Friday, 21 March 2014

East Barnet PCC writes to the Bishop of St Albans

Here is the full text of the letter mentioned in a news item in the Church Times today. That news item, North-London PCC votes against Bishops’ same-sex marriage guidance, is available only to subscribers.

To the Bishop of St Albans

from the Rector, Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council of East Barnet.

1. In partnership with our bishops, we are committed to upholding the Established ministry of the Church of England in this parish. We believe that the church exists for the benefit of all: people of all faiths and none.

2. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people, and others who do not identify as heterosexual, live in our parish, as they do in every parish in the land. [note 1] The Church of England’s bishops stand firmly against homophobia. [note 2] It is implicit, therefore, that the church exists for everyone, to enfold the lives of all into our parish communities and incorporate them into the Body of Christ, whatever their sexuality.

3. The ongoing prohibition upon the public blessing of same-sex couples implies that the church has reservations about those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. It suggests that the church does not cherish them so much as fully to embrace them. We believe this is at odds with the bishops’ firm rejection of homophobia.

4. The House of Bishops states “the proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute” and it wishes to see virtues of “genuine mutuality and fidelity” in all relationships “maximized in society.” [note 3] This implies that same-sex relationships can be positive and can contribute to the common good.

5. By limiting our ability publicly to bless and recognize God’s grace in same-sex relationships, the House of Bishops implies that the church does not view them as positive and does not wish to encourage them. We believe this contradicts the bishops’ desire to see the virtues of these relationships maximized in society.

6. If we cannot publicly recognize God’s grace in same-sex relationships, we do not believe we can fully incorporate people in these relationships, or those who might enter into these relationships, into the community of faith. We believe this is
dissonant with the mission of the church.

7. We urge the House of Bishops to adopt the Pilling Report’s recommendation that “a priest with the agreement of the relevant PCC should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same-sex relationship in a public service.” [note 4]

2 March 2014


1 2011-12 Integrated Household Survey, Office for National Statistics

2 “We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained. We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.” Statement from College of Bishops, 27 January 2014

3 House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance, 14 February 2014

4 The Pilling Report, Church House Publishing (2013), pp. 149

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 1:20pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Excellent. I anticipate being deafened by the silence of the official non-response.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 2:05pm GMT

I hope this is but the first of many parishes voting against the Bishops' guidance.

As I understand it under the 'guidance' celibate civil partnerships for clergy are all right but 'marriages' (unclear whether celibacy is required or not) are not. This is the most nonsensical advice possible, no wonder the great public find the Church out of touch and irrelevant at best or hypocritical and evil at worst.

Posted by: Concerned Anglican on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 2:49pm GMT

The Bishops are plagued with the condition of Laodicianism, or "Let your Yes be Perhaps, and your No, Maybe."

What is astonishing is their classification of mutuality and fidelity as merely "social virtues." Either the acts and relationships in question are virtuous, or they are vicious -- both for God and country.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 3:34pm GMT

In the same edition of the Church Times there is a report of the encounter between Fr Andrew Cain and his bishop, Peter Wheatley, in which the latter is reported to have suggested that Fr Cain and his partner have a civil partnership rather than a marriage. The ignorance and insensitivity of this proposal is staggering. One might also comment that should they so do the Bishop would be entitled to enquire about the sexual nature of their relationship.

Also in the same report it is stated that a Director of Ordinands ( or may be more than one, it is not clear) is demanding that candidates sign a document stating that they are single of celibate.

As is stated in this report the HoB statement is being used to oppress and bully people. The witch hunt has started.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 4:43pm GMT

One almost believes that Lewis Carroll is the head of the church. After all, its leadership seems able to believe as many self-contradictory things as possible before breakfast. And seemingly even more by lunch....

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 5:06pm GMT

"The ongoing prohibition upon the public blessing of same-sex couples implies that the church has reservations about those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. It suggests that the church does not cherish them so much as fully to embrace them. We believe this is at odds with the bishops’ firm rejection of homophobia."

Stating the obvious, which the House of Bishops seems to have missed. Still, the doublespeak needs to be named as such, so kudos to the leadership at East Barnet. I, too, hope other parishes will follow their lead.

Posted by: June Butler on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 6:21pm GMT

If Archbishop Welby thought he was getting an easy ride, he must be changing his mind now. One has to feel sorry for anyone who, in good faith, has taken over the leadership of such a shambles.

One consequence might be another wave of Tiber swimmers. The Ordinariate can only benefit.

