The bishops of the Church of England are facing a “Sophie’s choice” with no good options in the wake of General Synod’s February vote to permit same-sex blessings as part of the Living in Love and Faith process. A photo tweeted by one of the bishop’s present, shows the subject headings of the discussions held at the bishops’ table groups indicating they have no good options going forward.
On 23 March 2023 the bishops met in private to discuss “proposals from the bishops which would enable same-sex couples who have marked a significant stage of their relationship such as a civil marriage or civil partnership to come to church to give thanks, offer prayers of dedication to God and to receive God’s blessing,” a statement from the Church of England Media Centre reported.
The press release stated that at the London meeting the bishops reviewed concerns about the proposals and “considered how to approach the task of refining the Prayers of Love and Faith and preparing the new pastoral guidance.”
“They agreed to setting up three working groups and a steering group to oversee and coordinate their work, each to be made up of bishops assisted by a group of advisers drawn from across the Church, both lay and ordained,” the communique stated.
Details of the discussions were leaked by the Rt. Rev. Jo Bailey Wells on twitter. In a photo of Eeva John, the Enabling Officer on the Teaching Document and Pastoral Advisory Group for the LLF process, blue cards with summaries of the table discussions are posted on board in the background.
The tweet, which has subsequently been taken down, shows the bishops are worried about what they have done. Those notes that can be read state the issues facing the church are
“Loss of vocations, missional energy, and unity.
Not just the fracture of the CofE but its complete disintegration.
Strained and broken relationships in families, churches, dioceses, and the global Church.
In Sheffield, splitting the diocese.
Division within (if we proceed), ridicule without (if we step back).
Unintended consequences of (xxx) decisions.
That ‘cancel culture’ will prove more dominant than grace-filled love and acceptance.
Forgetting its breadth.
The private admission the LLF process has landed the Church of England on the rocks, was not shared in the official press release. It noted the next step was to set up three working groups and a steering group to “oversee and coordinate their work, each to be made up of bishops assisted by a group of advisers drawn from across the Church, both lay and ordained
‘The working groups will focus on:
- Pastoral Guidance – with responsibility for drafting new Pastoral Guidance.
- Prayers of Love and Faith – to further refine the texts in the light of feedback from General Synod
- Pastoral Reassurance – to examine what will be required to ensure freedom of conscience for clergy.
It is anticipated that the steering group will be chaired by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, and will include the chairs of the three working groups.”