Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Lichfield diocese seeks to welcome LGBT+ people

The four bishops of the Diocese of Lichfield have issued an ad clerum letter on this subject.

Here is the press release: Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ people

The bishops of Lichfield Diocese are calling for a Church where LGBT+ people feel welcomed and honoured.

In a letter sent to all clergy and lay ministers in the diocese, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave; the Bishop of Stafford, the Rt Revd Geoff Annas; the Bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Clive Gregory; and the Bishop of Shrewsbury, the Rt Revd Mark Rylands, emphasise that “everyone has a place at the table.”

The letter updates clergy on discussions underway in the national Church on the ‘radical Christian inclusion’ called for by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and draws attention to the work being done on a major new Teaching Document…

Here is the full text of the letter: To all clergy and licensed lay ministers in the Diocese of Lichfield. Part of this is copied below the fold. But do read the entire letter.

There was also an earlier press release: ‘Safe Space’ for LGBT Christians

OneBodyOneFaith has issued a statement: OneBody welcomes letter from Lichfield bishops.

Tracey Byrne said:

“…Much of what the bishops say, shouldn’t really need saying, but sadly it does. Only this week we heard from a gay couple in another part of the country whose vicar has told them they can’t serve on any church committee, and we know too of couples whose vicar has refused to baptise their children. The kind of intrusive and abusive questioning of individuals condemned in the letter really does happen. People feel ashamed, hurt and confused when they encounter this kind of behaviour from people in positions of power and authority. It’s an affront to the gospel, and deeply damaging of individuals.”

Peter Leonard said:

“It’s my hope that the work being undertaken by Lichfield diocese, and this clear statement, will send a very strong signal – to LGBT+ people that they’re welcomed and valued on equal terms with our brothers and sisters. And to those who seek to treat us as a problem, to harm and dismiss us and deny our gifts and callings – that their behaviour will no longer be tolerated. What we need to see now is other bishops issuing similar guidance. But this first step by Lichfield is very much welcomed.”

Extract from the ad clerum:

In this letter we address some of the pastoral dimensions of these issues. We do not here discuss contested theological or ethical questions.In particular, in this letter we do not address the issue of blessing same-sex relationships, or of same-sex marriage. Rather, we are writing here about issues faced by all of us as we seek to live alongside others in the Church which is the Body of Christ.

Our basic principle is that all people are welcome in God’s Church: everyone has a place at the table. There is no theological problem with simply providing welcome, an extension of the welcome that God continually offers to each of us. This, we believe, is the starting point of that radical Christian inclusion for which the Archbishops have called.

Such radical Christian inclusion brings practical consequences for our local churches and for our Diocese as a whole, and we highlight some of these here:

  1. It is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop’s Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them. Those of us with preaching, teaching and pastoral responsibility need continually to be aware of the personal and sensitive nature of these issues. When speaking publicly we are likely to be talking to some who might disagree from a place of deeply held conviction central to their Christian identity. It is not enough simply to preach or teach on such sensitive topics without recognizing that our words may have a deep effect on people’s lives, loves and relationships. It is not right to conceal our ethical and theological views, but we all need to tread gently when we express them and be ready to listen sensitively to those for whom our words might be difficult.
  2. Intrusive questioning about someone’s sexual practices or desires, or their experience of gender, is almost always inappropriate. It is also unacceptable to tell or insinuate to people that sexual orientation or gender identity will be changed by faith, or that homosexuality or gender difference is a sign of immaturity or a lack of faith. In our pastoral ministries we may well need to listen to and talk with people about their sexual practices and desires, or their gender identity, if they bring such issues to us. We may also be asked to pray with people who for any reason are troubled by their sexual desires or practices or their gender identity. We need to be highly attentive to people when they approach us asking for counsel and prayers on these deepest aspects of their life. We must be alert to the power relations involved in such prayers and conversations, and the possibility of spiritual or emotional abuse.
  3. We want to make clear that nobody should be excluded or discouraged from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Note that in all cases excommunication is reserved to the diocesan bishop (Canon B16).
  4. We wish to affirm that LGBT+ people can be called to roles of leadership and service in the local church. We very much hope that they, like everyone else, feel encouraged to serve on PCCs, or as churchwardens and worship leaders, for instance, and are supported in exploring vocations to licensed lay and ordained ministries. Nobody should be told that their sexual or gender identity in itself makes them an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.
  5. Finally, we wish both to acknowledge the great contribution that LGBT+ Christians are making, and have made, to the Church in this diocese, and to highlight the need for mission within the LGBT+ community more broadly. As Archbishop Justin has made clear, the perception that the Church is homophobic and transphobic is harming our mission, especially to young people. We need to challenge this perception by reaching out to LGBT+ people with the good news of God’s love, modelling God’s welcome and care for all people.
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Categorised as: Church of England

When can we expect a similarly mature, intelligent and affirming statement from the Bishop of London and her area bishops - or Coventry, perhaps?

