General Statement from the Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales in response to the decision of the Governing Body on the 6th September to accept liturgy for the blessing of same-sex civil marriages or civil partnerships.
The Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales deeply regrets the recent decision of the Governing Body to authorise a liturgy to bless same-sex civil marriages and partnerships. We recognise the difficulties faced by the bishops and others within the Church in Wales as they have wrestled to bring better pastoral provision for those who are LGBTQ+.
As EFCW has stated in the past and re-iterates today, the Church has not always engaged well with LGBTQ+ people and has sometimes been deeply insensitive and even hurtful. This is something of which we repent unreservedly. The good news of Jesus Christ is for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. However, the decision to introduce a rite allowing for the blessing of same-sex unions, while well-intentioned, is the wrong step for the Church to take.
First, by making this decision, the Church in Wales has departed from the apostolic faith as revealed in Scripture. As was conceded in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, the only biblical context for sexual activity is heterosexual marriage. The new rite for the blessing of same-sex unions, which introduces liturgy permitting the blessing of same-sex civil marriages, has, de facto, changed the Church’s doctrine on marriage.
Second, this decision has damaged the Church in Wales’ relationship with the majority of the provinces in the global Anglican Communion, which remain committed to an orthodox understanding of human sexuality. By the same token, for many in EFCW, the decision has also impaired our relationships with our bishops and our relationships with those clerics who choose to perform such blessings. This decision has brought disunity to God’s Church. Such disunity is a grave and serious matter which grieves the heart of God.
Third, the decision dishonours those who, persuaded that Scripture teaches that sexual activity is restricted to heterosexual marriage, have chosen to remain celibate, often at tremendous personal cost.
At this very difficult time, we have been enormously grateful for the words of encouragement and support that we have received from across the breadth of the Anglican Communion. It has been a joy to have been reminded that we are members of a wider communion, the majority of whom share our convictions about what the Bible teaches and grieve the decision that the Church in Wales has taken.
We are also grateful for the offers of practical help that we have received both from across the Communion and from other quarters of the global Church. We are taking these very seriously as we seek to discern the best way to serve Christ faithfully in the nation of Wales. The decision of the Governing Body is deeply distressing to a significant number of Welsh Anglicans who now face tough decisions as to where their future spiritual home lies. There have been and will be resignations from Clergy, Lay Readers, Worship Leaders, Church Wardens, Sunday School Teachers and parishioners. A number have withdrawn their regular giving to their churches. Others are determined to remain in the Church in Wales structure. A significant number are seeking help and guidance on deciding their future in the Church in Wales. EFCW is committed to helping in this discernment process, including conversations with those offering alternative Anglican structures, and will continue to offer fellowship for all Evangelical Anglicans regardless of whether they stay in the Church in Wales or leave it.
In light of the above, we now call upon the Bench of Bishops to:
First, appoint a bishop to the See of Swansea and Brecon who would give voice to those who hold to an understanding of the doctrine of marriage as only being between a man and a woman. The Bench of Bishops currently speaks with one mind on this issue. However, it is clear from the breakdown of the vote at Governing Body that the Bench of Bishops no longer properly represents the convictions of the wider membership of the Church in Wales. We are grateful to the bishops for their intention that they have signalled, that a place will remain in the Church for those who hold to a traditional view. We ask them, therefore, to demonstrate this intention by appointing to the See of Swansea and Brecon a bishop who represents the teaching of the majority of the Anglican Communion on sexuality.
Second, clarify how the conscience clause will operate. It is apparent that this clause is already being interpreted differently by different bishops, with some Clergy being told that dissenting Clergy will not have to surrender their church buildings for a blessing service. Other bishops believe they can exercise their prerogative to insist that a same-sex blessing service take place in any building in their Diocese, regardless of the conscience of the local cleric. This needs clarity and consistency across the Province with details on how dissenting PCCs, Lay Officers, congregations (as well as ministers) may be protected and cared for if they do not wish their church buildings to be available for such services.
Third, assure the members of the Church in Wales that the Bench of Bishops will neither introduce nor support a proposal for bringing forward a Bill for introducing same-sex Marriage within the five-year trial period of the experimental rite to bless a civil partnership or civil marriage.
EFCW Diocesan representatives will be seeking face-to-face dialogue with the bishops on these issues in the coming weeks and months.
With great sadness, we find ourselves wrestling with these issues at a time of so much challenge and opportunity to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed to the present generation. We have a gospel of repentance and faith and eternal blessings to proclaim, but we find ourselves in an Anglican Province that has voted to join in with a minority of other Provinces within the Anglican Communion, who have driven the Body of Christ to disunity and fracturing on a global scale.
Despite the difficulties of this present time and the pain and grief this vote has caused, we continue to place our hope and trust in God, who has not abandoned Wales or his people. We pray for all those engaged in proclaiming Christ boldly and faithfully to this nation, for it is in Him that help and salvation are found.