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Too soon to opt for a structural split over same-sex relations, Synod concludes

27 February 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

The Revd Charlie Skrine (London) moves an amendment calling for a ‘settlement based on legally secure structural provision’

The Revd Charlie Skrine (London) moves an amendment calling for a ‘settlement based on legally secure structural provision’

THE latest General Synod debate on Living in Love and Faith (LLF) did not reach a final vote, instead ending on Tuesday morning in a widely supported procedural motion to move to next business.

The Archdeacon of Liverpool, the Ven. Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, proposed that the debate be cut short after an amendment calling for “legally secure structural provision” had been defeated.

“This is not intended as any sort of partisan move,” she said, but came out of a recognition that that there were many on both sides of the debate who felt that they would be better served by moving on to other discussions, and returning to LLF in July after further work had been done.

The successful motion to move to next business means that the motion cannot brought back in the same form before 2026. It is unlikely to derail the LLF process, however. Rather, Dr Threlfall-Holmes argued, this would give the Synod the chance to make a better informed decision, as signing a “blank cheque” to approve a set of draft commitments made her feel uneasy, and would mean that she could not personally vote for the motion.

It seemed that many agreed, and the vote was carried 322-69, with 20 recorded abstentions.

The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, thanked members for a good debate, and expressed hope for the future, saying that the presence of a large cohort of conservatives in the Synod gave him confidence that a split in the Church could be avoided: “You would not be here if you did not believe some degree of communion was possible.”

On Monday evening, before the debate was adjourned overnight, Ed Shaw (Bristol) had moved an amendment seeking acknowledgement that, for some members, the issues raised by LLF “are not matters on which they can simply agree to disagree”.

Honesty about the depth of disagreement was important, he said, and was necessary for the debate to move forward.

The Revd Dr Mark Smith (Universities and TEIs) commended the amendment as shedding “much needed light on the way ahead”.

However, Kenson Li (co-opted) argued that the amendment was unhelpful, as it suggested that reconciliation was impossible, an objection echoed by Bishop Snow, who thanked Mr Shaw, but said the accepting the amendment would risk conceding that there was no way to move forward together.

The amendment was lost.

Since the resignation of the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley (News, 1 February), Bishop Snow has been leading the LLF process alone, and the motion in debate was put forward in his name rather than the House of Bishops as a whole.

The motion called for a “focus on reconciliation and bridge-building”, alongside a commitment to “pursue the implementation of the motions previously passed by Synod”.

Introducing the motion on Monday afternoon, he foreshadowed what was to occur on Tuesday morning, saying that “whether or not we get to a formal vote, the work goes on”.

He reiterated earlier comments about his commitment to the unity of the Church, alongside his belief that the decisions made at the February and November meetings last year should be implemented.

Speakers from all sides paid credit to Bishop Snow’s efforts, thanking him for trying to improve the tone of the debate.

The Revd Joy Mawdesley (Oxford) said that she thought all members were grateful, and that she welcomed the focus on reconciliation. None the less, she moved an amendment changing the verb describing Synod’s receipt of the motion from “welcome” to “note”.

The ten commitments referred to in the motion and outlined in the accompanying paper were not finalised, she noted, and this made it difficult to welcome them in case they changed — a point reiterated by Dr Threlfall-Holmes at the end of the debate.

One of the first speakers on Monday afternoon was the Revd Rachel Webbley (Canterbury), who is a co-convener of the anti-racist network on the General Synod. She warned against any imputation that people of global-majority heritage (GMH) had a “homogenous perspective” on issues of LGBT inclusion.

In a social-media post on Monday evening, the former Archbishops’ adviser for Minority-Ethnic Anglican Concerns, Dr Sanjee Perera, said that she was “weary of seeing GMH views in the Anglican Communion scapegoated as a voice against equal marriage. There is extraordinary variance and a spectrum of differences among UKME/GMH people (including silenced LGBTQI+ voices around the global south) on sexuality.”

When the debate resumed on Tuesday morning, there was unanimity when an amendment, proposed by Jane Patterson (Sheffield), passed without opposition. It added a clause welcoming a “greater emphasis on openness and transparency” in the process.

In a speech in support of the amendment, the Revd Neil Patterson (Hereford), noted that he rarely spoke in agreement with his unrelated namesake. Transparency was necessary, though, for progress to be made, and part of the purpose of LLF was “coming out from hiddenness and hypocrisy”, he said.

The amendment passed without the need for a counted vote — a rarity in the course of the LLF debates.

The Revd Charlie Skrine (London) then moved an amendment calling for a “settlement based on legally secure structural provision”. He asked those who had voted against Mr Shaw’s amendment: “Is it that you think we don’t exist, or that you don’t want us to be here?”

He said that he couldn’t see how communion could be maintained except with structural changes. “Show me that you believe in unity by being willing to explore changes to structure,” he said.

Despite opposing the amendment, the Revd Jody Stowell (London) said that she had sympathy, and understood that some provision was necessary — but that it should not “draw a thick, solid line through the heart of parishes”.

In a comparatively rare moment of robust language, James Wilson (Manchester) suggested that the kind of provision Mr Skrine was proposing amounted to “schism in all but pension fund”, and urged members to resist it. From the conservative side, Sophie Clarke (London) implored liberal members to “set us free” by agreeing to structural changes.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, supported Mr Skrine’s amendment, mirroring his sponsorship of similar amendments brought, unsuccessfully, at meetings of the House of Bishops. He did not wish to “ditch” his liberal colleagues, he said — although they might ditch him first, and he wouldn’t blame them if they did.

Mr Skrine’s amendment was lost in all Houses: Bishops 8-24, with two recorded abstentions; Clergy 78-98, with eight recorded abstentions; and Laity 81-100, with seven recorded abstentions.

It was immediately after this vote that Dr Threlfall-Holmes made her successful intervention to request that the Synod move to next business.

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