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Bishop Snow to engage in ‘shuttle diplomacy’ on LLF before Synod meets in July

28 February 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow

THERE was limited appetite in the General Synod this week for another long debate on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF). The lead bishop for the process, like other Synod members on all sides of the debate, saw the benefit of an early finish.

Speaking to the press after the Synod’s Tuesday-morning vote to move to next business (see separate story), the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, none the less saw a “clear mandate that the direction of travel is right”.

The next step was for some of the details to be worked out before the Synod met again in July, he said — and that would involve “shuttle diplomacy” between those of opposing views.

This process would not yield a fully worked-out plan, he said, but, “if we’ve at least got the broad outline of it, I think that would allow us to move forward.”

In the course of the debate — an hour and a half on Monday evening, and a further hour on Tuesday morning — there were glimmers of possible cohesion on some of the main questions.

As in previous debates, most of the amendments tabled by members who oppose the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples were voted down, including one put forward by Ed Shaw (Bristol) which sought a general recognition that conservatives could not merely “agree to disagree” on the issues.

Asked why he resisted the amendment, Bishop Snow said after the debate that it was a “statement of fact” that there were a “significant number of people” who were of the view that it was impossible to agree to disagree on the issues of LLF.

He could not support the amendment, however, because to do so would have risked “enshrining” the idea that there was “no way through this”, he said.

Although disappointed that his amendment had been interpreted as “anti-reconciliation”, and defeated in all three Houses, Mr Shaw was cautiously optimistic.

“There’s a degree of moving in the right direction,” he said after the debate. Although the details of any settlement were still contested, there was an increasing sense that “it might still happen.”

Geoff Crawford/Church TimesEd Shaw (Bristol)

He said that he understood the reluctance to concede any kind of structural change over the issue of church blessings for same-sex couples, but suggested that it was necessary for the conversation to move on to same-sex marriage in church, which was what liberals in the Church ultimately wanted.

Sam Wilson (Chester), who is in favour of introducing same-sex marriage in the Church of England, also expressed optimism in the aftermath of the debate, suggesting that the strength of support for the motion to move to next business “showed how much Synod wants to get beyond binary choices that make everyone feel defeated and defensive”.

The improved tone of the debate was widely remarked on, both on the floor of the Synod and afterwards. “I think it was generous, I think it was gracious; so, really helpful,” Bishop Snow told the media.

The message that he picked up on his visits to parishes in his diocese was that there was an “overwhelming sense” that “we’ve just got to find a way to agree, and then get on with serving the nation.”

James Wilson (Manchester) agreed that a wide range of voices needed to be heard, including not just those of groups that advocated on this issue, but also “rank-and-file” members of congregations.

Most churches did not have a unanimous view, and, while he recognised that there was “room for some sort of pastoral support” for those who objected to the introduction of the Prayers of Love and Faith, there was a danger that “structural differentiation will pull congregations apart,” he said.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Mr Wilson echoed the view that the tone of the debate had improved since November: it had been “more positive and constructive”, with a “greater desire to reach across the aisle”.

Immediately after the debate, it was announced that two of the C of E organisations advocating greater inclusion of LGBTQ+ people were merging to form a new group: Together for the Church of England.

The move means that the General Synod Gender and Sexuality Group (GSGSG) and the Movement for Supporting Anglicans for an Inclusive Church (MOSAIC) unite, and a press release said that the new organisation would work in partnership with Inclusive Church, Inclusive Evangelicals, the Campaign for Equal Marriage, and Women and the Church (WATCH).

The stated goals of the new organisation are to “unite those seeking to remove all discrimination in the Church of England, especially where it is embodied in the formal and legal structures of the Church”, and to “work for a Church of England in which people of differing convictions live together in unity”.

The chair of the new organisation, the Revd Neil Patterson, said that members of the group “look forward to working closely with the Bishop of Leicester and our conservative friends to seek a way forward which respects the real differences of conviction between us”.

In a statement after the debate had finished, the national director of the Church of England Evangelical Council, Canon John Dunnett, also indicated a willingness to work with Bishop Snow, although he specified that the route ahead should involve “a legal and structural settlement without theological compromise”.

He continued: “Between now and July, we will be calling on churches and their leaders to articulate their support for this. Many feel that the fabric of the Church of England is tearing as a result of the Living in Love and Faith process, and that structural differentiation is the only way of maintaining any degree of unity.”

Read more on this story in this week’s Leader comment here

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