of prophetic zeal leads us to want to exclude, silence, traduce, or hate our opponents, perhaps we should meditate on the fact that Jesus rebuked his disciples when they wanted to call down fire on the heads of those who oppose them.

“The world needs better examples of dealing with difference, disagreement, and resentment. I still want to believe that this may be the gift of the Church to the world.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that division in the Church had been normal since the days of the Apostles. Indeed, much of the New Testament and the writings by church Fathers addressed how to cope with this disagreement. The world was supposed to know who Christians were “by their love, not their unanimity of thought”, he said. This meant loving those who were unlike oneself, and this remained the challenge for today’s Church. “Let us remember that we are all Christians, brought together by grace.”

He had not heard anything in the innumerable LLF meetings, letters, and documents which suggested that either side was not truly a group of believers who simply disagreed about how to live out lives of holiness. “If someone claims an identity in Christ, they are my sister and brother, and must be included, even if they differ deeply on important matters,” Archbishop Welby said. He pleaded with members to give one another the benefit of the doubt and assume the best of the opposing side.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesJulie Withers (Chester)

Julie Withers (Chester) said that she had not known whether she could continue as a Reader after marrying her female partner this year. “I was fearful I may lose my licence, even though my wife and I had been together for 20 years.” Many other gay Anglicans, including clergy, were in a similar limbo until the pastoral guidance was released. Houses, stipends, and pensions were on the line. She urged the Bishops to use their power to enable the ministry of those whom God had called, and to bring the guidance to the next group of sessions, in February.

Richard Brown (Chelmsford) said that he represented the hundreds of thousands of lay people — the “98-per-cent paying membership of this Church” — who might have no idea of what was happening at the Synod. He said that the laity whom he spoke to were confused, and worried that the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) were “marriage which isn’t marriage, using liturgy which isn’t liturgy”. In reality, things resembling same-sex marriage would be happening in parish churches, he said, and, wondered whether, by 2025, after likely splits in the C of E and the Communion, anyone would care about stand-alone services. The consequences of going down this route would be slow and inevitable decline, as they had been in the Episcopal Church in the United States, he warned. “Let’s not be the turkeys who vote for Christmas.”

The Revd Jody Stowell (London) warmly supported the motion, “because I am an Evangelical Anglican Christian”. Her whole life had been spent working towards making things fairer and seeing the face of God in everyone. She supported the PLF because it was the “just, right, fair, merciful, compassionate action of God’s Spirit — this is what I see in scripture”. The motion was in rhythm “with the longings of God”, even though she longed for it to go further.

Peter Barrett (Oxford) said that the Bishops’ paper on the PLF felt overly cautious and lacked the radical Christian inclusion initially offered by the Archbishops. The Bible passages that appeared to condemn same-sex activity did not, in fact, support opposition to gay marriage, he argued. Do not use scripture as a weapon, he pleaded with the Synod, especially given the vulnerability required of LGBTQ+ Christians throughout the LLF process.

James Wilson (Manchester) spoke about the harm that LGBTQI+ people “experienced, and continue to experience, at the hands of the Church”. He suggested that more needed to be done to turn words of repentance into action. He spoke of a 14-year-old girl in the church that he attended who had taken her own life. The coroner’s report suggested that she had been struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. The church’s response to the tragedy was to become proudly inclusive, Mr Wilson said. “The work of repentance implies turning around.” He urged the Synod to put into practice “the radical inclusion we talked about in February”.

The Revd Neil Barber (Derby) referred to his Synod number — 101 — and compared LLF to the torture chamber Room 101 in George Orwell’s 1984. LLF, he said, had been “breaking down the resistance of faithful Anglicans in the name of a love which is not love”. Mr Barber also made reference to the TV show named after Orwell’s creation, in which guests have the chance to consign things to oblivion. “We are dumping our doctrine in Room 101,” he said. “The Bible is clear.” The Church and its Synod had to choose, he said, whether to “serve God, or serve idols”.

The Revd Will Pearson-Gee (Oxford) was pained to challenge 44 bishops who were “leading their flocks astray”. The Church was being walked towards a cliff edge. The issue wasn’t truly about same-sex marriage, but the authority of scripture. Unity could come only through standing in the truth, against the “tide of Western culture” and with the “ancient, abiding text of God’s word”, he said. Trust in the Bishops was gone; there was no sign of the promised pastoral guidance or provision for conservatives. “We all know that blessings will be dressed up to be indistinguishable from marriage,” he said.

He agreed with Jayne Ozanne, who had argued that the situation was irreconcilable, both in the C of E and the wider Communion. “This motion is a tragic suicide note. You are leading the Church of England over a cliff, which is why we cannot walk together.” Now was the time to split progressives and conservatives into separate provinces, free to pursue their own consciences, he concluded.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler

THE Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, introduced his first amendment, to tone down some of the language in the motion, replacing the wording “feeling pain” to “are being deeply hurt” by the discussion. This was on all sides and of all opinions, he warned.

Bishop Mullally said that it had proved difficult for people to believe that she had, indeed, heard the pain from both liberals and conservatives on this issue. “It was always difficult to find the words,” she said, and did not oppose the amendment.

Luke Appleton (Exeter) did not deny the feelings of distress, but said that it was more accurate to describe how people felt than determine that they had indeed been hurt.

Rebecca Mynett (St Albans) said that repentance had to mean more than just words. She recalled Mr Wilson’s speech, and Jesus’s words about repentance. “Repentance”, in the original Greek, was about seeing things differently and recognising something, she explained; Christ wanted everyone to realise that they were beloved children of God. Repentance could bring healing for both those harmed and those causing the harm.

The amendment was carried.

 

THE Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven. Malcolm Chamberlain (Sheffield), then spoke to his amendment to state that the Synod was “disappointed by the limited progress” since February’s vote. The radical new Christian inclusion promised in 2017 was not even mentioned in the latest papers, and the pastoral motivation behind LLF had been lost amid legal wrangling. “God is already blessing people in same-sex relationships, and the Church through their ministry,” he said.

Bishop Mullally resisted the amendment, although she understood why some in the Synod would be disappointed. But, equally, there were some who were alarmed by what had been happening. “It is a period of uncertainty, and we are seeking to provide pastoral provision.”

Kenson Li (co-opted) said that members should not divide into camps wanting and not wanting change, but unite, in a sense that they wanted to do more.

The Revd Dr Sean Doherty (Universities and TEIs) said that he had been debating matters of sexuality in the Church of England for a decade. “We are just starting to get somewhere. . . It’s OK to be patient and to take our time to do something right.” This would involve “making space” for those, like him, who did not support the introduction of the PLF.

