As we kneel on Ash Wednesday to allow a cross to be traced on our foreheads in the ashes of last year’s palm crosses, Isaiah uncomfortably reminds us that we could be missing the point of Lenten observance.
Percy Dearmer’s paraphrase in his carol ‘White Lent’ brings the message home.
To bow the head, in sackcloth or in ashes, or rend the soul, such grief is not Lent’s goal;
but to be led to where God’s glory flashes, his beauty to come nigh,
to fly where truth and light do lie.
Lent is a time to draw closer to God and be transformed by the experience, discerning, as Dearmer puts it, God’s beauty. Dearmer is of course most remembered for his delight in beauty: beauty in worship, through The Parson’s Handbook, and in music, through The English Hymnal and Songs of Praise. But he was also a lifelong socialist who gave up his parish during the First World War to be a chaplain to the Red Cross in Serbia, where his wife, who had gone to work with their ambulance unit, died of fever. For the next 15 years he had no church appointment, but after being made a canon of Westminster in 1931 he used the position to open a canteen for the unemployed.
The socialist Dearmer would have appreciated Isaiah’s charge against the people of God (38.3) ‘Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers.’ And the prophet’s warnings appear designed for today when he calls us to ‘share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house’. Isaiah has a firm conviction that we come closer to God through social action than through any act of piety.
The mood Dearmer’s carol creates fits perfectly with Jesus’s advice ‘Do not look dismal’. However sombre a mood we try to create by removing displays of flowers from our churches and veiling anything which might delight the eye, nature will not be denied. Successive waves of spring bulbs assure us that the darkness of winter is over, and new life is emerging. It calls us to thankfulness, and with it, the response of our love in action.
I wish you a joyful and blessed Lent.
Tom Ambrose is a priest in the diocese of Ely.7 Comments
John Wraw is Bishop of Bradwell, in the Chelmsford diocese. A letter from him has been published on the diocesan website, prefaced by this note:
John Wraw took up his role as Bishop of Bradwell in the Diocese of Chelmsford five years ago. He was diagnosed with cancer two years later. The type of cancer he has is incurable.
Bishop John has always been open and honest about living with his condition.
Writing a moving letter to the Clergy of the diocese today about his prognosis, he reviews developments in the Church and Diocese, and he discusses his hopes for a well-founded theology of relationships, friendship and marriage leading in time to a full acceptance of same sex marriage.
The letter can be read via this link. I do recommend reading it all, as it is very moving. But the last few paragraphs read as follows:
…However, the current debate in the Church, which has become almost totally focused on same sex marriage, means we have not championed the fundamental and core values of commitment, fidelity, openness, trust, intimacy and indeed faithfulness, both within the Church and more widely in society. This has severely weakened our contribution to the life of the nation and those conversations have suffered through the lack of our voice.
There are very differing views on this within the Church of England and across the Anglican Communion, but there is much more we hold in common. Unity in Christ is a fact, a command, a promise; not simply something we can opt in and out of as we pick and choose. We need to live with our differences, not simply listening to those who see differently but offering true
attentiveness. That was the value of the Shared Conversations, but not clearly reflected in the Report from the House of Bishops as reflected in the Synod Vote.
I have no desire to criticise my fellow Bishops and recognise the reflection, prayer and care that has been given to offering leadership and teaching in this. However, there is still a lack of pastoral understanding and care shown in public pronouncements and a lack of venturesome and creative theological reflection on the nature of relationships and the place of marriage within that.
More time does need to be given to a well-founded theology of relationship, friendship and marriage which I hope will lead in time to a full acceptance of same sex marriages in the Church of England. That will take time. However, that should not hold us back in the immediate from proper recognition through prayers, blessing, celebration and affirmation of all that is good and wholesome in a wide variety of relationships including stable, faithful, committed and God given same sex relationships.
Easter and ordinations are very much about new beginnings, born out of journeys which are often very challenging but ultimately held under God. I pray for a Church rediscovering its calling under God as herald and first fruits of God’s Kingdom lived out in that pilgrimage through the challenges of Holy Week, the defeat and desolation of Good Friday and the renewed joy and hope of resurrection we celebrate week by week, which is founded on Jesus rising to new life that first Easter Sunday.
There is also an interview with the bishop on BBC Essex which can be found via this link.1 Comment
Updated yet again on Wednesday – scroll down for new items
See our original report here.
The Archbishop of York wrote an opinion article for the Yorkshire Post this morning: John Sentamu: Your have my word – female clergy will not be undermined by new Bishop of Sheffield.
It also has this article by Sue Hammersley Sheffield Speaking Out—What Do We Want?
…What do we want? We want to break the silence of misunderstandings.
We want to understand the process which led to Bishop Philip’s nomination, why the Vacancy in See Committee left the diocese wide open to receiving someone who would not ordain women. This was never checked out within the parishes. Was it deliberate or was it because we all assumed that there was a direction of travel within this diocese? We weren’t expecting this.
We want to understand the relationship between Bishop Philip and the many societies he represents, The Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda and Forward in Faith being the most relevant. How free is Bishop Philip to make up his own mind about women priests? How appropriate is it for a diocesan bishop, not a suffragan bishop, to be aligned with a group which denies the priestly orders of women?
We want a thorough review of the theology, efficacy and use of the five guiding principles which are currently being used to keep us silent.
We want to find a voice of dissent which is also a voice of love and compassion, of truth and justice and equality. We want to ask, what would Jesus do?
Thomas Matthew Sharp has written: Man from a Woman Bishop’s Rib: a Man’s Perspective on Mutual Flourishing? which discusses the general issue, apart from the Sheffield specific instance.
