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Ten London clergy launch schismatic deanery chapter over same-sex blessings

31 March 2023

St Nicholas’s Cole Abbey/YouTube

Mr Fishlock and Mr Martin announce plans for a new “City Deanery Chapter”

Mr Fishlock and Mr Martin announce plans for a new “City Deanery Chapter”

A GROUP of ten clerics in the the City deanery of the diocese of London have announced their decision to establish an alternative “deanery chapter”, in protest at the decision to allow church blessings for same-sex couples.

In a video released on YouTube on Thursday, the Senior Minister of St Nicholas’s Cole Abbey, the Revd Chris Fishlock, and the Guild Vicar of St Botolph’s without Aldersgate, the Revd Phil Martin, outline plans for a new “City Deanery Chapter”.

“We hope that what we’re doing is, among other things, a helpful demonstration of the kind of structural differentiation which will be needed for many of us within the Church of England,” Mr Martin says on the video.

A statement from the diocese on Thursday afternoon described the initiative as a “unilateral move” with “no legal substance”.

In the video, posted on the YouTube channel of St Nicholas Cole Abbey, Mr Fishlock reveals that the first meeting of the group was held on Monday, and was attended by ten members of clergy. It was agreed that Mr Martin would be “acting area dean”, he says.

“It’s worth saying that we’re still in the very early days of thinking this new structure through; we really haven’t got everything sorted yet,” Mr Fishlock adds.

Reading from a statement agreed at the meeting, Mr Fishlock echoes language adopted by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), saying that the new “deanery chapter” is open to all clergy who feel “compelled to resist all episcopal leadership from the House of Bishops on the grounds that their proposed Prayers of Love and Faith (News, 20 January) undermine the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage, such that we can no longer work in partnership together.”

After blessings for same-sex couples were approved at the February sessions of the General Synod (News, 9 February), the CEEC called for churches who opposed the changes to show “visible differentiation” (News, 10 February).

Several churches in London have subsequently announced their intention to withhold payments to the diocese, and their intention to explore the possibility of alternative episcopal oversight (News, 1 March).

Eighteen months ago, in October 2021, the PCC of St Nicholas Cole Abbey announced its intention to distance itself from the diocese of London over its endorsement of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process. At the time, the PCC expressed its “disappointment at the failure of the House of Bishops to uphold their vows to contend for, and only for, the Bible’s view of marriage, which is clearly expressed in the historic doctrine of the Church of England”.

In this week’s video, Mr Fishlock and Mr Martin say that the new group will seek to support ordinands who, “because of conscience”, feel “unable to be ordained by the diocesan bishop or any bishop acting on her behalf.

“Therefore, senior leadership from the churches within this deanery chapter will commission these individuals so that they are enabled to work within Church of England churches, until such a time that that ordinations can take place.”

They add that support will also be made available to prospective ordinands and curates who are unhappy about the plans for blessing same-sex couples, as well as to deacons who are unwilling to receive post-ordination training within the diocesan structure.

In a response issued on Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for the diocese of London said: “The diocese was first informed a few hours ago that a group of clergy in the City of London is seeking to set up its own parallel, unregulated structures, outside of those of the Diocese of London and the Church of England. This unilateral move would have no legal substance.

“The initiative has been announced publicly, without discussion, at a time when constructive ongoing dialogue continues here in the capital, and across the country, following the House of Bishops’ proposals in response to the six-year Living in Love and Faith process.”

The statement concluded with a commitment to “working together through our differences, recognising the strength of our shared faith in Christ, and all that brings us together”.

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