In the current climate, this is a brave statement. Thank you, Bishop Michael and colleagues, for showing what 'radical inclusion' might begin to look like when both our archbishops are too busy looking over their shoulders.

Posted by: Michael Mulhern on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 5:31pm BST

As a priest of the Diocese of Lichfield, I think we are blessed in our bishops. For me, a Wesleyan who likes dressing up, to say that means a great deal. Thank you, Michael and co.

Posted by: Stanley Monkhouse on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 6:15pm BST

I won't say much here at this stage other than to say that I have written directly to Bishop Michael to express my thanks.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 6:31pm BST

Well, we have been exhorted by our archbishops to pray that the signs of God's kingdom will be made manifest in the church and the world, during these days between Ascension and Pentecost, that many more people will hear the Gospel, and be drawn into the life of the church. So here we have it. An answer to prayer! Alleluia.

Oh. Sorry. How stupid of me. This is not the answer the archbishops were hoping for. Is it?

Posted by: Paul Jamieson on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 6:59pm BST

You could look into responsive Web design. This Web site is so hard to read on a mobile that I've pretty much given up.

Posted by: Tony B on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 7:26pm BST

"You could look into responsive Web design. This Web site is so hard to read on a mobile that I've pretty much given up."

I often use the site on a mobile phone and think that the present design is much better for mobiles than most responsive designs which are big and bulky suitable only on top of the range processors and in locations with good 4G coverage. Please don't change the site!

Posted by: Kate Phizackerley on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 7:54pm BST

This is a really helpful initiative and offers a model for how leaders communicate and work in partnership with the communities they lead. And of course once you open an door like this it won't shut again. Really grateful.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 9:19pm BST

I also warmly welcome this good message. We sometimes lament: "Like a mighty tortoise, moves the Church of God." But we should remember that tortoises do in fact move, given enough time.

A question, which someone in Lichfield may be in a position to answer. What is meant by the bishops' point 4? Does this include people who are "partnered"? If the answer is Yes, then the message is all the more to be welcomed. So often the problem for GLBTq people is that their sexuality is not taken as a bar to holding offices, but living with a partner outside of marriage is. And equal marriage is refused. If Lichfield is declaring an end to that Catch 22, then God be praised.

Posted by: Edward Prebble on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 11:07pm BST

"And of course once you open an door like this it won't shut again. Really grateful."

I think three things make this unique:
1. It recognises that the 'basic' point is WELCOME. Like all simple truths, that is very subversive.
2. It is UNIVERSAL. Ministers and PCCs can think what they want, but the bishops still expect the same minimum standards of behaviour from everyone.
3. It is GENUINE. This has been done for us and not too us.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 11:15pm BST

Good statement. Well done Lichfield.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Tuesday, 15 May 2018 at 11:57pm BST

I see this out from the TEC Diocese of Dallas.


Posted by: crs on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 7:28am BST

I want to second Edward Prebble's question. While this is indeed a very good and godly statement, I fear the root of the issue with the teaching document and other commendable initiatives like this one, that it's always a step or two behind what we're actually talking about.

Posted by: Victoriana on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 8:17am BST

To be welcomed - but it is really only putting into words what has been officially policy for some time, though much ignored by some sections of the Church. It specifically rules out any discussion or mention of LGBTI peoples marriages, partners and domestic lives - and just how welcome can we be when our most important, sustaining and intimate relationships are not just ignored but specifically excluded? We are social creatures, we cannot be welcomed as single units, divorced from all that sustains us in life. Surely someone in the LGBTI advocacy networks is going to call this out for this, or have they all given up on wanting full inclusion for LGBTI people and are happy to settle for such crumbs of comfort? We are not welcome unless we are welcome in every aspect of our lives. It's really very simple.

Posted by: Andrew Foreshew-Cain on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 8:46am BST

Victoriana puts it very politely, but unless the relationships of all people are equally recognised and celebrated regardless of gender, it cannot be said that they are equally welcome. The Lichfield announcement is explicit that this matter is not addressed. And if someone is banned or sacked from any post because (for example) they have contracted an entirely legal marriage, then that is saying something far beyond that person to everybody else who has done likewise. So any welcome also needs not just to say that gay people are welcome to explore ordination, but that this diocese will ordain and license people without any discrimination on grounds of sexuality, marital status, and gender.(And, given the history, the "welcome" needs to include an explicit disavowal of the principle that same sex relationships should be "celibate".) It really isn't good enough to issue a gushing statement about welcome which actually explicitly avoids the main issues on which lesbian and gay people are not welcome.