Dr Diana Tremayne (Leeds) supported the amendment. As someone who had been in a loving and long-term same-sex relationship for almost 30 years, she felt pain at the lack of progress since February, and sometimes felt “unsafe” at the Synod, owing to the rhetoric of some members.

The Revd Jeremy Moodey (Oxford) said that he opposed the amendment, as the progress made by the Bishops was not limited. “Indeed, they had been falling over themselves to get PLF done, which we can see in this omnishambles.” He castigated the Bishops for pressing on at speed, regardless of legal, theological, and procedural hurdles in their way.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 1-22, with 13 recorded abstentions; Clergy 78-100, with nine recorded abstentions; Laity 88-104, with nine recorded abstentions.

 

BISHOP BUTLER moved his second amendment, to omit “progress made” and insert “work and consultation undertaken”. The effect of this would “take the heat” out of the question whether the work amounted to “progress” — a question that had just been debated — with terms that were harder to contest.

Bishop Mullally said that “progress” was not, in this context, envisaged as progress towards a specific goal, but as indicative of the work of listening which was at the heart of the LLF process. In this sense, there had been progress, and so she resisted the amendment.

The amendment proceeded to debate, but only after a point of order by Prudence Dailey (Oxford) notifying Mr Tattersall that the staff in the tearoom were about to leave. He sympathised, but hoped that they could be persuaded to remain a little longer.

Dr Rosalind Clarke (Lichfield) said that the Bishops’ proposals had been “roundly condemned in public from all directions”, and legal advice received by the House of Bishops had not been shown to members. It could not be counted as progress when the Bishops insisted on “marking their own homework”, she said, to loud applause.

The Revd Ross Meikle (Oxford) thought that progress had been made. He was reassured by the fact that the Bishops seemed to be more open about their differing position.

The Archdeacon for Rural Mission (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich), the Ven. Sally Gaze, asked what progress really looked like. Progress would be made when members of the Church were able to love one another, and this was not it, she said. It was not kind to LGBTQ+ people, but it also offered a gateway to doctrinal change for the Church, with no idea how that might play out in the future. It was not kind to young people working out their beliefs for the first time, either. “I believe we can do better; so I urge you to vote for this amendment.”

The Revd Chantal Noppen (Durham) recounted her own story of releasing herself from internalised shame over her sexuality amid her calling to the priesthood. She longed to see the LGBTQ+ community blessed to be themselves and freed from the damage and abuse and misery of the current situation. The word “progress” was important and worth keeping, she urged.

This amendment was also lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 11-23, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 95-94, with two recorded abstentions; Laity 101-90, with six recorded abstentions.

 

THE Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford) proposed his amendment, to strip out references to the document GS 2328, which, he said, did not fulfil the intention of the February vote. It made assertions about the relationship between sexual activity and marriage which were not supported by the Synod. Many members would have lost confidence in the process by which the paper was produced by the Bishops, he said. Taking it out of the motion would allow people to move forward “unencumbered” by the ambiguous and contested document.

In response, Bishop Mullally said that the papers described how the House had tried to find a space for unity, shaped by the February motion. GS 2328 did point to where the Bishops were, and was honest about their disagreement. She acknowledged that many would not agree with the conclusions, legal and theological, in the papers, nevertheless.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Revd Will Pearson-Gee (Oxford)

Philip Baldwin (London) had hoped that LLF would end with the offering of the radical love of Jesus to all in the Church. He had been shocked by the lack of generosity of conservatives in the Synod, and the tone of GS 2328. What they voted for in February had been a bare minimum, he said, but had now been diluted. Gay Christians had tried to understand the conservative viewpoint, but this had not been reciprocated. “Christianity is not about repression, hypocrisy, and denial, but compassion and love.” He urged members to vote for the amendment.

The Revd Charlie Skrine (London) backed Mr Patterson, but was against the amendment. He understood the pain of those who felt disappointed by GS 2328, but, he said, what they hoped for had never been possible. The doctrine of marriage was clear, and so the pastoral space that liberals longed for could never be delivered without doctrinal change. To say that a practice was sinful was not opposed to a Saviour who came to save them from sin. “We are all sinful, and it is pastoral to be told how and be called to change.”

Dr John Mason (Chester) questioned what the reference to GS 2328 added. It might make the motion less likely to be carried, he said.

The Revd Dr Ian Paul (Southwell & Nottingham) said that what the outside world wanted to see from the Church was transparency, honesty, and integrity: it could not admire an organisation that made decisions behind closed doors, he said. You could not separate Jesus’s command to love from his command to obey his teaching.

This amendment was also lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 13-20, with one recorded abstention; Clergy 84-99, with six recorded abstentions; Laity: 86-106, with six recorded abstentions.

 

CLIVE SCOWEN (London) moved an amendment calling for legal advice given to the House of Bishops to be distributed to the Houses of Clergy and Laity. The Church was “deeply divided”, he said, but surely it could agree that clarity was needed about “what was legal”.

He asked why legal advice had been published in February, but not this time, and speculated that it might be because the advice did not favour the Bishops’ proposals; but he couldn’t say for sure, and neither could anyone else, other than the Bishops. The solution, he said, was to publish the advice that evening, for all to read.

Bishop Mullally said that the legal foundation for the proposals was contained within GS 2328, and reflected the legal advice that the Bishops had received. “It is clear and it is transparent. I would say to Clive, tonight, go back, re-read GS 2328, and you will see the legal advice we have been given.” She insisted that the House of Bishops did respect the Synod, but confidentiality was different from secrecy. “There is nothing that is being hidden,” she reiterated. Therefore, she resisted this amendment, not least because it amounted to “hurtful” delay in getting on with the substantive PLF conversations.

The Revd Jonathan Jee (Coventry), in a maiden speech, spoke of being a cradle Anglican raised in a vicarage. Following Jesus’s call, both as a believer and as a priest, was costly, yet joyful, he said. When he was teaching youth groups about sex and relationships, the most common question was “What can we get away with?” A better question would be “How can we please the Lord?” The LLF debate reminded him of these conversations: “How far can we go with flirting with blessing sexual immorality?” He said that the priority must be, instead, to please God.

Professor Helen King (Oxford) opposed the amendment, which was trying to delay the PLF process, she said. Like the Bishop of Worcester, she was an adulterer in the eyes of some because her husband had been divorced previously. The debate over marriage after divorce was a helpful reminder to the Synod: “Did we split the Church over this? No.” It had taken a long time, many failed votes, and endless reports, but the Church had got to a place that it could live with on all sides.

