Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We warmly commend the Church of England College of Bishops’ response, and accompanying resources, made available this morning as a result of our discussions this week following the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process. These can be found, along with accompanying materials, on the Church of England website. We encourage you to read them with care as they are published in preparation for February’s General Synod. They mark the beginning of a new stage of decision making and practical discussion, and we are well aware that there are many complex and contested issues to be resolved, both in the Church of England nationally and in our own diocese.
We are glad that there has been fruitful engagement with Living In Love & Faith in this diocese, and we are deeply grateful to all who have been involved in this process in Lichfield through careful listening and speaking. As bishops, we also appreciate the letters and prayers we have received from many in our diocese during the College of Bishops’ discernment process.
Since the Lichfield episcopal letter to all clergy and lay ministers on ‘Honouring and Welcoming LGBT+ People’ (2018), we have listened to and engaged with a diverse range of voices from all parts of our diocese’s rich traditions. We have heard both painful stories of rejection and joyous stories of inclusion and fruitful ministry. In all of this, we have sought to encourage and uphold the mutual flourishing of all, emphasising that all are welcome in God’s Church, everyone has a place at the table, and each of us must attend to the views and experiences of one another with attentiveness and courtesy. We wholeheartedly endorse the collective apology given by the College of Bishops today to LGBT+ people who have experienced rejection, exclusion and hostility in any of our churches.
It has become increasingly clear that a new settlement and a fresh way forward are needed for the Church of England. The bishops’ proposals would mean that LGBT+ people in faithful and loving relationships can receive a blessing in Church of England churches where the minister makes the choice to use the prayer resources that we are commending. At the same time, the proposals make no change to the Church of England’s doctrine of Holy Matrimony. We recognise that this does not go far enough for many in the LGBT+ community and beyond. It is nonetheless significant that, for the first time, faithful same-sex relationships are to be publicly celebrated for the benefits and fruit that they can produce. For us, to deny this would be to close our eyes to the lived evidence of faithful same-sex couples and their families all around us.
We are also aware that some people in our diocese will be saddened by the College of Bishops’ response because of its proposals to offer prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and God’s blessing for same-sex couples. We recognise that the root of this disappointment lies in a faithfulness to Scripture and a desire for holiness. We hope that those who feel this way can see that these two things were also at the heart of our decision-making as bishops. We assure ministers who do not wish to use the prayer resources offered that they would have the freedom not to carry out services of blessing of same-sex couples. We respect the consciences of all our clergy and lay ministers and we trust them in the way in which they carry out their pastoral ministry; we emphasise that any use of the proposed prayer resources will be at the discretion of the minister.
Our heartfelt prayer is that, in addressing these deeply contested matters, we may all be committed to seeking the mind of Christ and to the faithful flourishing of all the members of Christ’s body. This will be shown by churches and people from all traditions continuing to learn to love each other and the various communities they serve more deeply with the selfless love of Christ. Such mutual flourishing will answer Jesus’ prayer in St John’s Gospel, that all ‘will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ You may also be aware that we are commending both the ‘Difference’ and the ‘Unity’ courses for churches in our diocese to use during Lent this year. You can find out more about these courses, which help us to make space to navigate difference and disagreement, on our diocesan website.
In the coming days and weeks, we are aware that people may wish to express deeply felt and strongly held views and concerns. We ask that clergy and other church leaders serve their congregations in this period with sensitivity and a special regard for those who are, or may feel, vulnerable. We will be holding ourselves ready for meetings and conversations with those who wish to speak with us, particularly after General Synod has the opportunity to respond to the bishops’ proposals. Please pray for our diocesan General Synod members and for us, your bishops, as we continue to rely on your prayers and support in our common life in the Diocese of Lichfield.
We write to you jointly as the three bishops from our diocese who attended this week’s College of Bishops (Bishop Clive was unable to attend due to personal circumstances).
Your brother and sister bishops,
+Michael, +Sarah and +Matthew.