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Same-sex prayers and marriage: latest Love and Faith proposals considered by the Bishops

17 May 2024

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

Members of the House of Bishops at the General Synod in February

Members of the House of Bishops at the General Synod in February

THE House of Bishops discussed the next steps in the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process on Thursday. They considered proposals on stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples, and the removal of restrictions that currently prevent clergy from marrying someone of the same sex.

In a briefing document marked confidential, but which has been seen by the Church Times, the Bishops were told that an “emerging proposal” was to proceed with stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples without necessarily pursuing full synodical authorisation.

The document summarises the conclusions that emerged from a recent residential meeting of the three LLF working groups (News, 8 May). It was presented to bishops in the form of a briefing paper compiled by two members of Church House staff: LLF programme director, Nick Shepherd, and the programme manager, Georgie Morgan.

 

Stand-alone services of blessing

THE group discussing the use of the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) for same-sex couples recommended that restrictions on their use in stand-alone services should be removed for a “period of discernment of three years”.

In December the PLF were commended by the House of Bishops for use, but only as part of an existing service (News, 15 December 2023). The previous month, the General Synod had voted narrowly in favour of trialling their use in stand-alone services, but until now there has been no concrete plan for how this might be realised.

The expectation had been that stand-alone services of blessing would need two-thirds approval from each house of the General Synod, following decisions made in the House of Bishops last autumn to use Canon B2 as the route to authorisation.

This would have effectively blocked such services for the rest of the life of this Synod. Although supporters of the prayers are in the majority in each of the three synodical houses, they have been short of the required two-thirds in both the House of Laity and the House of Clergy.

The document shown to bishops on Thursday, however, proposes a model that “allows for the option of a B2 vote at the end of the discernment process but does not require it”.

Another proposal is that both the introduction of stand-alone services of blessing could be decided by region.

This seems to dovetail with the suggestions made for the “pastoral reassurance” of those who oppose the changes. The group focused on this topic “agreed that the level of reassurance required for the use of standalone services of PLF was for ministers or parishes to request care from a bishop who shares their doctrinal views”.

This, the document says, would involve “the delegation of episcopal pastoral care and sacramental ministry”. In parentheses it adds that this could occur “on both ends of the debate” — i.e. that alternative episcopal provision could be made for people who support the changes but are in dioceses where the bishops do not.

 

Permitting clergy to enter same-sex marriages

VARIATION at the regional level was also considered in relation to clergy entering same-sex marriages, though it was acknowledged in the document that, were this to take place, a “further level” of reassurance for conservatives would be required.

“There may be a case to make at this point for transferred episcopal pastoral care and sacramental ministry,” the document said, with the prospect of creating “three spaces in the Church: one for those who want to maintain the doctrine of marriage, one for those who want to explore developing it, and one for those who do not want to make a clear decision at this time.”

The group charged with discussing pastoral guidance for clergy had, the document said, considered “what would be necessary if some bishops decided not to apply discipline to clergy entering into same-sex marriage”.

The possibility of a statement from the House of Bishops “affirming common ground” is raised, which could provide “clarity on language and a recognition of the validity of different approaches”.

 

Reactions

IN A video posted on social media on social media on Thursday, the national director of the Church of England Evangelical Council, Canon John Dunnett, said that it now seemed likely that “clergy in some dioceses are going to be able to marry their same-sex partners, maybe as soon as this autumn”.

This was, he said, “indicative of a change of doctrine” in the Church of England, and vowed that the CEEC would continue to argue for “formal structural differentiation for those of who hold to the current Church of England doctrine and are not seeking change”.

A press release issued by Church House on Friday afternoon gave no substantive details of the House of Bishops’ discussions on LLF, but outlined the next steps in the process: the programme team and working groups are to “continue their work before outlining a more detailed proposal to the College and House of Bishops in June”.

 

Ordinands

AFTER last weekend’s meeting of the working groups, a network of those who have opposed the introduction of the Prayers of Love and Faith, including representatives of CEEC, wrote to all the diocesan bishops in the C of E, asking them to make provision for people being ordained this summer who objected to the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples.

