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Don’t delay guidance allowing priests to be in same-sex marriages, say 44 bishops

01 November 2023

Sam Atkins/Church Times

The General Synod meets at York University in July

The General Synod meets at York University in July

A GROUP of 44 bishops made a public statement on Wednesday afternoon expressing their hope that pastoral guidance allowing priests to be in same-sex marriages would be issued “without delay”.

The statement in favour of reform follows three weeks after 12 bishops publicly dissented from a majority decision by the House of Bishops to commend prayers for same-sex couples (News, 20 October).

The new group, 15 diocesan bishops and 29 suffragans, write that they “recognise the complexities of the Pastoral Guidance in relation to ministry, and also the need for a swift end to the current uncertainty for LGBTQIA+ clergy and ordinands.

“We look forward to Guidance being issued without delay that includes the removal of all restrictions on clergy entering same-sex civil marriages, and on bishops’ ordaining and licensing such clergy, as well as granting permissions to officiate.”

The Church Times reported last week that such guidance existed in draft form, but that the House of Bishops had voted to delay its implementation for “further work” (News, 27 October).

In the same meeting, the Bishops had voted by 18 votes to 15, with two abstentions, that the guidance should remove all barriers to priests’ being in same-sex civil marriages (not as reported in our print edition last week, which reversed the figures).

Immediately after the meeting, the 12 bishops — nine of whom are voting members of the House of Bishops — wrote an open letter stating their dissent from the “collective decisions made by the House”.

“There was deep disagreement within the House,” they wrote, but explicitly mentioned only the decision, which by then had been made public, that the Prayers of Love and Faith would be commended for use within existing services.

The Prayers of Love and Faith were approved in outline at a meeting of the General Synod in February (News, 17 February).

Despite voting figures that show that a large majority of bishops supported the immediate authorisation of standalone services of blessing under Canon B5A, the House voted to pursue the longer synodical process for the authorisation of a standalone service under Canon B2.

The statement on Wednesday indicates that dissent from this agreed plan does not exist only among conservatives: “Many of us regret that the authorisation of the separate Service Structures and Sample Services has been delayed, and we will work within agreed processes to secure that authorisation as soon as possible.”

Together with the 15 diocesans who sit in the House of Bishops, four of the suffragans in the group — Birkenhead, Dudley, Reading, and Stepney — are elected members of the House.

The diocesans who signed the statement are Bristol, Chelmsford, Derby, Gloucester, Lincoln, Lichfield, Liverpool, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Portsmouth, Salisbury, Southwark, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, and Worcester.

Documents seen by the Church Times show that, in October, the House voted by 19 to 16 to proceed straight to the B2 process rather than support the experimental authorisation of the prayers under Canon B5A, under which they would be introduced under the joint authority of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

The introduction of the services will need a two-thirds majority in all three Houses of the Synod: in February, the Prayers of Love and Faith received a majority in all three, but achieved two-thirds support in only the House of Bishops.

The House of Bishops did, however, vote 25-12 to reject a proposal that the Prayers themselves also be subject to B2 authorisation rather than be commended for use in existing services.

At a press conference on the publication of the synod papers for the February group of sessions, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, did not give an exact date that the Prayers would be commended, but indicated that this would happen after the Synod had met.

The statement issued by the 44 bishops on Wednesday says that it looks forward to the House of Bishops’ “refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith, such that the final version should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”.

They write: “We know that we will not all agree, but it is our longing that we will find a way that will recognise and honour our different perspectives and the gift we are to each other within the life of the Church of England, such that no one is expected to act against their conscience or theological conviction.”

They conclude: “In all of this we long for the day when LGBTQIA+ people will know themselves to be unquestionably included in the life and all ministries of our Church, and the contributions of each one of us fully accepted and celebrated as simply the offering of a fellow Christian.”

