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Synod invited to approve stand-alone same-sex services and safeguards for clergy

21 June 2024

istock

PROPOSALS for stand-alone services of blessing for same-sex couples are to be brought to the General Synod in July, alongside an offer for “delegated episcopal ministry” for those who oppose any changes.

A draft motion to be set before the Synod when it meets in York next month (5-9 July) also proposes that moves to allow clergy to enter same-sex civil marriages be deferred pending further work by the Faith and Order Commission. The matter would then return to Synod in February next year.

In a preface to the report that includes the draft motion, the lead bishop for the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, writes that the proposals for delegated episcopal ministry “are in outline form at this stage, and their development will require ongoing constructive and wide engagement as we continue to discern how to best navigate a way forward as one Church. . .

“At this stage, the mind of the General Synod is being sought on the outline of this proposal, and, importantly, on whether this approach is one that might enable us to move forward as one Church.”

Regarding the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF), which were approved for use in the context of routine services after the November meeting of the Synod last year, the paper lays out a proposal for them to be used in stand-alone services.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Bishop Snow suggested that, even if approved, such services were unlikely to happen before the end of the year.

Their introduction would be buttressed with “pastoral reassurance” available for both proponents and opponents, in dioceses where their bishop is of a contrary view to their own.

The paper coins the term “delegated episcopal ministry” to describe the proposed arrangements, and notes that, while it need not be underpinned by legislation, it would require the agreement of a code of practice from the House of Bishops, and the formation of an independent review panel to oversee the arrangements.

Asked on Thursday whether he thought that the proposals amounted to a “breakthrough” in the LLF process, Bishop Snow demurred, but said that the weekend in Leicester at which working groups gathered was “significant” (News, 8 May).

“While I am hoping that there will be broad approval at Synod, I’m also under no illusion that there will still be some who will not vote for this, and not like it.”

He said that it was his “sincere hope” that, after a “fairly long period of people disagreeing over all this”, the point had been reached in which people felt they could live with the proposals, even if no one felt that they were “absolutely perfect”.

This imperfection was acknowledged by Bishop Snow in his preface to the paper: the approach, he writes, “is far from the ideal — it is designed for a specific period while we discern God’s leading for the longer term.”

 

THE question of how formalised any alternative episcopal arrangements should be has been a point of contention among the working groups, and between the bishops, the Church Times understands.

At February’s Synod meeting, an amendment to the LLF motion was tabled that called for “legally secure pastoral provision” (News, 27 February). It was defeated in all three houses of the Synod (Bishops 8-24; Clergy 78-98; Laity 81-100).

The pastoral provision envisaged will not, Bishop Snow said on Thursday, amount to “the transfer of legal jurisdiction from one bishop to another”, as there was “really no appetite for that among the bishops”.

Multiple sources have reported that the proposals in the new Synod paper did not receive majority support when the full College of Bishops met on Wednesday of last week, with a proportion of members thinking that the pastoral provision being offered went too far.

However, it is understood that the House of Bishops — a smaller group consisting of diocesan bishops and a handful of elected suffragans — voted the proposals through.

Minutes from the House of Bishops are currently not made public, but in July the Synod will consider proposals to make its decision making more transparent (News, 19 June).

Despite the ruling out of legally-binding provision for clergy at odds with their diocesan bishop on this issue, “some of the concerns that led to calls for transfer of jurisdiction will be met by the current proposals,” Bishop Snow said on Thursday, though he acknowledged that it wasn’t a solution which would please everyone.

Responding to the paper on Thursday afternoon, the national director of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), Canon John Dunnett, suggested that the proposals would not receive support from those who have consistently voted against LLF motions in Synod.

“The longing of CEEC Evangelicals is to remain in the C of E, but this is being undermined by the ongoing commitment of many in the House of Bishops to walk away from our biblical and inherited doctrine of marriage and sexual ethics,” he said.

Referring to provisions which, since late last year (News, 18 November 2023). CEEC has made available to churches which oppose the Prayers of Love and Faith, Canon Dunnett said:

“If General Synod approves the motion as it stands, I anticipate a significant increase in the take up of the Ephesian Fund and alternative spiritual oversight by clergy and churches in the CEEC and Alliance constituency. This is because many feel that this is the only way they can find a voice for their concern and a spiritual oversight that has integrity.” 

The draft motion in full reads:

That this Synod:
(a) support the overall proposal and timetable set out in GS 2358;
(b) request that the House of Bishops, with the advice of the LLF working groups:
i. revise the Pastoral Guidance to remove restrictions on the use of PLF in ‘standalone’ services alongside the introduction of an arrangement to register for Pastoral Reassurance;
ii. establish the basis for the provision of Pastoral Reassurance through a House of Bishops’ Statement and Code of Practice which provides for the delegation of some specific and defined episcopal ministry, and which is overseen by an Independent Review Panel;
iii. report to this Synod at its February 2025 group of sessions on the further theological work carried out under the auspices of the Faith and Order Commission around the nature of doctrine, particularly as it relates to the doctrine of marriage and the question of clergy in same-sex civil marriages.
(c) Agree that taken together the Pastoral Guidance, the Bishop’s Statement and Code of Practice for pastoral provision will replace Issues in Human Sexuality.
(d) Agree for the arrangements for Pastoral Reassurance to be regularly monitored over a period of at least three years before being formally reviewed by General Synod.

Read more on this story in this week’s Comment

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