There is another roundup of coverage from SAME over here.
And Archbishop Cranmer (Adrian Hilton) has this: If Philip North can’t be Bishop of Sheffield, the Church of England ceases to be catholic.
This article by Alice Whalley is well worth reading: The Bishop of Sheffield and Mutual Flourishing: a Guest Blog
The Yorkshire Post has published a response by Martyn Percy to the Archbishop of York’s article: Martyn Percy: Bishop’s views mean he should decline job.
The article as published is significantly shorter than the original as written. You can read the latter version over here:Finding the Wisdom of Solomon.
Lorraine Cavanagh Modern Church In our right minds
Lucy Gorman Synod Scoop Bishops, friends and radical inclusion.
Andy Bryant withthecollaroff Dethroning the mythology for a richer vision of marriage
Andrew Lightbown Theore0 Watershed moments
Theo Hobson The Spectator The Church of England should be agnostic towards homosexuality
Mark Woods Christian Today Why The Church Needs To Rethink Its Attitude To Marriage
Linda Woodhead Prospect The Church of England has reached a turning point on gay marriage
David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer Law & Religion UK Banns of marriage – their development and future
Chris Stokel-Walker BBC How smart phones and social media are changing Christianity
and in response: Archdruid Eileen The Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley Atomised Bible for a Hyperconnected World
The official Church in Wales statement: No result from the Bishop of Llandaff election.
After a three-day meeting of the Church in Wales’ Electoral College to elect a Bishop of Llandaff, none of the candidates considered received the number of votes required for election – a two-thirds majority.
The business of the College was rooted in prayer, worship and quiet reflection, as well as open and friendly debate and discussion.
Under the terms of the Constitution of the Church in Wales the responsibility of filling the vacancy falls to the Bench of Bishops.
The Bishop of Swansea and Brecon, John Davies, who is President of the Electoral College, said the process leading up to an eventual appointment would include a wide-ranging consultation of both the laity and the clergy from across the Church in Wales.
Harry Farley at Christian Today has a more detailed report: Leading Gay Cleric Jeffrey John Narrowly Rejected As Bishop In Wales.
A leading gay cleric has narrowly missed out on becoming a bishop after his appointment was rejected for the fourth time.
Very Rev Jeffrey John, who has twice been turned down for senior roles over his sexuality, was in the running to be Bishop of Llandaff, Christian Today understands.
But despite winning support from more than half of the nominating body, he just missed on the two-thirds majority required.
Christian Today understands Dr John’s long-term civil partnership with Grant Holmes, another Anglican priest, was a factor in his rejection by traditionalists.
After three days of discussions the electoral body of 47 people, made up of locals from the diocese, bishops and the official nomination committee, failed to agree on any candidate. The final decision will now be down to senior bishops despite Dr John winning strong support among electors in the mainly Anglo-Catholic region of Llandaff.
Neither the Church in Wales nor the Church of England are opposed to clergy being in civil partnerships as long as they vow to remain sexually chaste, which Dr John has done.
Currently Dean of St Albans, Dr John was previously nominated to be Bishop of Reading in 2003 but was forced to withdraw himself under intense pressure from traditionalists.
He was later in the running for Bishop of Bangor in 2008 and then again for Bishop of Southwark in 2010 but was both times turned down with conservatives threatening a split in the Church.
But Dr John’s latest rejection to be Bishop of Llandaff is particularly striking because of the strong support he received among local clergy and parishioners in the largely liberal diocese…
From the Accepting Evangelicals website:
Do scroll down from that link and read the Modern Parable for the Church of England… which is mentioned in the statement.
Following the defeat of the ‘Take note’ motion on sexuality at General Synod last week, Accepting Evangelicals wishes to assure the House of Bishops of our prayers as you seek a way forward for the whole Church of England.
It must be said that we were disappointed by the House of Bishops’ report which was the substance for the debate. The report followed three years of ‘Shared Conversations’ which had been entered into by LGBT Christians in good faith and not insignificant courage.
Our disappointment centred around two areas:
That after such a careful and lengthy process of Shared Conversations, the voices of LGBT Christians were still not adequately voiced in the report.
That its central proposal of maintaining the status quo in terms of law, liturgy and doctrine, while seeking to allow ‘maximum freedom’ within Church Law was inadequate and flawed.
The first of these has been well articulated by the retired Bishops’ letter which preceded the debate and we would not want to add to that.
The second point however, does require the further explanation:
Very few people expected that this report would signal a rapid change in the Church of England’s Doctrine of Marriage. We understand that determining if or when this is appropriate will be a lengthy process. What was hoped for by many however, was a clear sign that the recent statements about radical welcome for LGBT people and repentance of the way they have been treated, would lead to concrete moves towards creating a liturgy of blessing of thanksgiving for those in Civil Partnerships and same-sex marriage.
Such a development would not require a change in doctrine on marriage, just as the introduction of a liturgy of thanksgiving for people who have remarried after divorce did not require a change in doctrine to exclude the understanding of marriage as a lifelong commitment.
We believe that the creation of such a liturgy is essential if LGBT people are to feel they have a place in the Church of England. The present pastoral accommodations do not give that assurance. They lead to LGBT people feeling tolerated at best, problematic at times, and ultimately unwelcome – even in many parish churches which would like to be fully welcoming of LGBT people.
As is often said, the heart of the Church of England is found and expressed in its liturgy. As long as there is no provision for the celebration of loving, committed LGBT relationships, LGBT people and especially couples, will feel that they are marginalised or excluded from the life and worship of the Church at a fundamental level – that of their relationship with a person they deeply love.
Thus, the report is both inadequate in that its proposals do not address this vital area and flawed because without movement of this kind, all positive statements by the Church of England towards LGBT people will be seen as mere empty words.