 

The full text of the statement:

We write to reaffirm our commitment to the Living in Love and Faith process in light of the motion passed at General Synod in February this year, by which the General Synod agreed to lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQIA+ people, commended our continued learning together and looked forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith, such that the final version should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.

We are writing this statement following the publication of the paper GS2328 ahead of the November General Synod. We wish to convey something more of our commitment as members of the House and the College, firmly set within our calling as bishops to be ‘shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading God’s people in mission.’

We rejoice that we have agreed to commend the Prayers of Love and Faith, and warmly support their use. Many of us regret that the authorisation of the separate Service Structures and Sample Services has been delayed, and we will work within agreed processes to secure that authorisation as soon as possible.

We recognise the complexities of the Pastoral Guidance in relation to ministry, and also the need for a swift end to the current uncertainty for LGBTQIA+ clergy and ordinands. We look forward to Guidance being issued without delay that includes the removal of all restrictions on clergy entering same-sex civil marriages, and on bishops ordaining and licensing such clergy, as well as granting permissions to officiate.

We are seeking together to make pastoral provision in a time of uncertainty, deeply aware that this direction of travel, which has been the increasingly pastoral and inclusive response of many in the Church of England over many years, is not accepted by some of our brother and sister bishops, clergy and laity in the Church. As members together of the Body of Christ we are all summoned to witness to God’s love and to work for the coming of God’s kingdom, serving Christ together within the Church, and for the sake of God’s world, committed to living and sharing the gospel of Christ. We know that we will not all agree, but it is our longing that we will find a way that will recognise and honour our different perspectives and the gift we are to each other within the life of the Church of England, such that no one is expected to act against their conscience or theological conviction.

In all of this we long for the day when LGBTQIA+ people will know themselves to be unquestionably included in the life and all ministries of our Church, and the contributions of each one of us fully accepted and celebrated as simply the offering of a fellow Christian. The Lord calls us all to serve and to witness to the God in whose image each of us is made and it is through God’s grace we are all called, together, ‘to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ’ (Eph. 4.13). 

Signed: 

The Bishop of Aston and Acting Bishop of Birmingham, Anne Hollinghurst
The Bishop of Barking, Lynne Cullens
The Bishop of Bedford, Richard Atkinson
The Bishop of Birkenhead, Julie Conalty
The Bishop of Bristol, Vivienne Faull
The Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Guli Francis-Dehqani
The Bishop of Colchester, Roger Morris
The Bishop of Crediton and Acting Bishop of Exeter, Jackie Searle
The Bishop of Croydon, Rosemarie Mallett
The Bishop of Derby, Libby Lane
The Bishop of Dorchester, Gavin Collins
The Bishop of Dudley, Martin Gorick
The Bishop of Dunwich, Mike Harrison
The Bishop in Europe, David Hamid
The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek
The Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain
The Bishop of Huddersfield, Smitha Prasadam
The Bishop of Huntingdon and Acting Bishop of Ely, Dagmar Winter
The Bishop of Lincoln, Stephen Conway
The Bishop of Lichfield, Michael Ipgrave
The Bishop of Liverpool, John Perumbalath
The Bishop of Lynn, Jane Steen
The Bishop of Kingston, Martin Gainsborough
The Bishop of Kirkstall, Arun Arora
The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker
The Bishop of Middleton, Mark Davies
The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher
The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft
The Bishop of Portsmouth, Jonathan Frost
The Bishop of Ramsbury, Andrew Rumsey
The Bishop of Reading, Olivia Graham
The Bishop of Ripon, Anna Eltringham
The Bishop of Salisbury, Stephen Lake
The Bishop of Sherborne, Karen Gorham
The Bishop of Shrewsbury, Sarah Bullock
The Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun
The Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Martin Seeley
The Bishop of Stafford, Matthew Parker
The Bishop of Stepney, Joanne Grenfell
The Bishop of Taunton, Ruth Worsley
The Bishop of Tewkesbury, Robert Springett
The Bishop of Thetford, Ian Bishop
The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge

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