Rebecca Hunt (Portsmouth) said that the legal advice provided before the February vote had confirmed that the PLF were not indicative of a departure from doctrine. It was now clear, however, from GS 2328, that prohibition of sex outside of marriage was also part of the doctrine of the Church, and it was possible that blessing a sexually active same-sex couple could breach the doctrinal test. “This all raises many questions: why were the doctrinal difficulties not acknowledged in February?” She also questioned whether the Bishops could be right about their conclusions, especially given concerns of members of the Faith and Order Commission.

Paul Waddell (Southwark) was sorry that conservatives felt that their place in the Church was threatened, but he had even more sympathy for LGBTQ+ people. “We need to follow this through, and not delay.” He was sympathetic to the desire for more legal advice, but warned members not to delay any further.

The Revd Mae Christie (Southwark) resisted the amendment because it would cause too much delay. The main motion gave her and priests like her an opportunity to share the good news of God’s love, and must be allowed to go forward.

The Revd Dr Tom Woolford (Blackburn) joked that he had been tempted to text the British Transport Police after reading the Synod papers, because “I had seen something that didn’t look right.” In February, the publication of legal advice had enabled a transparent debate. It was not good that, six months later, the Bishops were not following suit. “Without sight of the advice, I’m afraid I smell a rat.” He worried that the legal basis of the PLF was now uncertain, at best; so how could he be expected to welcome their work? “I’ve said it, let’s see it, then it can be . . . sorted!”

Again, the amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 10-22, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 88-99; Laity: 93-98, with six recorded abstentions.

 

THE Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, moved his amendment calling on the House of Bishops not to commend the draft suite of prayers before the Synod had considered the pastoral guidance. He said that his amendment would reduce the risks to the unity of the Church and would delay bringing the PLF forward until the pastoral guidance was completed and published.

Information useful to the Synod was being withheld by the House of Bishops, he said. The ministry section of the pastoral guidance would expose the reality of any change of teaching, he said. Carrying the motion unamended risked raising false hopes for some, and unnecessary fears for others. The whole Synod, not just the Bishops, should decide on whether doctrine had changed, he said.

In response, Bishop Mullally resisted the amendment, arguing that the pastoral guidance would not be comparable to Issues in Human Sexuality: a book completed once and then used as a benchmark. The guidance fell into three sections — on the PLF, the local church, and ministry — but it would be continually updated, especially if and when stand-alone services were authorised, in 2025. To wait for the pastoral guidance to be completed would cause years of delays.

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), said that he welcomed the amendment. The guidance was needed as protection against legal challenge for the clergy, whether they wanted to use or reject the prayers. It was all very well saying that the guidance would evolve over time, but who would decide how and when it would be revised? Would it be the House of Bishops, by fiat, he asked. Without the amendment, he said, no priest from any viewpoint could sincerely support the motion.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesTechnical studio at Church House, Westminster

Paul Ronson (Blackburn) said that the amendment must be resisted, as it amounted to little more than delaying tactics. The Bishops had delivered the prayers, and guidance that went with them; so he urged the Synod to move forward. “This has gone on for years: it’s time.”

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, said that the glacial progress towards implementing the February motion had been driven by the “intractable trickiness” of asking two fundamental questions. Would the Bishops maintain or relax the prohibition on clergy entering same-sex marriage? And would they maintain or relax the rules that forbade sex outside marriage? Many members believed that both positions had to be relaxed to achieve inclusion, but others — including him — saw no way to change the rules without impinging on the doctrine of marriage. For that reason, he thought that it was necessary for the prayers, guidance, and pastoral provision to be brought to the Synod simultaneously. He backed the amendment.

Canon Andrew Dotchin (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) said that the Church was already too late for many LGBT+ people who had died, whether by taking their own life, or by murder, because of hatred. “We can wait no longer. I resist this amendment.”

The debate was then adjourned, to be resumed the following morning.

 

THE first speaker when debate resumed on Wednesday morning was the Revd Anna De Castro (Sheffield), who questioned whether the young people whom she ministered to could look to the Church to see it displaying “honesty, integrity, clarity”. Was there consistency between the Church’s professed and lived doctrines?

“These papers expose an embarrassing lack of integrity,” she said. Senior leaders were saying one thing, but commending another. “Good governance is being sacrificed for the sake of forcing through a seemingly pre-determined outcome.” Promises to provide the full package of prayers, guidance, and reassurance had been broken. Young people were watching the Synod, and she was “heartbroken” at what they were seeing. “Archbishops and Bishops, say what you mean, and mean what you say . . . and then do it!” Voting for Bishop Williams’s amendment would be a path back towards integrity, she argued.

The Revd Rachel Webbley (Canterbury) said that the hard-won steps in February had been helpful in her parish’s mission, and it was vital to “continue at pace” after “so many years of thinking and praying”. The Synod must resist any further delays, which the amendment would bring. The ordinary Anglicans in her parish simply wanted to welcome LGBTQ+ people. “The clock is ticking on the goodwill and trust we have fostered in our communities.”

The Revd Matt Beer (Lichfield) said that the amendment pointed the Church back towards love. Amid the debates, the Church had lost sight of the love of Christ. It had heard the pastoral need for the prayers, but also the “ecclesiastical gymnastics” to try to squeeze them into marriage doctrine. The motion would force the Church to pick and choose some parts of the Bible, discarding some parts that they did not like; this was not truly loving, he argued. “To commend the prayers in this way is to choose who to love, and who to throw away.” He urged members to support the amendment, and then vote down the motion.

The Bishop of Stepney, Dr Joanne Grenfell (Southern Suffragans), opposed the amendment, arguing that any further delay would be unhelpful. People already came to church seeking marriage, with complicated family stories. Clergy were skilled at loving and drawing people in without asking too many questions, she said. “Let us trust clergy and church communities to be pastoral: I don’t see why it is any different with same-sex couples.” She was also concerned about the “asymmetry” in the questions being asked of different people; she did not want to have to talk about “genital contact” with gay people when she did not with straight people. “Resist the amendment, and seek instead a more generous space.”

The amendment fell in a vote by Houses: Bishops 12-25, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 88-97, with one recorded abstention; Laity 92-93.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Revd Vaughan Roberts (Oxford)
CANON Vaughan Roberts (Oxford) said that the Church was in a time not of uncertainty, but of “competing certainties”. The Church did not agree, and would not agree, and, if the motion was carried, the fighting would continue, he said.

He proposed an amendment not to commend the draft suite of prayers before this Synod has considered proposals for structural provision for blessers and dissenters. This would offer a choice to find a permanent settlement, so that each side could move forward.