If the Church of England is genuinely serious about recognising and welcoming the faith, life and ministry of LGBT women and men, this cannot be omitted.
Our misgivings and disappointment mean we are pleased that the ‘Take note’ motion at Synod was lost last week, as we hope that this defeat will cause the House of Bishops to reconsider its approach and its leadership of the Church of England in this matter.
We also hope that the defeat of the motion will lead to a greater recognition of changing attitudes within the Church of England towards recognition of LGBT people as our sisters and brothers, made in the image of God, and not problems or issues (as the Archbishops’ letter makes clear).
Evidence of this change can be clearly seen in the opening speech by Ven. Nikki Groarke, who, as an Evangelical, spoke in support of the introduction of a pastoral liturgy for the blessing of gay couples in committed partnerships, despite her continuing concerns about marriage.
Evidence for these changing attitudes can also be found in the election of Canon Simon Butler, (also an Evangelical) as Prolocutor of the Province of Canterbury even though he is openly gay with a same-sex partner.
In the light of the Shared Conversations and the debate at General Synod, we would want to endorse strongly the need for a substantial re-evaluation of the House of Bishops’ response and leadership, towards the genuine inclusion of LGBT people in the Church of England.
In conclusion, we would like to commend to the House of Bishops a modern day parable, written by one of our Trustees. We would humbly suggest that consideration of this parable and the questions it raises, should be included in the meeting of the House of Bishops in May.
We would like to assure you of our prayers for you in charting a difficult, yet vital path for the Church of England. ‘Maximum freedom’ under our current rules will not resolve the impasse. We need to find a place for our LGBT brothers and sisters in the heart of the Church of England – in its liturgy.
Co-Chairs of Accepting Evangelicals.1 Comment
Updated again 6 pm Friday
The Guardian carries this report by Harriet Sherwood
Opponent of female priests urged to decline bishop of Sheffield post
A senior Church of England theologian has called on the newly appointed bishop of Sheffield to stand aside ahead of his consecration, saying his opposition to female priests will “cause significant pastoral and public damage to the church”.
Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, urged Philip North to either renounce his membership of the Society, a C of E organisation that rejects female priests, or decline his nomination as bishop of Sheffield, which was announced last month.
Percy claims there is a “substantial amount of resistance building up” to North’s appointment, which he says would “represent the toleration of gender-based sectarianism”.
The full press release from Modern Church is available here: Oxford theologian invites bishop-designate of Sheffield to decline nomination and is copied below the fold. Follow the link at the end of the original press release to download the full essay as a PDF.
WATCH has issued this: The Five Guiding Principles: Whose Flourishing do they serve?. Scrolling down leads to this section:
The Sheffield situation
Recently the announcement of the new Bishop of Sheffield was made. The press release made no comment about the fact that he is a bishop who cannot accept the ministry of women and will not ordain them as priests. In fact, those of us who have raised concerns that this bishop will now be presiding over a diocese where nearly a third of the clergy are women, have been told that his views on women are unimportant. Worse, we have been consistently told that this is a working out of the five guiding principles; mutual flourishment in practice.
So the question is, how is his appointment to a diocese, where nearly third of the incumbents are women, promoting mutual flourishing? For twenty years this has been a diocese in which women are ordained. These women have up until this point simply been priests in the diocese, regardless of gender. Now they are women priests. The incoming Bishop reassures them that he will work to the utmost limits of his theological position where they are concerned but, this is little comfort to those who are used to being treated in the same way as their male colleagues; as those whose priesthood their bishop truly recognises.
The women of the diocese were not asked how this would help them flourish. Neither of the Archbishops has offered any kind of support to them as they deal with the sense of hurt and disillusionment as, yet again, the Church of England expects women to be the ones who accept discrimination in the name of theological conviction.
The House of Bishops Declaration, which lays out clear guidelines for the provision necessary for those who cannot accept the ministry of a woman bishop, has nothing coherent to say to the women clergy of Sheffield diocese as they struggle to come to terms with the prospect of a Bishop who cannot fully accept their ministry. It seems that the hierarchy of the church has deep pastoral concerns for those who cannot accept the ministry of women and no real pastoral care for women who find their ministry fundamentally undermined by the theological views of the one with whom they are to share a cure of souls.
There is no provision for the male clergy who are deeply committed to a church in which men and women minister as equals. No provision for the lay members of the diocese who value the ministry of women clergy. Those many, many clergy and laity in the diocese who are theologically committed to the full inclusion of women in the church will no longer have a diocesan bishop who shares their theological conviction…
The Church of England has issued this: Statement on Bishop Philip North
In response to an enquiry from the Guardian on 23 February 2017 on an article concerning Bishop Philip North the Church of England’s Communication office provided the following response:
“Many if not all of Martyn Percy’s arguments were raised and presented during and before the General Synod debates on this issue in 2014. In supporting the ordination of Women as Bishops the Synod overwhelmingly rejected these arguments and favoured a position of mutual flourishing for all in the Church.
As Martyn Percy’s article makes clear Bishop Philip has stated in a meeting to women clergy in the diocese that he is favour of women’s leadership and would actively promote it.
The beauty of the Church of England is its theological breadth and its ability to hold together disparate views across a range of issues whilst still finding unity in Jesus Christ.
The Church of England supports all orders of ministry being open equally, irrespective of gender, and remains committed to enabling all people to flourish within its life and structures.”
The detailed voting lists for the electronic votes at last week’s meeting of the General Synod have been released. The list for the take note motion on the House of Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations is here.
Readers may be particularly interested in the voting in the House of Bishops which I have shown in the table below.