Posted by: Paul Waddington on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 7:02pm GMT

Richard Ashby wrotes: Also in the same report it is stated that a Director of Ordinands ( or may be more than one, it is not clear) is demanding that candidates sign a document stating that they are single of celibate.

I heard some months ago that all ordinands had to actually sign up to Issues in Human sexuality.
Has anyone any further information on this?

Posted by: peter kettle on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 7:18pm GMT

Many thanks to the parish of East Barnet.

As I have said before, there is power in the Church of England to resist the bishops' immorality.

There will be no real response to paragraph 7. And after a while, inaction will become complicity. The question is, what will East Barnet, and parishes like it, do then?

Of course, after March 29, East Barnet may seem moderate in comparison to parishes that will have actually gone ahead and conducted gay-marriage services.

Posted by: Jeremy on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 7:40pm GMT

Peter Wheatley is perhaps envious of the fact that Father Cain has the courage to do what he believes is right.

Posted by: Jean Mayland on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 8:00pm GMT

"...the bishops' firm rejection of homophobia."

Go on, tell me another one!

Posted by: Dennis on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 9:53pm GMT

"As is stated in this report the HoB statement is being used to oppress and bully people. The witch hunt has started."

Witch hunts proceeded in an era when the population at large may not have been as enthusiastic or savage as the hunters, but had little doubt as to the existence of witches. The general public might perhaps have found some of the methods excessive, but they did not reject the basic premise that witches presented a threat to society that needed to be extirpated. And in any event, the church had such power over the population that even if they had rejected the argument, they would have been wise to keep quiet about it.

None of that is true now. The only people who feel that strongly about same-sex marriage are small minorities within faith groups. Society at large sees behaviour of those small minorities as completely deranged, and will neither offer them support, nor excuse the large organisation for tolerating it. You can see, as an example, the chairman of one of the largest mosques in the UK being spoken to firmly by a Muslim campaign group here: The same will happen to churches: their own natural supporters will not back them. Society at large will just be horrified. It will not end well.

Posted by: Interested Observer on Friday, 21 March 2014 at 10:46pm GMT

"One might also comment that should they so do the Bishop would be entitled to enquire about the sexual nature of their relationship."

Quite easy these days, what with webcams. There could be a whole room of monitors at each bishop's palace - and with time maybe in heterosexual bedrooms as well, to make sure they're not getting up to anything naughty...

"If Archbishop Welby thought he was getting an easy ride, he must be changing his mind now. One has to feel sorry for anyone who, in good faith, has taken over the leadership of such a shambles."

What leadership was that? I seem to have missed it.

Posted by: Nathaniel Brown on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 5:16am GMT

The Bishop of Carlisle has recently blessed a herd of Holstein cows at an agricultural college in his diocese. It's a pity that cattle are looked upon with greater approval than gay people.

Posted by: Fr DavidH on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 6:55am GMT

The church's position isn't incoherent so much as schizophrenic. Gay relationships are simultaneously "stunning" and sinful. This is, of course, because its political, and indefensible on its own merits.

This cruel farce is irresolvable until the reality is admitted. We desperately need the church leadership to level and say, "Look, OK, it's a mess. Here's the hard truth. If we affirm gay relationships, a lot of rich parishes will walk. This could bankrupt us. It's easy to talk about justice, but we have to think of institutional survival. How can we solve this?" Then we'd at least be able to talk honestly.

Posted by: James Byron on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 8:26am GMT

Peter Kettle - As I remarked in the post on the appointment of the new Bishop of Lewes, the requirement to abide by the teaching in 'Issues' did not appear in his job spec. We now seem to have the situation where ordinands must but bishops don't. More double standards?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 8:34am GMT

How very brave of the East Barnet Parish to write to their Bishop (St. Albans) to tell him what they really think of the recent double-speak from the House of Bishops on the matter of same-Sex couples in the Church. Hopefully, this will encourage other parishes that actually have an openness towards the LGBT community in their area - on the basis that the Christ they love and serve would be as openly welcoming of such people as they are, and as they wish to continue to be.

The real problem is that Anglican Provinces around the world - except, perhaps, for the GAFCON affiliates - have decided to forsake the old system which enforced hypocrisy on both would-be ordinands and their sponsoring bishops, in order to become 'honest to God' about the reality of homosexuality being an integral feature within the spectrum of human sexual-orientation. Clergy are people, too, and deserve to celebrate their full humanity in Christ

Until this hypocrisy is repented of, and rejected for what it is - a blot on the escutcheon of the Christian Church - such dissembling will continue to hinder the work of the Gospel.