This was not a delaying tactic, but a way to unlock the quickest way for those with irreconcilable differences to move forward. If the motion was carried, there would be a “tearing of the fabric of the Church of England, in every parish, deanery, and diocese”, he warned. There were no protections or provisions for progressives stuck in dioceses where conservative bishops refused to commend the prayers or to license clergy in gay marriages. His proposal was for a way of “consensus without compromise, space without schism, differentiation without divorce”.

In response, Bishop Mullally reiterated that the House of Bishops had made a commitment to bringing proposals for structural pastoral provisions to the next spring group of sessions. Priests could already pray with same-sex couples in pastoral settings, and so not to commend the PLF would lose the confidence of the Synod, she said. She resisted the amendment, but was interested to hear from members on each side of the debate around formal, structural provision.

Dr Felicity Cooke (Ely) dismissed the amendment as yet another attempt at delay. She questioned whether there was in the Church a significant minority that did not support the PLF, as was claimed by backers of structural differentiation. Large Evangelical congregations were held as being in total agreement on the issue, but nobody had asked the members of the congregations. In her own parish, 85 per cent of the worshippers backed same-sex blessings, and 63 per cent supported same-sex marriage in church. She invited leaders of large Evangelical congregations to follow suit, and give people an opportunity to state their views without fear.

Dr Gracy Crane (Oxford) said that the Bishops were not yet advocating formal structural provision, but when would they be ready for this? In her work as a scientist, she would have labelled GS 2328 as “unfinished work, needing further development”. Could the Bishops not complete what had been started, and bring forward an “end-to-end proposal, not one with missing parts”?

Lucy Gorman (York) wanted to inject some common sense into the discussion. The Synod had already voted for the PLF in February; so it should just “crack on”. The doctrine of marriage was lifelong, and yet the Church still did marriage after divorce, and the world had not “imploded”. The same could easily be done for LGBTQ+ couples, she said. “If you don’t want to perform same-sex blessings, that’s fine.” No one would get in trouble for it; no one would take conservatives to court, she reassured them. If the amendment was carried, the prayers would be delayed yet again.

Sarah Finch (London) said that new, temporary, alternative structures had already begun to emerge, as a result of February’s vote, from conservatives opposed to the PLF. What could be done to help these churches to remain in the C of E rather than drive them out? She welcomed the Bishops’ commitment to exploring structural provision, but said that more work had to be done to identify what conservative churches needed if they were to be reassured and to flourish.

The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Revd Chris Dalliston (Deans), spoke of marriage as a divorcee, and credited the way in which the Church had chosen to “live gracefully” with different views on this issue. He spoke of verses from the Bible to which most Christians did not adhere literally, and suggested that “we live creatively with scripture, and seek to interpret it creatively and conscientiously. . . Of all the things to be divided on, why should this be the one?” He urged members to reject structural differences in the Church and vote against the amendment.

Dr Neill Burgess (York) said that the current proposals did not “honour the integrity” of people on both sides of the debate; he insisted that it was “not a delaying tactic,” but the opposite: it allowed a way forward.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 1-26, with one recorded abstention; Clergy 81-103, with four recorded abstentions; Laity 90-102, with one recorded abstention.

 

ON A point of order, Daniel Matovu (Oxford) said that the amendment from the Bishop of Oxford was contrary to Standing Orders, which said that an amendment must form a proposition that was “intelligible”. It talked of a timescale in line with the February motion, but there was no timescale attached to it apart from paragraph (f), which dealt with “monitoring and reporting back in five years”. Paragraph (e), which endorsed the Bishops’ commending the PLF, did not have any timescale.

In response, Mr Tattersall said that he had already considered these points raised, and reflected further on Mr Matovu’s point, but remained of the view that the amendment was not contrary to the Standing Orders.

 

THE Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, urged the Synod to “gather around” his amendment, to “ask the House to consider whether some stand-alone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis, on the timescale envisaged by the motion passed by the Synod in February 2023”.

It would provide a positive way forward, he said. The House of Bishops had listened carefully to the backlash — particularly from LGBTQ+ people — against the Synod papers. There remained disappointment that stand-alone services would take several years through the Canon B2 process, he acknowledged, and there was confusion about what constituted a stand-alone service.

His amendment had gained widespread, if not universal, support already from his fellow bishops, and would allow stand-alone services to come into force much sooner during the ongoing B2 process. This was in line with “reasonable expectations” from the February vote. He said that it would give greater assurance to those officiating at such services, and the pastoral guidance would offer mechanisms for PCCs and clergy to opt in to using the services. His amendment provided a reasonable and orderly way of proceeding, offering a “period of reflection and testing”, to resource the B2 process.

In response, Bishop Mullally said that B2 was proposed because it would bring in stand-alone services in the shortest possible time. But, she said, the Bishops had heard the concerns from both sides, and thought that Canon B5A would provide clarity about using the services and could run simultaneously alongside B2. So she accepted the amendment.

Fiona MacMillan (London) backed the amendment, because to reject it would go “backwards” for a community such as her own. She said that the Holy Spirit went ahead of the Church, persuading its leaders not to try to “protect God”, as it had done in the Acts of the Apostles, when the Early Church was concerned about letting in Gentiles or relaxing Jewish food laws. LGBTQ+ people were a central part of her church family, “precious, honoured, and loved”. They already blessed same-sex civil weddings; do not let that be taken away, she urged the Synod.

Canon Kate Wharton (Liverpool) thought that Synod members all wanted the same thing: to discover what God’s will was. She opposed the amendment, which, although it seemed like a good idea, was in fact a dead end. How would it work if blessings and services were offered for a while, and then removed? That would be pastorally very harmful. Only progressive pro-PLF parishes would use them during a trial process, and they would inevitably report that the blessings were working well; so would it be a true experiment? All the arguments that had led the Bishops away from Canon B5A and towards B2 remained valid. To carry the amendment would be “pastorally, practically, theologically, and collegially irresponsible”.

The Dean of Bristol, the Very Revd Mandy Ford (Deans), argued that, without stand-alone services, the PLF were a “retrograde step”, as they offered less than was, in fact, already being practised. “Let us also be transparent about the fact that numerous people, of whom I am one, have had a service of thanksgiving following a civil partnership in their own church, with the full knowledge of their diocesan bishop,” she said. Honesty and transparency were necessary, she said, and she urged members to approve a trial period for stand-alone services.

The Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, said that LGBT+ laity and clergy had always been integral to the Anglo-Catholic “family” to which he belonged, but the theological rationale for the use of the prayers needed “much more further elucidation”, and a trial process would not help achieve this.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesRichard Brown (Chelmsford)

The Revd Gini Williams (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) was shocked at the “lack of empathy” shown towards those who had expressed the great hurt that they had experienced owing to the Church’s position, which amounted to discrimination. The “way to go”, she said, was the “pastoral response” embodied in Dr Croft’s proposal. “Let’s give it a go.”