The bishops voted 43 in favour and one against with no recorded abstentions. The Bishop of Coventry (the only vote against) has said that he pressed the wrong button on his voting machine and intended to vote in favour. The Bishop of Southwark has said that he intended to record an abstention but failed to do so.
There are 53 places in the House of Bishops (42 diocesan bishops, the Bishop of Dover, the Bishop to the Forces and nine elected suffragan bishops). Two diocesan sees were vacant on the day of the vote. So, in addition to Southwark, six bishops were absent from the vote. If any readers know for certain the reason for any of the absences, please let us know via the comments.
Electronic voting results for Item 14
Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: a report from the House of Bishops (GS 2055):
‘That the Synod do take note of this report.’
|Voting in the House of Bishops|
|6||Bath & Wells||Peter Hancock||for|
|14||Coventry||Christopher Cocksworth||against – by mistake|
|17||Gibraltar in Europe||Robert Innes||for|
|34||St Albans||Alan Smith||for|
|35||St Edmundsbury & Ipswich||Martin Seeley||for|
|38||Sodor & Man||vacant||see vacant|
|39||Southwark||Christopher Chessun||absent – but intended to abstain|
|40||Southwell & Nottingham||Paul Williams||for|
The Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes has written this: Bishop Paul pledges to examine how we explore “Radical Inclusion” in our diocese
…The debate gave me the opportunity to speak to Synod and my speech is copied below. You will see that I commit myself to explore to the maximum the freedom under the Church’s current law and guidance to offer rich and meaningful ministry to LGBTI+ people (see footnote), as indeed I have tried to do since I came to Liverpool.
I have no doubt that our further steps and conversations nationally will include LGBTI+ Christians more fully than the recent report was able to do. In my speech I use the phrase “maximum freedom”, which is a phrase much used in the report. Since the report did not command the confidence of the Synod I do not propose to use that phrase now. Instead I use the phrase at the head of this bulletin, a phrase used by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in their letter written after the debate: “we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church”…
The Bishop of Manchester David Walker has written: Being Radical about Radical Inclusion
…Times of change are by their nature times of paradox. To be purposefully paradoxical is to recognise that whilst consistency may be a feature of the endpoints of a journey it is rarely present all along the way. What nineteenth century physics found to be true for the trajectories of photons passing through a pair of narrow slits, twenty-first century theology must allow to be the case for a church traversing through a time of challenge and change. Some aspects of change will get ahead of others. Some parts of the church may move faster, further, or at a different angle than their neighbours. Messy Church won’t just describe a brand of work with children. In many ways we will be more like the pluriform Church of the New Testament, marvelously malleable under the hand of the Holy Spirit…
Kelvin Holdsworth What is really going on in the Church of England
Giles Fraser The Guardian The clergy has moved on. It’s the bishops who are out of touch
Colin Coward Unadulterated Love Double amber – proceed with extreme caution – unconditional love ahead
Erasmus The Economist As church and society diverge, so do Christianity’s liberals and hardliners
Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon The Living Church England and the Anglican Communion: Outward Moving Mission
[This is the full text of the Archbishop’s address to the General Synod on 16 February.]
Richard Peers Quodcumque Just do it! Grace before meals
Scott Gunn Seven whole days Thirteen Commandments for your website (church websites, part 1)35 Comments
OneBodyOneFaith Archbishops’ bold proposal for radical inclusion
OneBodyOneFaith welcomes the Church of England Archbishops’ bold proposal for a new and inclusive process following defeat of GS2055
In response to the joint letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York released today, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, Chair of OneBodyOneFaith said, “The joint letter from both Archbishops to Church of England synod members is a bold and welcome response to address the disjunction between the House of Bishops and Houses of Clergy and Laity in their understanding of and response to human sexuality. We applaud the tone set by Archbishop Justin as he seeks ‘a radical new Christian inclusion’ and his affirmation that, ‘no person is a problem or an issue [because] people are made in the image of God.’ In this we find echoed our own vision, longing for Christ’s body to be one, finding unity in a diversity which includes all whom Christ has called, that they might participate in God’s mission, leading to transformation for our world.”
“For Bishops to consult with local synod representatives in how to establish a way forward on human sexuality that is ‘about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity’ will indeed be a significant change. We note with satisfaction the intention that the Pastoral Oversight group and the group that work on the large scale teaching document that will provide for ‘good, healthy flourishing relationships’ reflecting a ‘21st Century understanding of being human and being sexual’ will be ‘fully inclusive’. We take ‘fully inclusive’ in this context to mean that in both groups will be represented those who would affirm OneBodyOneFaith’s statement of conviction:
‘that human sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity in all their richness are gifts of God gladly to be accepted, enjoyed and honoured as a way of both expressing and growing in love, in accordance with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.’
‘it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex, but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship; We believe that expressing our gender and sexuality with integrity is important as a way to grow in love and discipleship.’
”The Archbishops have set an ambitious task for members of the Church of England; they are right to recognise its urgency. A process involving lay, presbyteral and episcopal members of synod will be far more representative. OneBodyOneFaith reminds the Archbishops that the homophobia long present in the Church of England has skewed its population and that this needs to be taken into account in Diocesan consultations, in the development of pastoral practices, and in formulating the wide ranging and inclusive new teaching document on human sexuality.
Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of OneBodyOneFaith explained, “Care needs to be taken that a process which focusses on synod members will represent and reflect the interests of the whole of the Church of England and is mindful of the needs of the nation. To that end, this process needs to involve Anglicans who are not part of synod. The process needs to allow each participant to speak without fear for their own safety or fear of recrimination. OneBodyOneFaith stands ready to resource the Church of England as it embarks on this process of embodying more deeply the radical and transforming love shown by God in Christ which is for all.”
