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Second Commissioner responds to MPs’ questions on Prayers of Love and Faith

27 October 2023

Max Colson/Church Times

Andrew Selous MP addresses the General Synod in February

Andrew Selous MP addresses the General Synod in February

THE Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, has responded to a set of questions about the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process, including questions about votes taken among the Bishops.

The questions were posed by the Labour MP Sir Ben Bradshaw and the Conservative MP Peter Gibson, in a letter sent on Monday. Both parliamentarians have previously called for the Church of England to allow same-sex marriage in church (News, 20 January).

On Friday, Mr Selous’ responses were published on the Parliament website. In answer to a question about the outcome of any votes in recent meetings of the College and House of Bishops on whether clergy would be permitted to be in same-sex civil marriages, Mr Selous wrote: “The proceedings of these meetings of the House of Bishops and College of Bishops, including details of votes, are confidential.”

On Thursday, the Church Times revealed that majority votes had been recorded on this issue in both bodies (News, 27 October).

In September, the College of Bishops voted 72-26 to “recommend to the House that we continue the work on pastoral provision, to extend this to clergy who enter into same-sex marriages”.

They also agreed, by a margin of 81-17, that there should be “no questions around sexual intimacy” put to “clergy in same-sex civil partnerships”.

The House of Bishops also voted in favour of a motion stipulating that the pastoral guidance should remove all barriers to clergy entering same-sex civil marriages, albeit by a narrower margin: 18 votes to 15.

The House agreed, however, by a vote of 23-13, to delay the publication of such pastoral guidance until “further work” had been done — a decision that was announced last Friday, when an update on LLF was published in advance of the next month’s General Synod meeting (News, 27 October).

After the meeting of the House on 9 October, at which these votes were taken, a group of 12 bishops — nine of whom are voting members of the House — went public with their disagreement with the “collective decisions made by the House” (News, 13 October).

Draft versions of the Pastoral Guidance for Ministers make clear that clergy will be permitted to enter into same-sex civil marriages.

In response to a question whether such drafts had been distributed to the College and House of Bishops, Mr Selous said: “Drafts of the material presented in the November Synod papers were seen and commented on by the College of Bishops and House of Bishops at their respective meetings on 18th September and 9th October.”

He added that the update on LLF was “drafted and agreed by the chairs of the LLF steering group based on this feedback and noting the diversity of opinions held by the bishops”.

The LLF steering group is chaired by the the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen.

In response to the question from Sir Ben and Mr Gibson “what physical acts the Church refers to when teaching that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is forbidden”, Mr Selous — who represents the Church Commissioners in Parliament — responded: “The Living in Love and Faith process has always sought to recognise that the expression of sexual intimacy between two people cannot be reduced to a small set of defined actions.”

A further question asked whether a “letter threatening legal action” had been sent to the Bishops between the meetings of the College and the House, to which Mr Selous responded that “several items of correspondence were received over this period from a number of groups with different views, reflecting differing legal and theological opinions, as is widely in the public domain.

“Some offered a legal opinion on the routes of commendation or authorisation for the Prayers of Love and Faith, but I am not aware that any directly threatened the recipients with legal action.”

The Church Times has reported on a number of private letters sent to the College of Bishops from a group of leaders of church organisations, which argued that the introduction of the blessings for same-sex couples, in material entitled Prayers of Love and Faith, without a full synodical process under Canon B2, would be “unlawful, unconstitutional, and illegitimate”. They suggested that “any alternative route is likely to expose the Church and/or the Presidents of the General Synod and/or individual bishops to significant legal challenge” (News, 7 July; News, 1 September).

In response to one of these letters, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote: “We were a little surprised by the legalistic tone in some of your letter,” and invited the group, which includes the leadership of the Evangelical and Catholic Groups on the Synod, as well as the current and former Vicars of Holy Trinity, Brompton, to “see the matters at issue as primarily theological and pastoral rather than legal”.

The Church Times can confirm that further letters were sent before the House’s October meeting and that they urged the Bishops not to support the authorisation of standalone services for the prayers under Canon B5A, which makes provision for “experimental” forms of service.

The College of Bishops had voted 75-22 to recommend to the House that the prayers be authorised by the Archbishops under Canon B5A; but the House of Bishops voted against this course of action by a narrow margin: 19-16 (Leader, 27 October).

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