BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR….
In his Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod recently Bishop Christopher, Bishop of Southwark, disclosed his own views about what the Bishops should recommend as a result of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process.
The address included the following:
“As I have said before, I do not expect to see the marriage canons changed in my lifetime. I also said publicly before the Lambeth Conference that the Church of England has for a long time had a polity in which the Bishops in each and every Diocese encourage partnered gay and lesbian ordinands and clergy to consider civil partnership. We already respect the dignity of same-sex unions in this regard and we are not being honest with ourselves if we say otherwise. The civil law of the United Kingdom – and of other countries - has moved to legislate for same-sex marriage. Some have made the case for the Church to change the marriage canons. But I observe that it is theologically coherent to conceive of vocational and covenanted relationships as a category that includes marriage as one constituent and same-sex unions as another. It is inaccurate to say that marriage is the only form of covenanted relationship because it has long been the wisdom of the Church to bless those single people who see their life in terms of a covenant with God, whether they live that covenant in community or not.”
In essence, new prayers of blessing for same-sex couples.
On Friday last week the House of Bishops issued their paper noting their reflections on LLF. In essence, Bishop Christopher mirrored what has been proposed.
I wrote to PCC with the following outline of the Bishop’s paper:
You will have noticed I am sure that the House of Bishops have now published their papers for General Synod. They comprise a report and a series of Prayers of Love and Faith that they wish to commend to be used. Both can be found here https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/living-love-and-faith/bishops-response-living-love-and-faith
It is important that we are very wary of headlines in the media and read the document for ourselves. There is nuance in there that is neither understood nor reported.
Here are some things to note from my reading so far:
The Bishops have affirmed the current teaching that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life. A civil same sex marriage is not recognised as a Christian marriage.
The paper includes a pastoral letter to the church which apologises for past hurt and exclusion.
These are not blessings and do not constitute a new liturgy. They are prayers that can be used in the course of a service. They ask for God to offer blessings to couples. They do not proclaim God’s blessing over the couple and their newfound status. The nuance is the difference between prayers for blessing and prayers of blessing.
For some this is a step too far and no change should have been made. For others this does not go far enough. Some churches are already (prematurely) advertising “service OF blessing”.
Commended prayers with no change of liturgy or doctrine can just be offered by the Bishops and if used as published cab be legally utilised by clergy who wish to. General Synod does not need to approve them. However, expect to see significant push back in General Synod from both sides. Some who will ask for the prayers to be withdrawn and some asking for more change. This has been described a as milestone by the Archbishop of York and in the report so the anticipation is that this is the first of more changes to come over the coming years.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby has said that he will not use these prayers so that with his position in the Worldwide Anglican Communion (which is vast majority in favour of no change) he can maintain integrity. Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell will use these prayers.
It is clear from the report that the House of Bishops is severely divided on the following issues; God’s will for:
- the doctrine of marriage
- the ability to bless
- the proper place for sex within marriage alone
In fact to be able to get to the compromise that has been presented the logical conclusion (on page 7 para 5) says that it is because a Civil “Marriage” (my punctuation) is not a Christian marriage in accordance with the CofE doctrine and canons that clergy can ask God to bestow blessing because the couple are not in contravention of the Canon B30 (ie they have not married so have not broken the church law that marriage is only one man and one woman). This may seem perverse logic and will be very difficult to explain pastorally (ie “I can say these prayers because you are not really married”). But that is the nature perhaps of a compromise.
You may find the following analyses helpful. The first looks at the detail of the prayers and concludes that they are not a blessing of a same sex marriage:
The second is a wide ranging set of questions about the theological basis of what has been presented from Rev Dr Ian Paul.
If you come across a helpful theological and scriptural piece in support of these proposals please do send me a link, I would be very interested to see them in the light of some of the above.
Firstly, there is nothing in this report that suggests that I am convicted to change the current stance reported to PCC in November 2022.
When we spoke about this at PCC in January we agreed to have a discussion forum for PCC and a further opportunity for the whole church to engage. Specifically:
PCC to listen to (or if you need the transcript to read please ask) the reflections on LLF in conjunction with the resources in our LLF course which can be found here https://christchurchpurley.org.uk/Groups/375974/Christ_Church_Purley/Resource_Centre/Living_in_Love/Living_in_Love.aspx
A sermon series, which will run as follows:
Christ Church response
Teaching and rebellion
Jesus and marriage
Gen 1:26-28, 2:15-25 and Matt 19:3-9
Relationships and community
1 Cor 6:18-7:9
Love and challenge
Mark 10:17-22 and John 7:53-8:11
Unity and truth
John 17:9-23 and 1 Cor 1:10; 1 Peter 3:8
A PCC half day meeting to explore, reflect theologically and pray through LLF and its consequences together. Might Saturday 4th March 2-5pm work as a suggestion?
As ever if you have any queries or want to chat over a coffee let me know.
Finally, some pointers for prayer:
- for the Bishops who will come into criticism from all angles and themselves are disastrously divided
- for the lobby groups and the grace required for discussions to come
- for General Synod members as they prepare to discuss these further
- for Clergy as they grapple with what this means for them and the churches they lead
- for congregations as they wake up to the reality of the new landscape where many have shied away from these things
- for orthodox same sex attracted Christians who now feel that they now have no safe space within the CofE
- for those who wanted more change
- for those who have been hurt and excluded by the church in the past
- for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in CCP as we seek to engage our own discussions
- for the Gospel to be spoken boldly and freely and the Good News of Christ’s way of living, and saving death that we might live differently to the world, be proclaimed throughout the church for this nation; that the focus is on the Good News of the gospel of Christ; for a fresh move of the Spirit who convicts, guides and counsels wisdom and peace beyond our understanding; that the Church of England will be known for that rather than division, disunity and compromise.
Since then I have had a chance to read the whole report and would draw your attention to a final aspect which is the range of coverage of the new Pastoral Guidance. It will cover a range of topics covered in the report and in the LLF deliberations. Most notably the following:
- a review of Issues in Human Sexuality 1991 which will be replaced – this is the guidance regarding the requirement for those entering ordained ministry to only enter sexual relationships within Holy Matrimony (ie between a man and a woman)
- guidance on how to pray (presumably as a response to the possibility of legislation regarding so called “Conversion Therapy”)
These are momentous times for the Church of England. Much heat has been created, particularly on social media but up to and including Parliament where questions have been tabled and answered. Over the coming weeks I will be explaining a bit more about what the existing teaching of the church is and what the possible implications of all this might be for the Church and for us.
Please continue to pray as outlined above.
As ever, please ask if you want to discuss or clarify any of the above.
Yours in Christ
Rev Doug McHardie
Vicar, Christ Church Purley
BISHOPS BEHAVING BADLY….