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Clergy agree a set of questions on same-sex blessings to send to the Bishops

04 May 2023

MAX COLSON/CHURCH TIMES

The Revd Kate Wharton, the Northern Prolocutor, speaks during the February meeting of the General Synod

The Revd Kate Wharton, the Northern Prolocutor, speaks during the February meeting of the General Synod

ANXIETIES about the implementation of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process were heard at an informal meeting of the House of Clergy on Thursday morning.

According to one of those who attended, about three-quarters of the membership of the House of Clergy — one of three houses in the General Synod — logged into the virtual meeting.

The purpose of the gathering was to collate questions and concerns to be put to the House and College of Bishops as they consider how to implement the blessings for same-sex couples, provision for those who oppose the introduction of the blessings, and new pastoral guidance for clergy and Readers.

On Tuesday, the membership of the three LLF implementation groups — comprising bishops, clergy, and some lay people — was made public (News, 3 May).

In an email to members, the Revd Kate Wharton, the Northern Prolocutor, wrote: “I want to make clear that this meeting will not rerun the debate we had in February. There will be no lobbying of different positions. There will simply be an opportunity to raise questions, but not to make long speeches.”

Questions and comments would be anonymised, she said, before being passed on to the bishops.

Several of those who attended the meeting attested to the constructive atmosphere in which it was held: concerns were raised, but no debate or rancour ensued. “We were well behaved and tended to each other’s needs,” one priest said afterwards. He described the meeting as being “drenched in prayer at beginning and end”, and praised the manner in which Ms Wharton chaired proceedings.

“It was busy,” he said, with many wishing to be heard, but he described the atmosphere overall as “happy, healthy — robust certainly, but no one seemed to be saying ‘that’s it, I’m out of here.’”

Another priest, who stood in opposition to the introduction of the blessings at the meeting of the General Synod in February, said that there was little mention of “structural differentiation” in Thursday’s meeting, despite this being a prominent demand of conservative Evangelicals in the wake of February’s vote (News 10 February).

“There was no ill-feeling,” he said, just “practical questions” about the implementation of the outcomes of the LLF process. Such questions included: what protection would there be for curates training under a priest whose stance on the blessings they disagreed with?

Another anxiety aired concerned the deployment of “wedding accoutrements” during use of the Prayers of Love and Faith. “If ‘brides’ are going to turn up in a dress, with confetti and rings, that’s a wedding, regardless of what the prayers say,” one cleric said afterwards.

Another priest, on the liberal wing, expressed her surprise at this question. “I’ve never thought to ask what people are going to wear,” she said.

In general, participants kept to the directive to focus on the implementation of what was agreed at the Synod, although another person who attended said that there was “quite a lot of submitting a question which was actually making a point — eight hours of debate in February clearly wasn’t enough for some people.”

Overall, though, he said, there was “nothing about the meeting which was too antagonistic”.

Concerns from liberal members that the steps agreed in February might be watered down, or their implementation delayed, were heard, while others expressed scepticism about whether it would be possible to reach a resolution at the General Synod in July, given the complexity of the issues.

All to whom the Church Times spoke agreed that the meeting felt like a positive step. “It boded well for future meetings,” one said. “Well done, sisters and brothers, for looking after each other.”

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