Both bishops in the Diocese of Carlisle have written a joint pastoral letter to clergy following an announcement that the College of Bishops – all serving bishops in the Church of England – have proposed prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing for same-sex couples.
Under the proposals, same-sex couples would still not be able to get married in a Church of England church and formal teaching that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life would not change.
The College will issue an apology later this week to LGBTQI+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” some have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives and will call on congregations to “unreservedly and joyfully” welcome same-sex couples.
Today’s announcement follows three meetings of the College, which both the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, and the Bishop of Penrith, the Rt Rev Rob Saner-Haigh, have been involved with as part of a six-year period of listening, learning and discernment across the Church of England known as Living in Love and Faith.
Writing to clergy in the Diocese, Bishop James and Bishop Rob, thank all those who have engaged with the LLF process, ahead of the College of Bishops publication of a paper, draft prayers and further background information on Friday 20 January.
They write: “We recognise that, for some, these recommendations will not go nearly far enough, that the apology may appear empty whilst we do not offer same-sex marriage in church. For others, these proposals will go too far, affirming relationships which they believe God does not affirm. In these recommendations, the College of Bishops has sought to hold various things together. Firstly, that all people are invited into a life-giving relationship with our loving God through Jesus Christ. Secondly, that Holy Matrimony is a wonderful gift of God in creation, which we have received and which we share in a particular understanding with Christians across generations, cultures and traditions. Thirdly, we recognise in other relationships many of the ‘goods’ that we see in marriage: faithfulness, stability, love and care for others, and we want to affirm these. Finally, despite the huge differences which exist across the church, and also amongst the Bishops, we are committed to walking together because Christ calls us to be one, even when that hurts. There is more that unites us.”
The proposals will be debated at next month’s General Synod – the Church of England’s national assembly.
They would enable same-sex couples to come to church to give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership and receive God’s blessing using a range of draft prayers, known as Prayers of Love and Faith, which could be used voluntarily in churches.
There will also be a commitment to produce new pastoral guidance in relation to the discernment of vocation, replacing the 1991 statement “Issues in Human Sexuality”, to which all clergy currently are asked to assent.
Bishop James and Bishop Rob add: “Many of you will know that, as bishops in this diocese, we hold a traditional view of Holy Matrimony and that we have argued for this. We are also committed to holding a church together which is broad and generous, where there is space for disagreement and wrestling with how to follow Jesus Christ today. This wrestling, and the often difficult conflict that results, is part of what it is to be the church, a diverse and sometimes argumentative family committed to one another because we share a hope in the Saviour, Lord and friend who calls us to love one another. Our unity was bought at the cost of his own life and is therefore of primary importance to us, but it is a unity that is based on God’s call to each one of us, not our agreement with each other.Consequently, we value each person within this family and remain committed to listening, discussing and serving together.
“We want to say one particular thing to the church here, and that is the reality that all of us are broken people longing to know the love of God and seeking a welcome and home amongst his people. People flocked to see Jesus, especially those who worried most that God would not love and accept them. Jesus loved them, welcomed them and challenged them. They found in him hope, healing and a new start. They were given life in all its fulness through denying themselves, taking up their cross and following him. We, your bishops, have personal experience of the concern that God will not love or accept us, but then have found the unexpected welcome, the hope, the healing, the new start and the challenge.It is the gift that we most want others to share.God is for all.We want to see churches across Cumbria which live this welcome and challenge. Churches which welcome all with wide open doors, where all can be honest about their hopes, doubts and struggles, where all can find the love and hope of Jesus Christ through the love and welcome of his people. We want to see communities where we are shaped together in the likeness and holiness of Jesus. God’s invitation is to all. He loves us enough to welcome us just as we are, no matter who we are and where we come from, and he loves us enough to change us and shape us to be like Jesus. This is our prayer for the church in Cumbria.”
Both Bishop James and Bishop Rob are encouraging people to hold the business of next month’s General Synod in their prayers.