The Revd Joy Mawdesley (Oxford) was surprised that Bishop Mullally had expressed support for the amendment before hearing the debate. She repeated some of the reasons that the Bishops had previously given for pursuing B2, including legal protection for those who used the services: her concern, she said, was for all the clergy, and she urged members to reject the amendment.

Sammi Tooze (York) welcomed the amendment. Worship was a vital part of Anglican identity, and enabled people to come to God at important moments in their lives. The LLF resources would help the Church to reach younger people and those excluded from the Church. But the GS 2328 proposals would not let this go forward by barring stand-alone services for now. Theologically, the blessing was the same in both contexts, but pastorally not offering stand-alone services would be experienced by gay couples as hurtful. She had friends waiting for these same-sex relationships to be blessed. “We are not here to change one another’s minds, but to have the grace to create safe spaces for us each to express our theologies.”

Benjamin John (St Albans) said that LLF could be summarised in four words: “Did God really say . . . ?” He quoted Canon B30’s definition of marriage, arguing that there had been years of sowing doubt about the goodness of God’s pattern for marriage. Instead of proclaiming the “clear” will of God, the Church was blasphemously declaring that God and scripture were unclear.

Just before the Synod was to vote on the amendment, Stephen Hofmeyr (Guildford), in a point of order, submitted that the amendment proposed a course of action, namely Canon B5A, which was “contrary” to a decision already taken by the Synod, in the vote in February. This argument was rejected by Mr Tattersall.

The amendment was narrowly carried in a vote by Houses: Bishops 25-16; Clergy 101-94, with one recorded abstention; Laity 99-98, with two recorded abstentions.

As the result was being considered, a group of protesters began shouting from the public gallery that the Synod was leading the Church “towards Satan”. The debate was briefly adjourned while the protesters were removed.

 

THE Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, then moved his amendment, which would compel the Bishops not to commend the PLF, but instead to use the full Canon B2 process that they were envisaging for the stand-alone services. This would allow members to consider whether it met the terms of the Cornes amendment carried in February, which stated that the PLF must not be contrary to doctrine.

Quoting the children’s book We’re Going On a Bear Hunt, Bishop Watson said of Canon B2: “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. . . Oh no, we’ve got to go through it.” The House must not tear up the rules of the C of E in its efforts to force through the PLF. He had been accused of proposing a “wrecking amendment”, as its two-third majority requirements were unlikely to be met. But, he said, the current way of working needed to be changed, so that all agreed that no one was going to get it all their own way. Like any vicar who had won a narrow vote on the PCC, the Synod needed to win back the trust of the defeated minority. This big conversation had to begin now.

Bishop Mullally said that priests already could and did pray with same-sex couples pastorally, and that all that the Bishops had done was to commend a suite of prayers for this. They did not change the doctrine of marriage, and so to put them under the B2 process “undermines what is presently possible” and the motion from February. As such, she resisted the amendment.

The Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone (Oxford) said that liturgy was how the Church expressed its identity; so the PLF were not trivial. “This is a watershed moment in the life of the Church of England.” It might well be that similar prayers were already happening, but they had never before been formally published in Common Worship and endorsed by the House. The commendation route was not supposed to be used for controversial issues, or to fast-track contentious debates. The proper route for agreeing contentious prayers was Canon B2, which had provisions to build consensus and to ensure that one half of the Church did not ride roughshod over the other, he argued.

Liturgies could not be authorised by bishops alone, and also not by a simple majority, but required two-thirds. If the amendment was defeated by the House of Bishops, as he expected, he hoped that the House of Laity would use its voice to vote down the final motion and insist that they be properly heard.

The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, agreed with Bishop Watson that the Synod was falling short of the Pastoral Principles in how it spoke to one another. The concept of “reception” had not been mentioned properly, Bishop Chessun said. The Synod needed to move away from a binary debate and, instead, attempt to receive from the Holy Spirit leadership and guidance, as it had done previously on issues such as marriage after divorce, or the ordination of women. Reject the amendment, he urged.

The Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff (Northern Suffragans), recalled the ITV gameshow Bullseye, and said that what the House was proposing in using Canon B5A would “put a target on the back of every one of our clergy”. If the pastoral guidance would then allow gay clergy to marry, it would be by default a change in doctrine. Mutual flourishing over the issue of women bishops had been managed in many places, and the same could be done on this question of same-sex blessings. But the “risky” way ahead proposed would not provide this. She urged members to vote for this amendment and against the amended motion.

The Revd Eleanor Robertshaw (Sheffield) said that she was “fed up” with the debate. The discussion had gone over the same ground as in February, and each of the amendments was offering only more delay. “Please don’t forget there are so many other important things going on in our society that we should be speaking out on, instead of arguing over semantics.”

Christopher Townsend (Ely) said that undue haste over the past year had produced rushed work. The Church of England had been zig-zagging “this way and that”, with a brand-new insight into doctrine about “pastoral provision in a time of uncertainty” which was barely three weeks old. There had been cursory pastoral and legal discussion, and no rationale in how to distinguish between essential and inessential doctrine. Let the Synod behave like a responsible body, he urged. Canon B2 would produce a clear and robust outcome, the “perfect antidote to a culture of fear” decried by many. He understood that a two-thirds majority would not be achievable, but that mechanism was designed to preserve unity through periods of uncertainty and should not be quickly discarded.

The Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Martin Gorick (Southern Suffragans), said that he had found the debate difficult so far. Many of those now calling for Canon B2 were the same who had been “shouting down” this idea a year ago, he suggested. He asked members to resist the amendment, as it delayed further any progress. “Let us inch forward, together, in love and faith.”

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 27-13, with one recorded abstention; Clergy 103-90; Laity 93-103, with three recorded abstentions.

 

THE Revd Dr Sara Batts-Neale (Chelmsford) spoke to her amendment, which, she said, sought clarity for ordinands and clergy. If carried, it would compel the House of Bishops to publish the full pastoral guidance by the end of March. Until the final part of the pastoral guidance was issued, people were still relying on the discredited and soon-to-be-retired Issues in Human Sexuality. Ordinands and people in the discernment process needed to know whether they would be accepted under the new rules. She told the story of one woman in a same-sex marriage in her congregation who was waiting in limbo to know whether she could begin exploring her vocation. “They deserve dignity and clarity, and to be told what is expected of them.”

In response, Bishop Mullally said that the Bishops were very aware of the concerns of those affected by the pastoral guidance, and intended to bring it as quickly as possible, “hopefully, by the spring”. She was tempted to impose a hard deadline for her successors as chairs of the LLF process, she joked, but thought that it was unrealistic to insert a deadline into the motion. So she resisted the amendment.