Michael Mulhern says "in the current climate, this is a brave statement". Well, just a bit braver than no statement at all, I suppose, but it's not difficult to imagine a really brave statement. It's a sad reflection on the "current climate" that a "motherhood and apple pie" statement which avoids the elephant in the room should be considered "brave".

Posted by: TP on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 9:48am BST

Why is the first of the enumerated points essentially "don't say or do anything which upsets homophobes?" Even if there is an argument to make about being sensitive to homophobes' feelings - I don't think there is, but it's at least arguable - surely that's not the most important point? Should we be "ready to listen sensitively to those for whom our words might be difficult" to racists too, or is it just homophobia which is a matter for sensitivity?

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 10:20am BST

Victoriana, the Lichfield letter talks only about lay positions. I think you and Edward might be thinking of clerical positions?

Yes, it is only a fraction of what we need. We normally get thin gruel but have been offered a piece of bread. I realise that. It's definitely not a steak dinner, but it is better than anything anyone else has given us and is most of what the Lichfield bishops were able to offer: they aren't the ones able to share their steak dinners with us.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 10:59am BST

Reading the response from OneBodyOneFaith together with some of the comments on the thread, this looks like 'green shoots' of justice in the church for GLBTQ communities for sure.

The development of the 'teaching' document is referenced. One hopes it will be dialogical and not pontifical.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 1:38pm BST

I fail to understand why people are welcoming the Lichfield ad clerum letter with such enthusiasm.

Quote: "Such radical Christian inclusion brings practical consequences for our local churches and for our Diocese as a whole, and we highlight some of these here:

1. It is the responsibility of all Christians, but especially those who hold the Bishop’s Licence as clergy or lay ministers, to ensure that all people know that there is a place at the table for them."

The letter is sent to clergy and argues for radical Christian inclusion. It says those holding the Bishop's licence are responsible for ensuring that all people know there is a place at the table for them.

But there is no place at the table for clergy or lay ministers who dare to fall in love, commit themselves to their partner, and marry them. There is no place at the table for those clergy and lay people holding a Bishop’s licence who contract a civil partnership or cohabit in they refuse to agree to living abstain from sexual intimacy.

Where is the radical Christian inclusion? The don’t ask, don’t tell policy that operated when I was ordained forty years ago may have been dishonest but in a well-chosen diocese and with a wise bishop, clergy in same-sex relationships were honoured and valued.

In England, we can now marry – but not in church. Clergy and licenced lay people can’t marry, can’t celebrate same-sex relationships in church, either by marrying the couple or by holding a service of blessing.

Clergy who do the right thing by marrying their partner are banished from ministry. The hierarchy has invested money and energy in pursing one such cleric. You cannot seek ordination, let alone be ordained, if you have married or intend to marry the person you love.

The Lichfield letter, sent to the clergy of the diocese, would have displayed courage and prophetic vision if it had named the injustice against lesbian and gay clergy.

What it manages to say is unexceptional. That it is the first of its kind as a letter from bishops to clergy is salutary.

This letter does not argue for or commend an unequivocal welcome for lesbian and gay people. This is not radical Christian inclusion.

Posted by: Colin Coward on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 1:53pm BST

@Kate, 16 May at 10.59am

I didn't have clerical positions specifically in mind.

Since you've raised it, I think we need to do away with the double standard between clergy and lay people created under Issues In Human Sexuality. It's a travesty and a scandal. Until this is put away and some actual liveable reality injected into the situation, even this commendable and good statement from Lichfield is thin gruel, or maybe bread bulked out with sawdust.

It's no steak dinner if it doesn't address the double standard.

Posted by: Victoriana on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 3:33pm BST

As a tentative first step this is to be welcomed, but it does say something about the state of the Church of England that this rather insipid statement seems almost daring.

Point 5 is a little worrying: ‘the perception that the Church is homophobic and transphobic is harming our mission’, as if what’s going on is a faulty perception. It isn’t. It’s a very accurate perception of a deeply, structurally homo- and trans- phobic institution.

The solution of course, is not better spin. The solution is to embrace equal marriage, equal ordination etc- full equality for all LGBT people. Not some time in the future, not after the Bishops have produced the teaching document attempt to appease the conservative status quo, not when they’re resentfully forced to by parliament or decline desperation , but now.