Good on you East Barnet Anglicans! May God be with you in your quest for clarification on this very important issue. I pray, also, for your Bishop.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 9:47am GMT

Peter Kettle: In answer to your question about ordinands having to "sign up" to "Issues in Human Sexuality" ... As part of the discernment process, DDOs have to ask all candidates (gay, straight, married or single) whether they will abide by the standards set for clergy in "Issues". It is recorded in their Sponsoring Papers that they have been asked and have assented - there isn't a specific "sign up" sheet. Bishops' Advisory Panel Advisers are told not to ask anything further than that, though Pastoral Advisers do have to talk with the candidates about their support networks and family relationships, (to make sure that they have some!), and there are occasions when gay candidates, or indeed straight candidates with girlfriends or boyfriends, do talk about their relationships, and their opinions on "Issues" (which they are perfectly entitled to have and to air, according to the HoB "pastoral" letter.) Whatever we feel about "Issues", gay candidates need to be aware that they are seeking ordination in a church in which they will find themselves in conflict with the current rules if they aren't celibate, and have counted the cost of doing so. For the church to ordain people without making sure they consider this in the discernment process would be irresponsible.

Posted by: Anne2 on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 10:20am GMT

Interested Observer - if not a witch hunt then may be an inquisition?

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 10:26am GMT

My question from this is:

What alliance or backing should be given to East Barnet if they are singled out for this issue?

And indeed, if gay or lesbian priests of good conscience decide to marry?

There really ought to be consequences, and solidarity, if any decent priests or decent PCCs are singled out for sanctions.

The bishops have crossed a line in the sand. Their threat of sanctions is totally unacceptable. It is at odds with public social norms and attitudes in the pews and in society at large.

But if good people do nothing...

So I repeat my belief that a coalition and alliance should be organised, setting a specific timeline, after which ALL of them start acting on behalf of their local churches and communities, respecting the integrity of conscience involved in priests marrying people they love, and the blessing of people's marriages and relationship, without discrimination.

There ought to be an 'all together' approach to this huge point of principle, and totally decent local communities should not be allowed to be dealt with 'piecemeal'.

It should be a case of 'you deal with one entity, then you deal with all of us'.

The bishops have set out conditions. Those who believe this is plain wrong and immoral should also set out their conditions of good conscience - including specific dates, after which local communities across the country overrule this wholly unacceptable attempt by the bishops to assert a new kind of Covenant-style uniformity.

We are talking about the reality of people's lives, and local churches' relationships with their communities. The bishops' letter was a disgrace. They are out of order. That letter cannot stand - it has to be rescinded... or ignored.

It should be ignored with effect from an agreed and defined date. And the opposition and resistance should be far wider than the just and decent East Barnet PCC. Co-ordination is needed in defence of local ministries and strong principles of justice, welcome and affirmation.

You can bless a herd of cows, but not two people's tender lifelong love?

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 11:35am GMT

I agree with you, Susanna, but who is to organise it? Stonewall? I have no spare time but will support anything set up. (The last thing we need is yet another petition ...)

But on a more optimistic note, I really don't think that individuals will be victimised, because the public stink would be too great. Then again, on a more pessimistic note, it seems possible, indeed likely, that there will be 'anti-gay' church people who will seek to hold the bishops to account, if necessary by the threat of withdrawal of funds. In any event, this is a fight that has to be fought and that will surely be won, though it may be dirty.

Posted by: John on Saturday, 22 March 2014 at 2:27pm GMT

"One consequence might be another wave of Tiber swimmers. The Ordinariate can only benefit."

THAT is what you took from this (faithful&principled stand), PaulW?

I'd as much predict this is the start of a reformation in the CofE, which might prompt even Jorge Bergoglio's conversion! ;-)

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 6:14am GMT

PCC's will be voting just for Deanery Synod reps who will in turn vote for General Synod reps who in turn will propose and vote upon Church of England legislation & policy. If we wish to avoid another debacle like the ordination & consecration of women then these are the critical yet often neglected levers for change within the Cof E - and one which is within lay peoples influence. If we want Gay blessings and Gay marriage then vote for those who will vote for those who will support it. Clearly we want good, prayerful, wise and compassionate Synod reps who are enthused by the whole range of issues with which the Church of England will be engaging - not one horse wonders, but it should be possible to marry the two!

Posted by: Lindsay Southern on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 7:18am GMT

"PCCs will be voting just for Deanery Synod reps"

Normally it is not PCCs who choose Deanery Synod reps. These should be chosen by those on the church electoral roll at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting.

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Sunday, 23 March 2014 at 2:18pm GMT

I trust the Bishop of Carlisle ascertained whether any of the cows were gay before he blessed them!