In the ensuing debate, Nicola Denyer (Newcastle) said that she thought that this had been “sorted in February”. Drawing on her experience as a officer for lay-ministry development in the diocese of Newcastle, she supported the amendment as allowing much-needed clarity.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Revd Esther Prior (Guildford)

Dr Docherty agreed with the need for clarity, but thought that it was “unwise” to put a specific timeframe on the publication of the guidance, as it was important that it not be rushed. He also asked for theological colleges to be consulted about the guidance.

Martin Sewell (Rochester) suggested that deadlines were helpful, and that Bishop Mullally’s successors would have time to get up to speed. “Let’s set a date and get on with it,” he urged.

The Archdeacon of Ludlow, the Ven. Fiona Gibson (Hereford), would have liked to support the amendment, she said, but it would be impossible to complete the guidance by the end of March. “Please don’t create a hostage to fortune that we will not be able to meet.”

The amendment fell in a vote by Houses: Bishops 26-8, with eight recorded abstentions; Clergy 103-78, with ten recorded abstentions; Laity 101-91, with five recorded abstentions.

 

SAM MARGRAVE (Coventry) moved an amendment calling for a referendum of all members of C of E electoral rolls. “I want to hear the voice from the pews . . . that would help us move past this impasse,” he said. The Synod process was a “charade”, he argued, because of the way in which it was politicised. A referendum would sort this out “once and for all”, he said. “We can’t solve this alone.”

In response, Bishop Mullally said that the LLF process had received 6000 responses from around the Church. This was significant, alongside the theological study and pastoral reflection that all fed into the PLF proposals. During the Canon B2 authorisation process, dioceses would be consulted further, she said; and so she resisted the amendment.

Twenty-five members could not be found to support further debate on the amendment, and so it lapsed.

 

JAYNE OZANNE (Oxford) moved an amendment asking the Bishops to publish their view on whether sexual activity outside of marriage was a “first-order credal issue”. She spoke of her experience of undergoing conversion therapy, and the traumatic physical and psychological effect that it had had on her. “I survived, but many, sadly, do not,” she said.

“In Evangelical circles, this matter of sex outside of marriage is known as a first-order issue, one that is foundational to our faith,” which explained why division on this issue went so deep, she said. She concluded that it was “critical that we settle where the Church of England stands on this, because to continue to fudge it will continue to put lives at risk”.

In response, Bishop Mullally, resisting the amendment, said that there was a range of divisive issues that were not credal questions, and that a whole chapter of the LLF book considered different types of disagreement in the Church. She said that the pastoral guidance would probably also include theological reflection on this issue.

Canon Andy Salmon (Manchester) had recently recorded a video for his local school about “What is a Christian?” Christians were followers of Jesus, he said, and Jesus had given his followers two golden rules: love God, and love other people. Was this a fair summary of how to define a Christian, he asked the Synod. Some had claimed that he was abandoning his ordination vows, and he had heard “strange claims about the centrality of heterosexual marriage in doctrine”. It had never occurred to him to include anything about sexual ethics in his video, as it had seemed obviously secondary to core Christian beliefs. The amendment asked the Bishops to clarify their view. Canon Salmon thought he knew what their answer would be, but urged support for the amendment so that the Church could move forward, knowing what was and was not essential in faith.

The Revd Jake Madin (York) believed that sexuality was a first-order issue, and that people’s sexual behaviour did affect their “eternal destiny”; but nobody thought that it was a credal issue. Ethics flow into the creeds, but was not addressed by them, he noted. As such, he called for members to resist the amendment.

The Revd Dr Patrick Richmond (Norwich) agreed with Ms Ozanne that the amendment touched on a critical issue, but agreed with Mr Madin that many issues were first-order and explicit in scripture, touching on salvation, but also were not in the creeds. He also worried about a majority crushing the minority view, which always caused problems. In a time of uncertainty and division, the amendment would create uncertainty about salvation, and could cause people to miss out on their “inheritance in God”, he warned. Much like the narrow Brexit vote, pushing through big changes on doctrine on small majorities was a hiding to nothing.

The Revd Jo Winn-Smith (Guildford) said that it had been implied that doctrine had been unchanged, but the Church had got involved in regulating marriage only a few centuries ago. The Church’s understanding of marriage had evolved over time, and denigrating those speaking of “feelings” instead of dry doctrine could fall into the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. “We grieve the Holy Spirit when we malign those who thirst for righteousness.” Gay Christians were not giving in to the sexualised culture around them, but asking the Church to give them the high moral standard of marriage, and she told the Synod to support the amendment.

The amendment was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 28-3, with eight recorded abstentions; Clergy 110-70, with seven recorded abstentions; Laity 106-85, with six recorded abstentions.

Mr Margrave spoke to his second amendment, which called on the House of Bishops to show greater transparency in further debates about the PLF. Every other public body allowed people to listen in to its debates, and more openness in disclosing both deliberations and documents received would help improve trust. “We want no more secret meetings,” he said.

Bishop Mullally, resisting the amendment, said that the Bishops had heard concerns throughout the Synod about openness and transparency; the House’s Standing Committee would consider this. She said, however, that LLF had involved more than 40 people, across traditions, who had created resources now published openly online. The House and College of Bishops had met at least three times each since February, and theology, legal advice, and pastoral consideration had been put into “constant conversation”.

The Revd Dr Nick Weir (St Albans) said that the notion that “ends justify the means” derived ultimately from Machiavelli, whereas St Augustine had been clear that “seeking good by doing a wrong thing” was the original sin of humanity. Was the Church following Augustine or Machiavelli in its LLF process, he asked. He did not seek to kick the can down the road, but to stop the Church from doing the wrong thing. Vote against the final motion, he urged members, but vote for the amendment to send a message to the Bishops that the Synod wanted them to act differently.

The Revd Professor Morwenna Ludlow (Exeter) opposed the amendment. Calls for transparency applied to the whole Church, not just the Bishops. Demands for differentiation or structural provision could lose the mutuality in the body of Christ, however honourable the intentions, she warned. Extended episcopal oversight came at a cost to the unity that the Bible called for. Do not make it harder for bishops by making them alone carry the cost of unity across difference, she urged.

The Revd Marcus Walker (London) said he was in favour of gay marriage — not despite being a conservative, but because he was a conservative. “My vote will be analysed and examined,” he predicted. Two Houses of the Synod had to debate in public and make their votes known, and this was right.

The House of Bishops should not be meeting and voting in secret. The House of Commons met in secret only for national security, and the Russians did not care how the Bishops were voting. So let their votes be made public, he said. “It was wonderful to see bishops arguing with each other from their convictions earlier in this session, and the whole of this Synod would appreciate more of that.” He supported the amendment.