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 4:36pm BST

This may be as brilliant as everyone seems to think. I will reserve judgement until the bishops discipline the first priest who does not treat a gay couple in accordance with the CoE 2014 guidelines.

Seeing genuine action aimed at rooting out homophobia will be the only thing that will make this lgbt person feel welcome.

And please... we have relationships, not "sexual practices".

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 5:08pm BST

Kate - actually, the Bishops could do a whole lot more than they do. They could issue PTO to married clergy, they could send to college married ordinands, they could issue diocesan prayers for those getting married to a same sex partner, they could make it clear that they wont take action against Churches that conduct services of blessing after civil marriage. They don’t. They could take action against clergy who refuse communion, refuse baptism, exclude from leadership and preach prejudice and discrimination against the LGBTI communities. We all know that they won’t. Aspirational statements are all very well, and in themselves to be welcomed but none of this is ground breaking.

Posted by: Andrew Foreshew-Cain on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 5:52pm BST

I agree with the commentators who noted that the letter does not explicitly welcome our partners and families. It's a "nice" letter and I find the tone welcoming, to a point. It isn't our "identity" we want welcomed, it's our being and our relationships. But it is a good step, especially for 2008...

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 6:28pm BST

"Point 5 is a little worrying: ‘the perception that the Church is homophobic and transphobic is harming our mission’, as if what’s going on is a faulty perception."

Not just that. It also implies that the only reason the Bishops are bothered about LGBTQ+ inclusion is not any fundamental matter of principle, or a belief that human rights are university, but rather an instrumentalist piece of horse-trading that homophobia is a bad look and therefore on balance it's better to look inclusive (at risk of annoying homophobes) that to look homophobic (at risk of annoying decent people).

Posted by: Interested Observer on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 8:24pm BST

I am finding this thread difficult. I understand all the reservations and criticisms and normally I would be voicing them alongside you. But this time I can't because I discern that the letter is from the Spirit. So if I seem to ignore a comment addressed at me, please don't think I am uninterested in what you say or that I am rudely ignoring you: I am not.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 8:33pm BST

Or 1978 perhaps.

Posted by: TP on Wednesday, 16 May 2018 at 10:08pm BST

I suppose the real question is whether any evangelical clergy in the Diocese of Lichfield will actually take note of what their bishops are saying, or whether they will just continue implementing the EA Affirmations...?

This is a positive initiative in the right direction, which like all tiny steps forward should be affirmed and encouraged. It shouldn’t need saying, but we all know that sadly it does as there are many churches who do not agree with this statement, and it is to them that this letter is addressed.

I know many bishops who would like to take church leaders on who do not implement this policy, but they require individuals to come forward and complain to them. Can I therefore encourage you that if you personally are a recipient of treatment that does not meet this standard that you write to your bishop - perhaps copying in your inclusive Synod reps for support/a means of accountability?

Posted by: Jayne Ozanne on Thursday, 17 May 2018 at 8:10am BST

"I suppose the real question is whether any evangelical clergy in the Diocese of Lichfield will actually take note of what their bishops are saying, or whether they will just continue implementing the EA Affirmations...?"

This document removes the defence of "I didn't know we couldn't do..." and makes it easier to discipline any recalcitrant clergy.

Posted by: Kate on Thursday, 17 May 2018 at 7:39pm BST

the HoB Pastoral Guidelines from 2014 removed that defense. They state very clearly that:
Access to the sacraments and pastoral care for people in same sex marriages

15. In Issues in Human Sexuality the House affirmed that, while the same standards of conduct applied to all, the Church of England should not exclude from its fellowship those lay peope of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and who, instead, chose to enter into a faithful, committed sexually active relationship.

16. Consistent with that, we said in our 2005 pastoral statement that lay people who had registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and holy communion, or being welcomed into the life of the local worshipping community more generally.

17. We also noted that the clergy could not lawfully refuse to baptize children on account of the family structure or lifestyle of those caring for them, so long as they and the godparents were willing to make the requisite baptismal promises following a period of instruction.

18. We recognise the many reasons why couples wish their relationships to have a formal status. These include the joys of exclusive commitment and also extend to the importance of legal recognition of the relationship. To that end, civil partnership continues to be available for same sex couples. Those same sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle. Neither they nor any children they care for should be denied access to the sacraments.

Acts of worship following civil same sex weddings

19. As noted above, same sex weddings in church will not be possible. As with civil partnership, some same sex couples are, however, likely to seek some recognition of their new situation in the context of an act of worship.