Harriet Sherwood The Guardian Church of England bishops seek to repair divisions over same-sex relationships
Yorkshire Post Archbishop of York calls for ‘radical’ steps by Church21 Comments
Official press release: Culture change for seven days a week faith welcomed by General Synod
Official summary of the day’s business: General Synod February Group of Sessions 2017: Thursday
The text of Gavin Oldham’s motion is not included in the summary; as amended and passed by Synod it was:
That this Synod, considering the ratio of time and money spent in administration to that spent in mission to be too high throughout the Church of England, and noting the very effective facilities provided for parish statistics collection and clergy payroll:
(a) confirm that the principle of subsidiarity should not be applied to purely administrative functions; and
(b) request the Archbishops’ Council to develop its current work with dioceses to identify opportunities for nationally provided administrative services which would both release a larger proportion of resources for local growth and mission initiatives and generate economies for the whole Church.
Zachary Guiliano The Living Church Synod Turns to Mission
Anglican Communion News Service No easy solution to same-sex marriage issue, secretary general tells C of E Synod6 Comments
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have written to members of the General Synod setting out the next steps following the vote on General Synod not to take note of the paper on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.
The letter can be found here.
The full text can be read below:
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Following the vote in General Synod not to take note of the paper on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations (GS 2055) we are writing to set out the way forward in the next few months.
First, we want to be clear about some underlying principles. In these discussions no person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people called to redeemed humanity in Christ.
How we deal with the real and profound disagreement – put so passionately and so clearly by many at the debate – is the challenge we face as people who all belong to Christ.
To deal with that disagreement and to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.
The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our common humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.
Nevertheless while the principles are straightforward, putting them into practice, as we all know, is not, given the deep disagreements among us.
We are therefore asking first for every Diocesan Bishop to meet with their General Synod members for an extended conversation in order to establish clearly the desires of every member of Synod for the way forward.
As Archbishops we will be establishing a Pastoral Oversight group led by the Bishop of Newcastle, with the task of supporting and advising Dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to our current pastoral approach to human sexuality. The group will be inclusive, and will seek to discern the development of pastoral practices, within current arrangements.
Secondly, we, with others, will be formulating proposals for the May House of Bishops for a large scale teaching document around the subject of human sexuality. In an episcopal church a principal responsibility of Bishops is the teaching ministry of the church, and the guarding of the deposit of faith that we have all inherited. The teaching document must thus ultimately come from the Bishops. However, all episcopal ministry must be exercised with all the people of God, lay and ordained, and thus our proposals will ensure a wide ranging and fully inclusive approach, both in subject matter and in those who work on it.
We will also be suggesting to the Business Committee a debate in general terms on the issues of marriage and human sexuality. We wish to give the General Synod an opportunity to consider together those things we do affirm.
In the meantime, we commend to your prayers our common concern for every member of this church, of all views, and most especially our concern for the mission of God to which we are called by the Father, for which we are made ready by the Son, and in which we are equipped by the Holy Spirit.
+ Justin Cantuar: +Sentamu Eboracensis
Press reports are listed here.
Take Note Debate Voted Down
Inclusive Church in partnership with the General Synod Human Sexuality Group shares this press release in response to the General Synod vote in February 2017.
“We are pleased and relieved that General Synod have heard our concerns, and voted NOT to Take Note. This means that we can now look at new ways of working together to produce a fresh approach to how we embrace and celebrate the lives and loves of LGBTI people. We hope that the Church of England will now be more honest about the diversity of views that are sincerely held on this issue, so that we can look at how we might best present an inclusive vision of the Body of Christ to the nation.
We are particularly grateful that both the Chair and the Vice Chair of the Bishops’ Reflections Group (the Rt Revd Graham James and the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent) have acknowledged and apologised for the pain that this report had caused so many of us.”
Jayne Ozanne and Giles Goddard, Chair of Human Sexuality Group
Alan Wilson Back to the Holy Drawing Board, with some relief
For a body as conventionally set up as the Church of England General Synod, all its structures loaded to express deference, yesterday’s result was something of a shock to the system.
Many episcopal colleagues could feel disappointed that the clergy did not buy a report that had already been announced to the rest of the Communion from the top as Church policy, before it had even been to synod.
This kind of bloody nose may stir memories of the Anglican Covenant project — another disastrous and ecclesiologically inept attempt to make doctrine through lawyers that backfired.
But every failure brings opportunity…
We now have a chance to following up the Shared Conversations, which were generally good and constructive, properly…
Today’s events in the Church of England are unprecedented, with the refusal of the General Synod to take note of the Report of the House of Bishops’ reflection group, GS2055. Both the defeat of the motion by the House of Clergy and the rebellion against it in the House of Laity send an unequivocal message to the house of Bishops that their approach to human sexuality is lamentably out of step with membership of the Church of England and with the nation…
Modern Church welcomes the result of the vote in General Synod this week not to ‘take note’ of the House of Bishops report on Marriage and Same Sex Partnerships after the Shared Conversations.
By rejecting the motion to take note of this report, the General Synod has sent the Bishops back to the drawing board.
Most telling among the many reflections leading up to and during this landmark debate were these:
- the House of Bishops was attempting to manage the situation rather than leading.
- the ‘roadmap’ their report offered was not a route toward ‘good disagreement’ for those putting the case for inclusion.
- the bishops had not adequaltey heard the lived experience of LGBT+ people in the church, their families, friends and supporters, and had not catered for their aspirations for equality.
- the report did not take account of different theological and biblical perspectives.