After moving to the C of E from Canada, Canon Bruce Bryant-Scott (Europe) had been shocked by the contempt and distrust of the Bishops. In other Provinces, the bishops were trusted and recognised as heirs to the apostles. They did not always get it right; neither had the apostles. The Holy Spirit worked through the bishops, and they did need the opportunity to come together confidentially, which was different from secrecy. “Get over your fear,” he said, and vote the amendment down.

It was lost in a vote by Houses: Bishops 24-6, with seven recorded abstentions; Clergy 99-81, with seven recorded abstentions; Laity passed by 97-94, with eight recorded abstentions.

 

BISHOP BUTLER moved his third and final amendment, which called for “firm provision that provides a clear way of distinguishing differing views”. The amendment, he said, “seeks to have ongoing mutual recognition as God’s gift to one another within the family of God”. He had not used the term “formal”, because it might be interpreted “in a specific manner”, and the details of any differentiation had not yet been worked out. It would, though, offer “reassurance to some, and I do not accept that it would undermine the main motion”.

Bishop Mullally said that the House of Bishops had been mindful of introducing “threads of pastoral reassurance” throughout, and had been committed to bringing forward specific proposals. She was concerned, though, that the wording of Bishop Butler’s amendment would put restraints on the process, and so resisted it.

The Revd Esther Prior (Guildford) said that she could not see a “case for revision” in scripture, although she acknowledged that some did. “Please can we move forward” in a way that allowed people on both sides “to walk with freedom and integrity within the Church of England”, she said. “I think it’s time for formal structural provision.”

The Revd Kate Massey (Coventry) spoke of her experience in the Living with Difference group this year, in which people from both sides had come together. She said that she would vote for some provision if it would lead to significant change in terms of LGBT+ inclusion; but what was being proposed by conservatives amounted to “maximum division for minimal change”, and, therefore, she could not support the amendment.

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham), supporting the amendment, said that it would “allow us to negotiate some form of settlement”; carrying it would allow more people to vote for the main motion.

Abigail Ogier (Manchester) said that being called to be united was “not the same thing as being called to absolute agreement”. She opposed the amendment: the fears of clergy who opposed were perhaps being overstated. The best way of walking together, she suggested, was, instead of any strict structural differentiation, to continue with a settlement akin to the one that allowed divorced people to marry in the Church of England.

Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) was trying to step out of his silo, he said. Speaking to Evangelicals who stood behind the amendment, he found it strange that the conservatives were speaking more about the doctrine of the Church, and it was progressives talking about scripture. It was because of the New Testament that he was persuaded of the need for same-sex blessings, not despite it. He regretted the turning inwards of many of his fellow Evangelicals, and their efforts to “break fellowship” with those with whom they disagreed. Unity had been the mark of the Early Church, he argued. Judgement would come upon those who broke fellowship. “I used to think unity could be sacrificed for the sake of justice, but no longer. Schism is a great sin.”

He would vote for the amendment and the motion, but described the demands of Evangelicals as the sin of schism. He would fight for the right of any conservative to live by their conscience, but he could not do that in a way that would break the unity of the Church. “We must abandon tribal politics,” he said.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesThe Archdeacon of Liverpool, Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes

The Archdeacon of Liverpool, the Ven. Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes (Liverpool), opposed the amendment. The C of E had always been divided, and there were no confessional statements in Anglican ecclesiology beyond the creeds. She believed that those arguing for structural differentiation were disappointed by the failure to create a third province, or similar, during the women bishops’ debates, and were trying to introduce their preferred model by the back door. Other denominations had learned from the C of E’s mistake in managing divisions over women’s ordination, she argued, and none of them wished to copy it.

The amendment fell in a vote by Houses: Bishops 19-14, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 90-88, with nine recorded abstentions; Laity 105-86, with ten recorded abstentions.

 

IN A debate on the motion as amended, Alison Coulter (Winchester), speaking in favour, said that the challenge was “how to go together” as “people of faith”. The motion, she said, was a way in which this could be achieved.

The Archdeacon of Blackburn, the Ven. Mark Ireland (Blackburn), said that he was very troubled to be voting on a motion that had been amended by just a single vote. “We can do this quickly, or we can do this well: we cannot do both,” he said. Theology in a rush could not glorify God; so he would vote against the motion. The Synod had been right to withhold its consent to the first draft of the women-bishops legislation years ago, and, even though it was sad that the original proposals had failed by just four votes, it had produced a better process.

A two-thirds had majority emerged once the conservative opponents were confident that they had a good package to protect their consciences, and could permit the reforms to go through regardless. Without the pastoral guidance and reassurance needed, the prayers were an incomplete package. “The Bishops are asking us to trust them, but trust works both ways, and they won’t trust us to even see the minutes of their meetings, or the advice they have received.”

Canon Mark Bennet (Oxford) supported the motion, because it moved the Church forward to “a new space of imagination”. The LLF process was bigger than just pastoral guidance on same-sex relationships. It was unhelpful to frame guidance solely around a single issue. He had a private member’s motion on ordination after divorce and remarriage, which would also require new pastoral guidance, as would other issues, such as pornography. Pastoral reassurance also needed expanded imaginations, he said.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesAlianore Smith (Southwark)

Alianore Smith (Southwark) opposed the motion because, she said, it was imprudent to vote on something so important without the legal advice and pastoral guidance. The work was half-baked and incomplete, and to be asked to vote it through was “disrespectful and dangerous”. Members needed more information to understand fully the implications. “This is not about delaying, but clarity, integrity, and good process. It’s about respecting those we have been elected to represent.”

The Archbishop of York said that it had been a painful debate, to disagree so profoundly with those whom they loved. But he also felt that it had been honest and helpful, and mostly very courteous. If he had abused his power as a bishop, he said, he apologised, but his intent had always been to work for the good of the whole Church.

“It’s clear that the votes are narrow, and we have to listen to that. It’s clear we do need pastoral provision. We really need that pastoral guidance.” The House of Bishops also needed to reflect on whether they were being as transparent as they should be. But, this afternoon, the vote was simply about whether the Church had made any progress. He believed that they had: the prayers would be implemented, there would be a B2 process, and the pastoral guidance was coming.

Mr Matovu said that this debate mattered to God, who had made his word much easier to comprehend than the documents offered up by the Bishops. He quoted scriptures that, he said, prohibited men from having sex with other men, and said that God nowhere promised to bless such men, or even praise the good in their relationships, or offer any pastoral provision. “These are not my words, these are God’s words,” he said. He castigated the Bishops for a lack of honesty and integrity, and could not support the motion.

