WORSHIPPERS at one of the churches united with Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), have expressed “extreme disquiet” to the Vicar, the Revd Archie Coates, about his stance on blessings for same-sex couples.
At the start of July, Mr Coates was among 27 signatories to a letter, shown to the Church Times, which argued that it was “unlawful, unconstitutional, and illegitimate” for the Bishops to commend the Prayers of Love and Faith. The letter said that they should instead be subject to a process of formal synodical authorisation (News, 7 July).
The signatories included three other prominent figures in the HTB network of churches, including Mr Coates’s predecessor, the Revd Nicky Gumbel. A footnote stated that individuals were “signing in their personal capacities, recognising they cannot claim to speak for everyone that they lead”.
Notwithstanding this caveat, their contribution marked the first public statement on the prayers by members of HTB’s leadership. The Prayers of Love and Faith work was approved in outline by the General Synod in February (Synod, 17 February) and the business is due to return to the Synod in November (News, 22 June).
In an email to Mr Coates on Sunday, reproduced in full below, a group of worshippers HTB Queen’s Gate — as St Augustine’s, Queen’s Gate, is now known — describes the letter as a “cleverly worded delaying tactic specifically designed to frustrate a decision which has already been voted upon.
“It can only be concluded that this has been done to prolong discrimination by procedural default, although we realise that there are, of course, other serious issues at the basis of this tactic, one of which is to pacify those who are currently anxious to cause a schism in the Church of England.
“As a group of worshippers within the parish we must strongly disassociate ourselves from this letter and we would like you to know that it is causing us extreme disquiet.”
On Wednesday, Mike Lawlor, a former churchwarden of St Augustine’s who wrote the email to Mr Coates on behalf of the group, said that he had spoken to about 20 “core parishioners” who felt that they “can’t sit back and keep quiet”.
He said that Mr Coates had, in his response, been “extremely understanding”, and had “listened very carefully to what we said”.
Mr Lawlor has previously written to the Church Times to explain how the merger of St Augustine’s into HTB had been a success, leading to congregational growth without change to the traditions of the church, and that he had found HTB clergy to be “loving, supportive, and an ongoing blessing to us in every way” (Letters, 2 June 2017).
Mr Coates could not be reached for comment before the Church Times went to press on Wednesday.
The full text of the email sent to Mr Coates:
I expect that you will not be surprised to receive this but, following consultation with the core parishioners of the former 11am congregation of St Augustine’s this morning at church, I have been asked to represent the following views to you.
As far as we understand it, despite its having been passed by the Synod, the letter says that this should now be halted from being used by any church because it would be “unlawful, unconstitutional and illegitimate.”
As a group within the parish we feel that the letter is a cleverly worded delaying tactic specifically designed to frustrate a decision which has already been voted upon. It can only be concluded that this has been done to prolong discrimination by procedural default, although we realise that there are, of course, other serious issues at the basis of this tactic, one of which is to pacify those who are currently anxious to cause a schism in the Church of England.
As a group of worshippers within the parish we must strongly disassociate ourselves from this letter and we would like you to know that it is causing us extreme disquiet. Moreover we reserve the right to express our misgivings both individually and as a group, if necessary, in public and indeed by writing to the Synod ourselves.
If one looks at what the church blesses — Bishop Sarah blessed two fire barges this week for example — then the ability to bless sincere worshipping Christians who want to dedicate their commitment before their Heavenly Father in a church which chooses to offer them such blessings would, we feel, certainly not be rejected or stigmatised by a loving Lord and Saviour who cares, it is clear in the gospels, for the least of His brethren and in particular for the marginalised — and not for the selectively marginalised.
It is significant that some who feel strongly about this in our congregation are what one of the signatories to the letter calls “ UK Global Majority” members. We, however, prefer not to define worshippers in this way as not everyone thinks the same and we are all the people of God.
It is very disappointing that we feel the need to make these strong representations to you — but nevertheless here they are. Several members of the congregation including the writer of this letter are having to evaluate whether we can, in all conscience, continue to worship within the parish because of this letter. I suspect that there will be others both on the staff and within other services who may be feeling uneasy too.
St Augustine’s Church, Queen’s Gate