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‘Parallel Province’ threat to C of E if Canon B2 set aside on sexuality issue

27 June 2024

A WARNING of a “de facto ‘parallel Province’” in the Church of England has been given in a letter to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York from the Alliance, an umbrella group that emerged last year. It comprises the leaders of groups, Catholic and Evangelical, that are concerned about the effect of the Living in Love and Faith outcome on C of E teaching on marriage.

The letter, signed by current and former Vicars of Holy Trinity, Brompton, and the National Leader of New Wine, among others, warns that, if proposals to enable stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples go ahead, “we will have no choice but rapidly to establish what would in effect be a new de facto ‘parallel Province’ within the Church of England and to seek pastoral oversight from bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality.”

Next month, the General Synod will be asked to vote on a draft motion approving such services, alongside an offer for “delegated episcopal ministry” for opponents (Online News, 21 June). The proposal is “clearly contrary to the canons and doctrine of the Church of England”, the Alliance letter says, citing Canon B30 on marriage.

It accuses the Bishops of having “reneged” on a commitment to using the Canon B2 process, which requires a two-thirds majority in all Houses for a change of liturgy. This, they write, is “a matter of deep regret (and the cause of incalculable damage to the structure, integrity and mission of the national Church)”.

After a meeting of the House of Bishops last October, it was announced that the Bishops had agreed “in principle” to commend blessings, part of Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF), for use within existing liturgies, but that stand-alone services would require authorisation through Canon B2, which involves the full synodical process (News, 10 October).

In the Synod in November, an amendment calling on the Bishops to consider a trial period for stand-alone services was carried (News, 15 November).

The letter is the latest in a series from the Alliance and refers to these earlier interventions, warning of “the unintended consequences of these moves that you propose and the issues they raise in terms of Western elitism (ignoring the views of the Global South) and unlawfulness (failing to follow the canons of the Church of England which are designed to preserve unity)”.

It sets out a plan to “allow those churches who support the Church’s teaching to carry on their mission and pipeline of ministry securely, founded on the Church’s doctrine”.

The signatories write: “If the further departure from the Church’s doctrine suggested by the Synod papers does go ahead, we will have no choice but rapidly to establish what would in effect be a new de facto ‘parallel Province’ within the Church of England and to seek pastoral oversight from bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality.

“We will encourage all church leaders who are in sympathy with The Alliance to join the parallel Province. We will take action with immediate effect to open up a new pre-ordination stream for potential ordinands, in partnership with orthodox bishops, to reverse the decline caused in part by this unconstitutional and unorthodox process.”

It refers to a “considerable fall” in the number of ordinands “since the House of Bishops’ PLF proposals” (News, 23 February)

While the letter says that the signatories are signing “in their personal capacities, recognising they cannot claim to speak for everyone that they lead”, it begins: “We write as a broad coalition of leaders of networks across different traditions supported by more than 2000 clergy within the Church of England.”

They write: “We are not leaving the Church of England or the Anglican Communion. We wish to stay loyal to the one holy catholic and apostolic Church throughout the world rather than be part of a schismatic move which departs from the teaching received and upheld not only by the vast majority of the Anglican Communion . . . The new Province will seek to cooperate with the other orthodox Provinces within the Anglican Communion.”

Eleven bishops called on Wednesday for the synodical process to be rethought.

In the letter, published by Premier, they wrote that they were “grateful for the hard work” of those who had contributed towards the latest proposals and were “painfully conscious” of the toll the debate was taking. None the less, they could not support the direction of travel.

“We welcome the emphasis on the importance of unity, but do not believe that the proposals will protect our unity in mission to the nation or our partnerships within the wider Church. We are persuaded that a commitment to unity will instead be demonstrated by the resolve we show to take the time we need to achieve sufficient consensus in relation to doctrinal matters.

“This is why we continue to call upon our fellow bishops and General Synod not to set aside the proper canonical procedures for considering theological and liturgical developments, which are intended to guard our unity. We regret the plan to reverse the House’s October decision, supported by Synod in November, to introduce standalone services by Canon B2.”

Many bishops were concerned about “the impact on the coherence of the Church’s life of moving ahead in a way that will create fundamental fragmentations at parish, diocesan and national levels”, the bishops write.

“We therefore urge Synod to rethink the process at this time, and request the bishops to enable further doctrinal work, bringing back proposals that will properly be considered under the governance of the necessary canons.”

The letter is signed by four diocesans (the Bishops of Rochester, Hereford, Guildford, and Southwell & Nottingham) as well as the Bishops of Lancaster, Horsham, and Plymouth, the Bishops of Ebbsfleet, Oswestry and Islington, and the Rt Revd Mark Rylands, Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Exeter.

On Thursday, another 11-strong group — conservative members of the LLF working groups who participated in the Leicester weekend discussions — issued a statement distancing themselves from the proposals before next week’s General Synod, saying that they do not reflect the position reached during those discussions.

They write: “It was a privilege to be part of the weekend in Leicester, where our work involved honest sharing and deep listening, all of which was held within a context of prayer and of mutual respect for one another’s sincerely held perspectives. Moreover, we were genuinely moved, both by what we heard from others, and the way in which our perspectives were listened to and valued.”

But they continue: “While we acknowledge that the fruit of our labours were always subject to further consideration by other key stakeholders, we are saddened that our collective work, recognising and respecting the depth of feelings heard, has undergone such significant revision that what is presented in GS2358 [the paper for debate in the Synod] is no longer recognisable as what was agreed in Leicester.”

They describe themselves as “deeply disappointed at the journey LLF has taken from Leicester to York” and say that, consequently, they “feel unable to support the motion to be debated at General Synod in York”.

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