We are but a few years on from the defeat of the Anglican Covenant by the English Dioceses and the General Synod. This second major defeat can mean only one thing – it is time for the House of Bishops to bring forward legislation which will enable all LGBT+ Christians, whether single, in a civil partnership or married, to be treated with equality in the life of the church.
What might this look like?
Modern Church also welcomes the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement calling for:
a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church… founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology… based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and… a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
We look forward to continuing to work to support the excellent and active work of LGBTI Mission, Inclusive Church and One Body One Faith, as they work with the whole church and with the Bishops to discern the way ahead.
Listening to the Synod debate, some of the parameters of a new settlement seem to be clear:
- An authorised liturgy for the blessing of same sex relationships (civil partnerships and civil marriages).
- The end of intrusive questioning for those in or aspiring to ministry who are in a civil partnership or are married to someone of the same gender.
- A ‘mixed economy’ whereby no minister is expected or compelled to act beyond the limits of their own or their congregation’s conscience.
Anything short of this will not do. The road may be yet long but the destination is now in sight and it is time for the Bishops to offer a map to get us there.
Ian Paul Psephizo On Synod, sexuality, and not ‘Taking note’36 Comments
Wednesday 15th February 2017
Statement from Archbishop Justin Welby following the General Synod’s vote “not to take note” of a Report by the House of Bishops on the report earlier today on Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships.
“No person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people.
How we deal with the real and profound disagreement – put so passionately and so clearly by many at the Church of England’s General Synod debate on marriage and same-sex relationships today – is the challenge we face as people who all belong to Christ.
To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.
We need to work together – not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone – to move forward with confidence.
The vote today is not the end of the story, nor was it intended to be. As bishops we will think again and go on thinking, and we will seek to do better. We could hardly fail to do so in the light of what was said this afternoon.
The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ – all of us, without exception, without exclusion.”12 Comments
Scroll down for press reports.
This afternoon General Synod debated Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations: a report from the House of Bishops (GS 2055).
The motion “That the Synod do take note of this report” was defeated.
Voting was by houses, and the motion was lost in the House of Clergy.
Official press release following the vote:
Result of the vote on the House of Bishops’ Report
15 February 2017
The General Synod of the Church of England has voted “not to take note” of a Report by the House of Bishops following a debate on the report earlier today on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships.
A take note debate is a neutral motion which allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in a report without committing the Synod to the formal acceptance of any matter.
The vote required simple majorities in each of the three Synodical Houses. A total of 242 people voted in favour of the report 184 against and 6 abstentions – with a majority of Synod members voting to “take note” of the report. However the report failed to obtain a simple majority in the House of Clergy.
The House of Bishops voted 43 in favour and 1 against.
The House of Clergy voted 93 in favour and 100 against with 2 abstentions.
The House of Laity voted 106 in favour and 83 against with 4 abstentions.
With the take note motion now rejected, the Bishops of the Church of England will reflect on the views expressed at the General Synod. The diversity of opinion and strong views expressed, will need to be taken account by the Bishops in their consideration of the discussion going forward.
Responding to the vote, the Rt. Revd. Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich said:
“I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.
“When reports come to the General Synod they often come at the end of a process and contain recommendations. This wasn’t that sort of report. The Bishops came to this debate committed to listen. Our report did not bring proposals, it brought a framework and a request for Synod to tell us what they thought. We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of Synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”
Introducing the debate on behalf of the House of Bishops, the Bishop of Norwich said that the report did not make formal proposals but was rather suggesting frameworks where areas needed attention: “The point of a take note debate is that it enables other voices to be heard, including those who believe the framework for further consideration is mistaken or wrongly constructed and needs modification. It is not a vote for approval but an invitation to comment and engage, and the House is listening.”
Setting out the difficulties facing both the House of Bishops and the wider Church in considering the report the Bishop of Norwich said: “There is no simple and easy answer to this issue beyond committing ourselves to engagement with each other when the views on what we should do are profoundly contested.”
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt. Revd. Pete Broadbent said:
“As I said at the launch of the Report such a debate is on a neutral motion. It allows Synod to discuss the content and recommendations contained in the report. The Synod has declined to take note and so the report in its present form cannot come back to Synod for discussion, though we will still have to find a way forward for the wider discussion.
“We will find this debate a continuing source of disagreement because we haven’t coalesced around an end point. When we legislated for women to be bishops, even those opposed came to the view that the Church of England had to make it possible for women to be bishops in the Church of God according to our canons and formularies. In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce. The Bishops’ Report acknowledges a place of starting. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to Synod.”
Voting and The House of Bishops Report by a Church of England spokesperson
Tim Wyatt Church Times Synod rebuff for Bishops’ report on sexuality
Olivia Rudgard The Telegraph Anglicans come a step closer to gay marriages in church after vote rejects controversial report
[originally headlined “Church of England votes to reject controversial gay marriage report which said union should be between a man and a woman”]
Church of England gay marriage vote thrown into chaos after members ‘get confused and press wrong button’
[This article has been rewritten; the original was published under the headline “Church of England votes for gay marriage after bishop presses wrong button”.]
Zachary Guiliano The Living Church No Winners
Anglican Communion News Service Church of England’s report on marriage and sexuality suffers setback at Synod
Antony Bushfield Premier General Synod rejects bishops’ sexuality report
Harry Farley Christian Today Church Of England’s Clergy Issue Shock Rebuke To Bishops’ Conservative View On Sexuality28 Comments
NatCen Social Research have released these survey results today.
Half of Anglicans believe there is nothing wrong with same sex relationships
15 February 2017
Ahead of the Church of England General Synod’s debate on the issue of gay marriage on Wednesday, new data reveals that 50% of Anglicans believe that same sex relationships are “not wrong at all”.