20. The 2005 pastoral statement said that it would not be right to produce an authorized public liturgy in connection with the registering of civil partnerships and that clergy should not provide services of blessing for those who registered civil partnerships. The House did not wish, however, to interfere with the clergy's pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances. The College made clear on 27 January that, just as the Church of England's doctrine of marriage remains the same, so its pastoral and liturgical practice also remains unchanged.

21. The same approach as commended in the 2005 statement should therefore apply to couples who enter same-sex marriage, on the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church's teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.


Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 17 May 2018 at 10:05pm BST

I - from the other end of the world - would posit the opinion that any bishop who steps out of line from the other bishops, by issuing a positive of welcome towards LGBT+ people in the Church, needs to be encouraged, rather than pilloried for 'not doing enough' about the negativity of the Church towards a significant minority of its members.

The number of Bishops in the C.of E. House of Bishops who are willing to speak up for the positive inclusion of LGBT+ in the life and ministry of the Body of Christ are few and far between.

I suspect the reason for any perceived pastoral shortcomings in the H. O. B is based on the FACT that the dear old C. of E. has not yet girded up her loins to counteract the negativity of the Provinces of GAFCON and her satellites that have no understanding of - and militate against - any sort of recognition of the spiritual anguish of LGBT+ people - at the fact that our intrinsic sexual differences are not recognised as being part of the normal continuum of human sexuality.

We are not rebels against the tradition of the Church, provided it honours and respects each and every baptized member, created and loved by God.

The one reason LGBT+ people stay in the Church, either as clergy or faithful laity, is that we - together with the women and other people in the Church who have hitherto been undervalued - have become aware of our value to God through our own experience of Christ of the Gospels, even though our leaders do not always honour the pastoral demands of love and charity to ALL.

Social justice should begin with the Church. All too often it lags behind the more caring society that recognises and legislates for the real needs of ALL of its citizens.

However, let's not extinguish the tender shoots of Gospel growth that are now being exhibited by those few Bishops of the Church who publically embrace the Gospel of Inclusion. From acorns, the oak may yet spring.

"Come, Holy Spirit, re-kindle within the hearts of your faithful the fire of your love, through the grace of Christ, Redeemer of ALL. Amen"

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 12:34am BST


The Church of England guidance might be enough for your personal circumstances but does nothing for those of us who have changed gender.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 9:40am BST

I am struggling to see how this very positive and welcome statement is any different to the affirmative comments made by Viv Faull, in response to which Andrew Foreshew-Cain tweeted 'About bloody time' a couple of days ago.

The Lichfield bishops have opened the door. So, instead of picking holes in what they haven't said, can those of us who support their stance get behind them and offer them our support and thanks, because there will be no shortage of people who will go after them for issuing this ad clerum?

Posted by: Simon R on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 2:01pm BST

The comments from Viv Faull indicate clearly that she hopes for change in this area.

The letter from the Lichfield bishops indicates no desire for change at all.

It is not a step forward at all - just the status quo. It is not radical. It is not new. It is more of the same. Very difficult to understand why it should be seen as progress by anyone.

Viv Faull described the current policy as "dreadful".

The Lichfield bishops are simply working within that policy and not challenging it at all.

Posted by: Kelvin Holdsworth on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 2:30pm BST


you're right! It hadn't occurred to me that the guidelines are about sexuality only!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 5:33pm BST

Kate Phizackerley - your comment suggests that you aren't clear on what responsive design is. Great name though.

Posted by: Tony B on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 7:22pm BST

"The Lichfield bishops are simply working within that policy and not challenging it at all."

As with Erika's comment, I suggest that is a matter of perspective. Nobody can keep you out of your church. If you visit another church, you don't have any worries that they might tell you that you are not welcome. For you, I guess, the attitude to conducting or blessing same-sex marriage in church is the biggie? For some of us, particularly perhaps those who have changed gender, the biggie right now is being to go into any church without fear of being told one is not welcome.

Posted by: Kate on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 8:10pm BST

Erica Baker,
The interest in ‘sexual practices’ gives the game away. Bishops are fascinated by sexual activity, particularly between men. You are quite right. This should be about our relationships, acknowledging them as valid, valuable and a contribution to the stable society which Bishops seem to want us all to enjoy. But actually all they are really interested in is genital activity, what goes where and with whom. The mere fact that they included this phrase indicates that they still can’t raise their eyes above our belts.

Posted by: Richard Ashby on Friday, 18 May 2018 at 8:43pm BST
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