Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I took the funeral for one of our clergy yesterday: Chris Penn, a dearly loved parish priest who died in post. It was a privilege to be there. As we reflected together on his life, the memories of his pastoral ministry to many were to the fore. His ministry was an exemplar of the Church of England at its best. Pastoral relationships drawing people to faith; people cared for and helped through the great transitions of life and prepared for their deaths; worship offered to God which brought people a sense of his presence and love. This is the experience of the church for many people.
I sometimes think the church is a bit like the NHS. We criticise that institution endlessly, and when it goes wrong it can cause a great deal of harm, hurt and anxiety. But when we are treated by it we generally experience people in hospitals and other settings looking after us and trying to be kind. By analogy the parishes of our church are places where, in our diocese at least, I would hope that LGBTQI+ people experience a welcome and acceptance. From the letters I have received over the years I know that is the case. We should and do provide a place of love, nurture, welcome and acceptance. We have LGBTQI+ members in our communities, both clergy and lay, who love, serve and make a great contribution to our common life.
The Living in Love and Faith process which we have been working on together for the last five years within the Church is an attempt to listen to one another in such a way we understand the issues that divide us. The Bishops of the Church of England are going to take the fruits of that into meetings over the autumn, in the College of Bishops, so we can present some proposals to the Church of England General Synod to potentially shift us from our current
impasse. Further background and resources are all available in considerable detail on the Church of England website under Living in Love and Faith
One of the fruits of LLF to date has been a growing understanding of why different views are conscientiously held. Some of my friends who long for the Church to move to allowing equal marriage, have recognised that those who take a conservative position do so on the basis of deep conviction about the Bible’s teaching on sex and relationships, rather than prejudice.
Some of my more conservative friends have realised that those who long for change are not driven by wilful disregard of the scriptures but by a different interpretation of the key texts and context.
I hope we have all gained a better understanding of the operation of conscience. Those who want the churches teaching to change see this a fundamental matter of justice, entirely consistent, and even commanded by the overarching themes of the Bible. Those who don’t would see this as a fundamental matter of fidelity to the Bible and faithful discipleship.
If we are to move, we will have to move together, or at least enough of us move together to command a level of assent. For anything substantial to change there needs to be a 2/3 majority in each of the three houses of General synod. For all the talk of Bishops, power and deference we do not rule by dictat.
My prayer for the Bishops is that we can find a way to live together that allows such an expression of conscience. In this there are precedents in the way we have accommodated re-marriage after divorce in our liturgical practice. The current teaching ideal that marriage is for life remains, but space is created for those for whom that isn’t a reality. Conscience is respected, and those who are trying build a new life after great pain and hurt receive a welcome and pastoral support.
My personal experience is that our current situation leads to great hurt, incredulity in the wider culture and an a priori dismissal of the Church as a community that could speak into these fundamental aspects of human existence. We have such good news about the values of fidelity, permanence and commitment that rightly challenge societies culture of transience and selfishness that leads to such damage in so many lives. More fundamentally, the gospel tells us that God loves us – all of us, is for us and supremely demonstrates that love in dying for us so we can have a relationship with him. That relationship is the key to human flourishing. That most fundamental of gospel values, the heart of the good news itself, struggles very hard to be heard where there is such a dissonance.