“Our request is that you do not insist that these ordinands have to choose between their conscience and their calling. Rather, we pray that the House could agree to a provision for these ordinands this Petertide by permitting ordination by a bishop who publicly supports the Church of England’s current teaching and discipline in relation to marriage and sexual ethics which the ordinands themselves accepted and agreed to live within when they were recommended for training,” the letter says.

The signatories identify themselves as part of the Alliance — a group which emerged last year and which comprises the leaders of a variety of groups, both Catholic and Evangelical in tradition, who oppose any change to the Church’s approach to sexuality.

The signatories to the most recent letter include the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton, the Revd Archie Coates, and former Vicar of the church and current president of the Revitalise Trust, the Revd Nicky Gumbel.

The former Bishop of Blackburn and current president of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, is also listed, along with the director of the traditionalist Forward in Faith group, Tom Middleton, and the chair of the Catholic Group in General Synod, the Revd Adam Gaunt.

The letter referred to a gathering of 80 ordinands which had taken place the previous Thursday (9 May), and suggests that “around 2000 clergy and licensed lay ministers have now expressed their support for the work of the Alliance”.

In February, some of the ordinands connected with the “Orthodox Ordinands” spoke to the Church Times about the “uncertainty” they felt about their future in the C of E, given their disagreement with the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples (News, 23 February).

Other ordinands, who are in same-sex relationships, have reported being similarly uncertain about their future because of a lack of clarity as to whether they will be permitted to marry their partners.

In February, a spokesperson for the diocese of London confirmed that, for those being ordained this year, the London College of Bishops and the Bishop of Ebbsfleet were “able to offer appropriate provision reflecting the range of perspectives consonant with Anglican teaching and tradition”.

On Wednesday, a Church House spokesperson said that the lead bishop on LLF, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, had responded to the letter, thanking the Alliance for its “positive engagement in this process”.

The spokesperson said that the working group on pastoral reassurance was “actively considering these questions as part of what will be a broad outline proposal on matters relating to the Prayers of Love and Faith, which it is expected will be brought to General Synod in July. It is unlikely that there will be any further guidance issued ahead of this.”

In February, a spokesperson for the diocese of London confirmed that, for those being ordained this year, the London College of Bishops and the Bishop of Ebbsfleet were “able to offer appropriate provision reflecting the range of perspectives consonant with Anglican teaching and tradition”.

This week, two dioceses contacted by the Church Times indicated that they would not be making changes to their plans for Petertide ordinations in light of the Alliance’s letter.

A spokesperson for the diocese of Worcester said that the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, would ordain 16 priests, and the Suffragan Bishop of Dudley, the Rt Revd Martin Gorick, was expecting to ordain eight deacons.

Both Dr Inge and Bishop Gorick support the introduction of same-sex marriage in the Church (News, 11 November 2022). The spokesperson said that they were not aware of any ordinands in the diocese who had sought to delay their ordination over issues related to LLF.

A spokesperson for the diocese of Oxford said that the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, had been in “amicable dialogue for a number of months with a small number of ordinands who have requested alternative provision on grounds of conscience and who could not otherwise be ordained”.

Petertide ordinations would proceed as expected, and this group would be ordained at Michaelmas by one of the honorary assistant bishops in the diocese, a former Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin.

 

Last year, the CEEC launched an initiative to offer “alternative spiritual oversight” for clergy and congregations that oppose the introduction of blessings for same-sex couples (News, 18 November 2023).

 

 

Funding

AT THE same time last year, the CEEC announced the creation of the Ephesian Fund, into which churches were invited to pay their parish share, which would be disbursed to other churches opposed to the changes.

On Wednesday, Canon Dunnett sent an email to incumbents at a number of what he described as “larger churches”, asking them to consider contributing to the Ephesian Fund.

The email contains an injunction to recipients that it should not be made public, but has been seen by the Church Times. It says that the fund has received funds or pledges worth over £2.5 million to date, and states an ambition of doubling this figure by the end of next year.

In the email, canon Dunnett suggests that securing more support was necessary to ensure that “our bishops are in no doubt as to how divisive this trajectory is and how these further changes will be received”.

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