The Archbishop of Perth, the Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy (Anglican Communion), said that she had led the Lambeth Conference’s work on human dignity. Australian Anglicans punched above their weight when it came to contributions to theology on these issues. She said that many in her diocese were watching along with the Synod’s debates, and holding on to hope that their relationships might be recognised. Her plea was that the Synod would be faithful and hold on to whatever decision it made, “not just for yourself, but for the rest of us in the Communion”.

The Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Albert Chama, said that the C of E was the mother Church of his Province, and his people enjoyed being part of the bigger family of the Anglican Communion. But the family was “crumbling”, he warned: some members were no longer talking to each other and walking together. He had friends who were in same-sex relationships, and got on with them well, but, for the sake of the wider family, he urged the Synod not to vote for the change on the table in the motion. His Province had taken 25 years of debating before agreeing to ordain women; it was important not to rush.

Canon Alice Kemp (Bristol) said that the Synod had heard a lot about fear. She recalled one previous speaker who had said that carrying the motion would risk the Church’s exemption from the Equality Act. “Is this who we want to be — to be exempt from the Equality Act?” She likened it to the former Home Secretary’s calls for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Jesus had reached out to those on the margins, who were excluded, she argued. The Church should model this rather than hide behind exemptions.

The Revd Adrian Clarke (London) spoke for his ethnically diverse congregation who believed that the Bible was the sole authority for moral teaching, and that Jesus had not overturned Old Testament teaching on sexuality. People had put their families’ lives on the line to defend the scriptures; so they saw these proposed blessings as a compromise on doctrine. Many members of his congregation had offered him an ultimatum: if the PLF were carried, either his church had to leave the C of E, or they would leave the church. He urged Synod members to join him in the “safe harbour of interpreting scripture literally”.

The Revd Arwen Foulkes (Chichester) said that she had been moved by the common ground in the Synod, but regretted how scripture had been “weaponised”. She recalled how Jesus broke the biblical command not to work on the sabbath when he healed a man, bending the rules to heal and to bless. Hold this story alongside the testimonies of those whom the current rules on sexuality had hurt, she urged.

Rebecca Cowburn (Ely) loved her LGBT+ sisters and brothers, she said, but could not approve the motion. The right route for controversial issues was Canon B2, not commendation under Canon B5. There was not yet any pastoral guidance nor reassurance. Pastoral provision could not be offered to people living in a way that the Bible called sin. The motion “turned the words of Jesus upside down”, and she asked members to reject the motion.

Dr Rachel Jepson (Birmingham) was struck by the “need to dig down” into the core of the disagreements with which people were wrestling. The core issue was not sex or scripture, she said, but ecclesiology, and whom “we recognise as fellow members of the Body of Christ”. She urged members to support the motion.

The Bishop of Rochester, Dr Jonathan Gibbs, said that forcing through the issue, despite deep divisions, felt “like an exercise of power”. Only one part of the package of prayers, guidance, and reassurance had been provided, and that had led to a lack of trust among Synod members. Provision did not have to be about division: it could be about inclusion. He would vote against the motion, because he believed that the Church could and should do better.

The Archdeacon of Bolton and Salford, the Ven. Dr Rachel Mann (Manchester), said that the C of E was no longer the Church of its history. To find a new approach to “the story of God’s faithfulness is not deviant or heretical”, but to read the inheritance of tradition in fresh ways. She referred to divorce, and other shifts around the eucharist, including permitting trans people to marry since 2004. “The world has not imploded, with conscience provisions.” Could the Church continue to “stray gently and faithfully from the known places”, as it always had throughout history? Please vote for the motion, which was only a modest proposal, she said.

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesVoting during the debate

Clare Williams (Norwich) said that the motion would guarantee further division of the body of Christ. Marriage as a sacrament was of huge importance to her, but the stand-alone services were in danger of blurring the boundaries of what was holy matrimony. “In a half-hearted attempt to offer something, we are actually offering an outward sign while withholding the grace of the sacrament.” The motion lacked both transparency and certainty, and so those on both sides of the debate must resist it. It offered thin gruel to LGBTQ+ Christians while also throwing marriage into jeopardy for conservatives.

Julie Dziegiel (Oxford) was in favour of the motion. As a deanery treasurer, it was her job to allocate parish share and collect it from the churches in her deanery, which was not an easy job. Parish share had an inevitable element of “mutual support”, but some parishes were unwilling to fund others, owing to theological differences. Could the Synod carry the motion and commend its progress, but in further work look not only at pastoral provision, but also at financial structures?

Ed Shaw (Bristol) asked what crumbs of comfort there were for him as a gay priest who had found the Church’s teaching life-giving. In February, he had clung to reassuring words from Archbishop Cottrell, who had pledged that he would not support the PLF until there was both pastoral guidance and provision.

Those words had kept him going, but now he was “walking away, perhaps for ever, with no crumbs of comfort at all”. The House of Bishops might talk about structural provision, but, until there was more tangible action, there were no crumbs of comfort for him and many others like him. As a result, he could not support the motion.

Responding to the debate, Bishop Mullally thanked the Synod for getting through a painful debate, and for all the contributions. Once again, she acknowledged the hurt felt by those on all sides, and the concerns about transparency in the House of Bishops. There was no single document of legal advice which they could share with the Synod, she insisted, as there had been an ongoing conversation between the Legal Office and the LLF steering group over the past eight months.

The challenge for the Synod was about how to live together as “children of God” despite their deep disagreements. Sexuality had become weaponised, and it had become too easy for the Church to enter into the “culture wars of our times”. “This is not a credal issue; unity, however, is,” she said. She reiterated the fact that the House of Bishops would look at formal structural provision.

Addressing those who had cut off relationships with her because of her work leading LLF, she said that, regardless of their views, she continued to believe that she was in communion with them, and they remained welcome to eat at her table. “Let us choose not to destroy one another, but to truly encounter each other. To be one body, however messy, and, by doing this, know that God is in this place.”

After a moment of silent prayer brought to a close by Archbishop Welby, the Synod vote on the motion, as amended. It was carried in a vote by Houses: Bishops 23-10, with four recorded abstentions; Clergy 100-93, with one recorded abstention; Laity 104-100. It read:

That this Synod, conscious that the Church is not of one mind on the issues raised by Living in Love and Faith, that we are in a period of uncertainty, and that many in the Church on all sides are being deeply hurt at this time, recognise the progress made by the House of Bishops towards implementing the motion on Living in Love and Faith passed by this Synod in February 2023, as reported in GS 2328, and encourage the House to continue its work of implementation, and ask the House to consider whether some standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis, on the timescale envisaged by the motion passed by the Synod in February 2023.

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