The findings, which come from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey, show that Anglican opinions towards same sex relationships have been softening over time but acceptance is highest (73%) among those with no religion. The lowest levels of acceptance of same sex relationships come from those belonging to non-Christian religions: 31% of this group say that these relationships are not wrong at all.
Meanwhile, 17% of Anglicans think that same sex relationships are “always wrong”, the lowest level since records began in 1983 when 50% were of this view. In 2015 6% of those with no religion felt this way…
The summary continues at the link above. The data tables are also available.11 Comments
As an alternative to the official studies being looked at by Synod members this afternoon OneBodyOneFaith offer their own case studies, this time involving bishops.
1. Chris is a bishop in a mainly rural Northern diocese. He realised he was gay in his teens, when others were becoming keen on girls and he wasn’t. He never said anything to anybody, and has never had more than close friendships with those men whom he has taken a fancy to. It seems to him that it would be impossible for him to come out now, after so many years, for two main reasons: although he has never lied about his sexuality (in fact he has never said anything at all to colleagues or in job interviews), he feels his reputation as an honest and caring bishop, in a part of the country where straight-talking people seem to him likely to become more wary if they knew he was gay, would be felled at a stroke if he spoke up now. And he is the only child of his elderly and frail mother, whom he believes would be utterly shattered by such a revelation.
Chris supported the House of Bishops Report because he believes strongly in the collective responsibility of the bishops, and, to be completely honest, because ‘no change’ means that he does not have to make any decision about whether to come out at this point.
2. Daniel is a young, single bishop. He thinks he may be bisexual, as he has found himself in close relationships with women and men, though he has only had sex with one woman: he thought he might marry her but it didn’t work out. He has great sympathy with those campaigning for LGBTI inclusion, but dare not come out for fear that his colleagues will think less of him – especially his Archbishop, who does not know anything of his past relationships. He is troubled that the Report makes no mention at all of BTI people – but did not raise this in the brief discussion that was allowed.
Daniel supported the House of Bishops Report as a way of bolstering his own membership of the College of Bishops, which he hopes will enhance his credibility in future discussions. He feels uncomfortable that he is not ready to be the one to speak up against what he considers a weak and rather cowardly report, focusing on the difficulties for the bishops themselves.
3. Jerome is an evangelical bishop. His roots were in the conservative wing, but since his daughter-in-law’s brother came out as gay he has been less convinced that their approach is the right one in the sight of God. He can now see that scripture can be interpreted in more than one way, but still cannot work out how to get ‘past’ the prohibitions in Leviticus and Romans. He carries a great deal of weight in evangelical circles, and is keenly aware of the consequences if he were to declare a change of mind. Others would feel betrayed by him, and he would damage some people’s faith in Christ: a risk he is not prepared to take.
Jerome supported the House of Bishops Report because, although flawed, it represents the best way forward for evangelicals at the moment, and he sincerely hopes it will not distract from the wider mission of the church.
4. Dawn, with her female episcopal colleagues, is new to the College of Bishops. She is still learning the ropes of how things work – or don’t – in practice, and is puzzled and frustrated by how little time there is for real discussion and listening. She is married to a man, and has always seen marriage as a gift from God to be treasured. She would love to whole-heartedly support extending that to couples of the same sex, but is not convinced of the scriptural support for that and therefore could not commend it to the people she serves in her diocese. A large part of her hopes that in time she will be so convinced. She is also very conscious of the tension between feeling a responsibility, as a woman, to support other oppressed groups, and needing to ‘join in’ with the current culture in order to be taken seriously.
Dawn was not happy with the Report but supported it as the best compromise that could be rushed through.
5. Findlay (married, 3 teenage children) is aware of a number of gay and lesbian clergy in his diocese, some of whom are in partnerships, and he does his best to support them discretely. He is deeply troubled by the seeming inability of the House of Bishops as a body to act graciously and purposefully towards such people in such relationships. His diocese is perceived as more ‘liberal’ than some, but he has received considerable correspondence urging him to hold the line on marriage ‘as God has defined it’. Some of the letters have been fierce, unpleasant and have threatened his soul with damnation, but he knows that each writer is trying to be faithful and so tries to hold them in his prayers as compassionately as he can. But he wonders what to do with his considerable anger. He is also concerned not to impose his suggestions for progress towards full inclusion of LGBTI people as a white, straight man.
Findlay supported the Report with a heavy heart and after speaking up against its paucity and flawed logic – how can the mean-spirited tone of such a report invite and expect a change of tone across the church?1 Comment
We are pleased to publish this article from The Revd Dr Jennifer Strawbridge.
The Bishops’ Report and Scripture: A Missed Opportunity
Jennifer Strawbridge (Associate Professor of New Testament Studies & Caird Fellow in Theology, University of Oxford)
Proof-texting of Scripture is all too common in discussions of human sexuality, but its theological worth is rather limited. The more so, when it is done incorrectly. This is not what the recent publication by the House of Bishops – Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations – has done. In fact, this document makes explicit reference to Scripture only 5 times across its 19 pages of text. However, one of the Pauline passages used to introduce this report is based on an unfortunate misunderstanding of the Apostle. While this misunderstanding does not ultimately affect the content of the report, it does cast a shadow over what follows and represents a missed opportunity for how Scripture can be engaged in such conversations.
The first paragraph of the report states, “As St Paul writes, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me…’ (Galatians 2.19ff). For St Paul that meant setting aside even the wonderful privilege of Jewish identity and giving priority to the cross and resurrection of Christ. It is in this light that the Church of England has to consider the difficulties over human sexuality that have been a source of tension and division for many years.”
