THE process towards a decision on how to introduce prayers of blessing for same-sex couples inched forwards this week when advocacy groups on both sides of the debate were briefed confidentially.
In a sign that the College and House of Bishops might be coming to a common mind about a way forward, both liberal and conservative campaigners were invited to confidential meetings this week with the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) team.
One pro-LGBT campaigner and General Synod member present, Professor Helen King, wrote in her blog afterwards that the conversations had mostly revolved around familiar concerns: “How best to move forwards, what are the implications of various canons that could be used, how are everyone’s consciences to be honoured, what — if any — compromises would be acceptable?”
But Professor King, who had also taken part in the Living With Difference facilitated conversations last month, suggested that the House of Bishops had yet to “make up its collective mind” and, instead, was still trying to take the temperature of the Church and establish what the response would be to various options.
The meetings mark the latest stage in a consultation process that began this year when the Synod approved the Bishops’ proposals to introduce Prayers of Love and Faith which could be said with same-sex couples in church (News, 10 February).
At first, three working groups were established to consider the language of the prayers themselves, separate new pastoral guidance to replace Issues in Human Sexuality, and issues of conscience and so-called Pastoral Reassurance for those opposed to the blessing of same-sex couples.
After the Synod’s July sessions, the three streams of work were folded together under the ongoing work of the House of Bishops and the LLF Steering Group.
A new group, which included a spectrum of opinion on the Prayers of Love and Faith, was then convened for three professionally facilitated meetings throughout September (News, 11 August).
A briefing note sent to its members in advance said that the aim of these Living With Difference meetings was to provide “insight and reflection” for the Bishops, and that any provision for those who objected to blessings for same-sex couples should not amount to a “concession to disunity” (News, 1 September).
All three Living With Difference gatherings have now taken place, but the discussions were confidential. It is not known what has been fed back from them to the Bishops.
After the conclusion of the subsequent “stakeholder” consultations this week, the final decision on the form that the Prayers of Love and Faith will take, what will be in the new pastoral guidance, and what — if any — conscience provisions will be set up for opponents will be taken by the College of Bishops later this month. They will then be brought to the contingency Synod sessions in November. The timetable for this, published last week, is dominated by sessions on Living in Love and Faith.
Professor King, suggesting that “everything remains a possibility,” writes: “I think the bishops realise that they need to implement the decision of February Synod, but are not sure how best to do that. We were able to give the LLF team our ‘red lines’ and no doubt the conservatives will do exactly the same.”