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Varied stances taken in first reactions to Synod vote on same-sex unions

17 November 2023

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Bishops participate in the Synod’s time of silent prayer before the concluding vote on Wednesday afternoon

Bishops participate in the Synod’s time of silent prayer before the concluding vote on Wednesday afternoon

THE lack of unity among the bishops of the Church of England, and in the Anglican Communion, came to the fore in the aftermath of the decision, taken on Wednesday, to proceed with stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples (News, 15 November).

The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, told the Church Times that she hoped that the Prayers of Love and Faith would be commended for use in mid-December, and that the House of Bishops would “reflect” on how to implement the General Synod’s narrow decision in favour of a trial period of stand-alone services.

It is expected that, at a House of Bishops meeting in mid-December, the B5(A) route for authorising the services will be discussed, with a view to asking the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to put this into action.

Asked about ostensibly widening divisions within the House of Bishops — a total of ten voted against the final motion on Wednesday, compared with four in February — Bishop Mullally said that she “wouldn’t use the word ‘division’”, but said that there was “a difference of views within the House of Bishops”.

“What we’re trying to model is how do you, despite the fact we may have different views, seek to try and find a place we can occupy together,” she said. The whole process was “iterative”, and this involved listening and attempting to discern a way forward.

The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, proposed the amendment calling for stand-alone services to be trialled, which was carried by just one vote in the House of Laity, and by 25-16 among the Bishops.

After the debate had concluded, he said that he was relieved that his amendment, and the final motion, had been carried, but was “concerned about the fracturing of collegiality among the Bishops”.

“There’s some repair work to do there,” he said. The Bishops also needed to “attend to” the mistrust of them which had been expressed by people on both sides of the debate.

He was not, however, “discouraged” by the partisan nature of the way that the debate had been conducted, with two clear blocs of voters in each House.

“That is the nature of the way that the Church makes decisions over issues which have historically been very contested,” he said; but he expressed hope that, over time, a greater degree of unity could be rebuilt.

The Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, however, who opposed Dr Croft’s amendment and voted against the final motion, said on Thursday morning that she was “sad” that the Church had been led into a “cul-de-sac”.

Referring to Dr Croft’s amendment, she said that the “one-vote knife-edge” would make it difficult to implement anything. What was needed was a “better way that will help us keep united, help us flourish”.

She referred to her positive experience in Blackburn, working with a diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Philip North, who opposed the ordination of women, as an example of how it was possible for the Church to stay together despite deep differences (News, 12 January).

A “consensus” was needed akin to the one that had enabled the legislation on women bishops to be carried by two-thirds majorities in the Synod. “We did that quite carefully, and it has enabled us to be respected across the whole spectrum,” she said.

In the Synod in July, however, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, made a speech in which she implored the Church not to go down the same route: it “ain’t working — and we are paying the price”, she said (News, 14 July).

In the same speech, Bishop Hudson-Wilkin also castigated the approach taken towards same-sex couples, and suggested that there was a “callous refusal” to walk together with LGBTQ+ believers.

 

IN A statement on Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed that he had abstained from the vote, but “welcomed” its outcome. “I am pleased we have found a way forward on this journey together,” he said.

He had abstained because “my pastoral responsibility extends to everyone in the Church of England and global Anglican Communion. . . Archbishops of Canterbury must always work for the maximum possible unity in the Church, however impossible that may seem and however deep our differences.”

He referred to divisions in the Church of England, and “even deeper” divisions in the Communion, in which “the majority of Provinces remain committed to the traditional Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, while a minority have adopted blessings or marriage for same-sex couples.”

Condemnation of the Synod’s decision from parts of the Communion was swift. The Archbishop of South Sudan, Dr Justin Badi Arama, released a statement on Thursday morning, on behalf of the Primates of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), which called the decision “disastrous”.

The GSFA “wholeheartedly support the faithful bishops, clergy, and laity within the Church of England, and assure them of our continuing prayers and pastoral commitment as a global body”, he said.

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) has been instrumental in organising resistance to the introduction of the prayers, and has been exploring the possibility of associate membership of the GSFA (News, 20 February).

On Wednesday afternoon, the CEEC’s national director, Canon John Dunnett, released a statement that, “If the bishops continue with the implementation of their proposals, we believe this will have a devastating impact on churches across the country and beyond.

“It will tear local parish congregations apart, damage the relationship between large numbers of clergy and their bishops, and cause churches across the dioceses to feel as though their shepherds have abandoned them. It may also serve a final blow to the unity of the Anglican Communion.”

Canon Dunnett said that the CEEC would announce “a series of provisions for orthodox Evangelicals, and work to do all it can to ensure [that] Evangelical life and witness in the Church of England continues for years to come”.

An offer of support to C of E opponents of the introduction of the prayers also came from the Primates of Gafcon, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, whose membership overlaps significantly with the GSFA, but includes several breakaway Provinces.

The Archbishop of Rwanda, the Most Revd Laurent Mbanda, who chairs Gafcon’s Primates Council, in a statement on Thursday evening, said that the vote “marks a tragic moment in the history of the Church of England”, and that members of Gafcon “recommit ourselves to supporting the ministry of biblically faithful Anglicans throughout England”.

Bishops in the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE) — an independent group aligned with Gafcon — released a statement on Thursday also expressing solidarity with “clergy and laity who cannot travel the road chosen by General Synod”. It ended: “You are not alone. You have a home.”

Read more on this story in this week’s Leader comment, Letters, and Press column


Paul Handley, editor, and Francis Martin discuss the vote on the 
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