What this introduction misunderstands and misses is twofold. Firstly, in both his letters and in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul is a Jew and identifies clearly as a Jew in the present tense. To state that Paul is “setting aside” his “Jewish identity” misunderstands Paul. Second, such misunderstanding in the very first paragraph means the report misses the nuance of Paul’s writings and the reality that he too is grappling with “tension and division” both within his communities and in terms of his own identity. To recognise such a nuance would make clear that questions of identity are not as simple as this report’s introduction suggests and that identity with Christ is not as simple as “setting aside” one’s identity at birth (which itself is a loaded and potentially harmful assumption in a report on sexuality and identity).
In Philippians 3.4-6, therefore, Paul writes that in terms of confidence “in the flesh”, he has more for he is: “a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews.” Even if these “gains” are now regarded by Paul “as loss because of Christ” (Phil 3.7) and as “rubbish” (3.8), Paul’s Jewish identity is not solely in his past. This is made clearer in Romans 11.1 where Paul states in his defence of God’s promises that “I myself am an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin.” Paul’s testimony before the tribunal in Acts 21 is even more direct, demonstrating unambiguously what the Evangelist thinks of Paul’s identity. Paul begins his defence with the words, “I am a Jew” and then repeats this same claim “in the Hebrew language” in Acts 22 (“I am a Jew”) after which he immediately recounts in the past tense that he previously “persecuted this Way”. Moreover, returning to his letters, Paul counters Corinthian boasting with his own in 2 Corinthians 11.22: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? … I am a better one.”
And here we encounter first-hand the tension in Paul’s identity. Paul is still a Hebrew, an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, in other words, he is a Jew. But he is also a minister of Christ; he is also one who suffers for the sake of the gospel. Paul’s identity is inextricably wrapped up in both.
Furthermore, such tensions can be perceived not only in Paul’s own identity, but also in how he understands the spread of his gospel. Paul over and over again, as “apostle to the Gentiles”, gives priority to the Jews even though he is clear many of them do not recognise Christ as Messiah. In Romans 1.16, he observes that the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” And in Romans 2.9-10, Paul writes that God’s judgement and God’s glory fall on “the Jew first and also the Greek” for “God shows no partiality.” In fact, “both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin” (Rom 3.9), “for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to those who call on him” (Rom 10.12). This, of course, doesn’t mean that nothing happened to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 26) or when Christ is revealed to him (1 Cor 15.8; Gal 1.15-17). Neither does it mean that Paul’s language about Jew and Gentile leads to a vision of humanity as “one overcooked stew where all the ingredients taste the same” as Beverly Gaventa clarifies. For “Paul recognizes distinct histories of Jews and Gentiles” (Gaventa 2014, 103). But noting only the division in Paul’s life, as the start of the Bishops’ Report does, is a problem and misses the nuance and the gift of Paul’s wrestling with identity. Paul clearly remains a Jew. Paul clearly identifies himself as Jewish. But Paul has also reconceived who the people of God are after his encounter with the risen Lord. And this is the dimension of Paul’s identity struggles which might be fruitfully engaged by the Bishops’ Report.
Paul’s own words preclude the simple statement that he has set aside his Jewish identity for Christ. Rather, we must see that Paul is trying very hard (and we must acknowledge that he is not always consistent across his letters) to hold together his Jewish identity with the reality that he has, indeed, “been crucified with Christ” and Christ now lives in and defines his life. This tension leads to questions that dominate the Pauline writings: how then do Jew and Gentile relate? What happens to the Law? Does this mean God has broken God’s promises with Israel? And most importantly for this Report: How does Paul hold together the tension that one dies “to the law through the body of Christ” (Rom 7.4) while at the same time claiming in almost the same breath that “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good” (Rom 7.12)? How can Paul identify himself both by Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6.5; Phil 3.10-11) and as a Hebrew, Israelite, and Jew?
This grappling with understanding of law and of identity that we find clearly in Paul’s letters is evident throughout the Bishops’ Report, phrased explicitly in the stated framework: “Interpreting the existing law and guidance to permit maximum freedom within it, without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church” (§1.22). However, by beginning with a misunderstanding of Paul and his identity, this report misses a great opportunity to draw on Paul’s own struggles in a document that is clearly trying to balance both the obvious and the not-so-evident struggles within our Church. Instead, this report has given us a new scriptural text to add to the ever-growing list of those proof-texted, intentionally or not, for the purposes of debate concerning human sexuality. More significantly, the Bishops’ Report divides doctrine from pastoral practice and misses both the chance to wrestle with the “tension and division” inherent in Paul’s mission and the opportunity to ground a statement on human sexuality in theology and more than that, in the depths of holy Scripture.1 Comment
Updated during the day and on Thursday
See here for the debate on the Bishops’ report.
Late on Tuesday, Synod agreed to changes to Wednesday’s agenda to allow more time for the debate on the Bishops’ report on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships. This will now start at 4.45 pm (instead of 5.30 pm) with the same finishing time of 7.00 pm.
OneBodyOneFaith have published the case studies to be used in the private group work that Synod members are invited to attend: Church of England Synod – GS2055 case studies.
Before lunch the Bishops of Norwich and Willesden gave presentations in anticipation of the afternoon’s business. The full text of the presentations are available:
The Bishop of Norwich
The Bishop of Willesden
Official press releases
New See to support multi-cultural communities in Leicestershire
General Synod calls on Government to lower maximum stake for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
Presentations from the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Willesden
Official summary of the day’s business: General Synod February Group of Sessions 2017: Wednesday
Zachary Guiliano The Living Church Synod Attracts Protests14 Comments