Posted by: Alan on Monday, 24 March 2014 at 2:51pm GMT

The comment above from someone calling her or himself Anne2 is really chilling, in the hypocritical stance of the Church of England it conveys.

The Church will not fare well with such morally vacuous thinking and behaviour.

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 10:02pm GMT

I'm just reporting the situation as it is at the moment, Laurie. It is the official guidance given to Bishop's Advisers during the discernment process, and is, as far as I am aware, public knowledge. I'm not necessarily saying I agree with it or think it was the way things should be. It was a response to an earlier comment which mentioned candidates having to "sign up" to Issues in Human Sexuality. I was just expanding on what that means in practice in the discernment process.
Whatever we feel about homosexuality and ordination, the fact is that the C of E at the moment officially takes this line, and until the General Synod votes to change it, LGBT clergy will have to live and work in a situation where they will face discrimination, just as women have done. They need to be aware of that and have counted that cost and have some idea of how they will deal with it. However much we might wish it wasn't so, it is so, and we are doing candidates no favours by pretending otherwise.
By the way, I am a woman , called Anne (2, because there was another Anne posting here for a while) - I got the feeling from the tone of your comment that you thought I might be hiding something. I'm not sure whether you thought I was morally vacuous in what I said, but if you did, I can assure you that isn't the case. The question I would ask you is what you would say to a gay person who wanted to explore ordination with you?

Posted by: Anne2 on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 1:23pm GMT

Thank you, Anne, for taking the time, to help me.

'It is the official guidance given to Bishop's Advisers during the discernment process, and is, as far as I am aware, public knowledge.'

It may well be 'the official guidance given' but that does not make it moral, good or true.

Ah, I see that you regard it as discriminatory yourself. Agreed.

I had never heard of this 'guidance'. I would like to know how 'official' it is. I want to know who decided this guidance, and this system of inquisition into the minds and hearts of young people and others, thinking of Ministry. And when was it instituted 'officially' ?
It is an outrageous policy, and as far as I know has never been approved in the synodical government of the Church.
Why make this distinction, I wonder between current ministers and ordinands ? It is unethical and outrageous. I wonder if Parliament know of this, and what their official response might be. Perhaps we need to write to our MPs forthwith.

Since when has 'celibacy' been a C of E requirement?

When I was ordained my theological college knew my partner, and the diocese accepted me for ordination knowing that I had and have a same-sex partner. As did the rector, of the parish where I served my Title. In fact, in every position I have held, I have always told the authorities my partner will be coming; and for some years his elderly grandmother.

We are looking forward to marrying asap.

As for 'exploring ordination' with me. I have made it a rule never to give advice in any context. If a person were to explore with me, I am sure they would reach their own conclusions - as long as I didnt interfere with them or their process.

My own personal opinion however would have to be, "Don't !"

We see how the Church oppresses lgbt, how it insists on our dishonesty as a condition of mere toleration while content to work lgbt ministers to death in urban priority areas; and how open and democratic discussion of how to support lgbt young people, congregants and elders.

I have done many other things with my life, and there is life and light beyond the Church of England !

Posted by: Revd Laurie Roberts on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 3:54pm GMT

Laurie, I don't know when you were ordained, but after "Issues in Human Sexuality" made explicit that the "official" position of the Church of England was that gay and lesbian clergy (unlike lay people) were not permitted to engage in sexual relationships (nor were straight people who were not married), it was inevitable, as far as I can see, that the discernment process for ordination would include some sort of reference to this requirement. The Church's "Person Spec" for ministry can be found on the C of E website, and I assume this was debated and passed by General Synod. See Criteria E - Relationships - here
Before the point when "Issues" was adopted as the Church's official position, I assume that it was simply a "don't ask, don't tell" situation.
The problem isn't with the discernment process, but with the basic position of "Issues". In order to change how people are selected for ordination, we need to change the Church's view of homosexuality. I don't think, either, that we can just say "don't" to gay people seeking ordination, or refuse to give them any advice. The fact is that gay people feel called, and are called, and will pursue that calling knowing that the Church holds this official position. We might want to spare them the pain, and wonder why they bother, but in my experience a calling is a calling; something which,in the end, you can't NOT do. The only gift those who are involved in their discernment process can give them (and that includes all of us, since discernment starts in the parish, or in informal conversation) is to try to ensure that they know what they are getting into, and have the resilience to cope. Pray God that one day (the sooner the better) glbt Christians will be able to minister without all this nonsense and pain, but until then, we need to be real with those whom God is calling.

Posted by: Anne2 on Thursday, 27 March 2014 at 12:29pm GMT
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