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Do not obstruct Synod’s decision on same-sex blessings, members say  

01 February 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Synod members vote by a show of hands at the November sessions in London, last year

Synod members vote by a show of hands at the November sessions in London, last year

MORE than 130 members of the General Synod have signed a letter expressing their view that the proposal of a “reset” of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process is unwise, and that talk of a “settlement” for those opposing the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples fails to honour decisions taken by the Synod.

Last week, the co-chairs of the LLF process, the Bishop of Newcastle, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, and the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, co-wrote an article for the Church Times in which they argued for a “reset” of the process to allow for “reconciliation and bridge-building” (Comment, 26 January). (On Thursday, 1 February, Dr Hartley announced that she would be standing down as as co-chair of the LLF process. Story here).

The bishops also met representatives of various groups active in the debate on sexuality in the C of E, from which various accounts have surfaced online, and which has prompted a co-ordinated response from the General Synod Gender and Sexuality Group (GSGSG).

The letter, seen by the Church Times and sent to the bishops on Wednesday, says that the group understands the bishops to be proposing not to move forward with pastoral guidance allowing priests to enter into same-sex civil marriages until “some form of settlement” has been agreed.

It is unclear what form such a settlement would take, or what provisions it would contain; but, last week, Dr Hartley and Bishop Snow wrote of the hope that it “allows as many people as possible to remain within the Church of England”.

The GSGSG letter says: “It is clear that the mind of Synod, determined by due synodical process, is to implement those things agreed in February [2023], being new pastoral guidance to replace Issues in Human Sexuality and to introduce the full Prayers of Love and Faith, including the stand-alone services. It is also clear that Synod has rejected this implementation being dependent on an agreed settlement or structural provision. . .

“Any delay in moving forward will be seen as a failure by the House of Bishops to implement votes passed in Synod and a rejection of the courtesy of Synod in welcoming your proposals. This will not reset the tone of the debate in a positive direction, neither will it build trust for any reconciliation discussions on maintaining unity.”

Reports from those who attended the meetings last week also cast doubt on when, or if, stand-alone services will be trialled — although the Church Times understands that proposals for such trials are likely to be included in the “commitments” that Dr Hartley and Bishop Snow will bring before the Synod later this month.

In November, the Synod narrowly carried an amendment that called on the House of Bishops to consider a trial period for stand-alone services of blessing (News, 17 November 2023). Records of a meeting of the House in December indicate that the issue was discussed, but “no decisions were made.”

Currently, the only blessings for same-sex couples which are formally permitted are those that take place within the confines of an existing service (News, 15 December 2023).

Read more on Living in Love and Faith in this week’s Letters.

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