Gist of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter
New Prayers of Love and Faith
We value and want to celebrate faithfulness in relationships. That is why we have drafted and asked the House of Bishops to further refine and commend a new resource to be used in churches, called Prayers of Love and Faith. This resource will offer clergy a variety of flexible ways to affirm and celebrate same-sex couples in church, and will include prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and for God’s blessing. It could be used for a couple who have marked a significant stage in the development of their relationship, sealed a covenanted friendship, registered a civil partnership, or entered a civil marriage. This resource will represent a significant move that is intended as a loving and celebratory response to same-sex couples who are cherished and deeply valued by the Church. We are not all agreed on the extent of these prayers, but nevertheless have agreed to offer them to the Church. The use of these prayers will be entirely discretionary: clergy may choose to use some combination of these prayers or not to use them at all.
These Prayers of Love and Faith will not be the same as conducting a marriage in church. They will not alter the Church of England’s celebration of Holy Matrimony, which remains the lifelong union of one man and one woman, as set forth in its canons and authorised liturgies. While there is a range of convictions held by the bishops about this important matter, we have not found sufficient consensus to propose a change in doctrine at the present time.
We realise this will be disappointing for those who long for ‘equal marriage’ for same-sex couples. We also realise that for others among us, there will be deep concern that the Prayers of Love and Faith will go too far: your consciences and theological convictions will not allow you to use them.
We respect and share these differences, maintaining that within the theological diversity we represent, everyone has a secure and respected place within the Church of England. It is from this diversity that we, your bishops, reaffirm our commitment to serve and care for the flock of Christ. We offer these draft Prayers of Love and Faith with joy and in the belief that they will strengthen the mission of the Church and uphold its unity.
For these changes to be embedded in the life of the Church, we will work to produce new ‘Pastoral Guidance’ that will explain the practical implications of this way forward, including for the discernment of vocations within the Church of England. This new guidance will replace Issues in Human Sexuality.
There are some among us who will be perturbed because they believe that these developments do not reflect the way of Christ as they understand it. Some will see these developments as steps along a continuing journey. Some will feel we have gone too far. Some will feel we have not gone far enough.
For all of us, the Bible is central to our understanding and living out of the Christian faith: as Anglicans, we believe that Scripture witnesses to God’s saving work brought to fulfilment in Jesus Christ and contains within it all that is necessary for salvation. Despite being united in this belief, we interpret the Bible differently and have come to different conclusions about numerous matters, including what it has to say about gender, relationships and marriage.
Amid our differences as bishops, we know of many committed same-sex relationships between followers of Christ. We see their faithfulness to one another and the fruit of their discipleship and service. We want to find ways of affirming same-sex couples – inside and outside the church – while committing ourselves to respecting the disagreement, in conscience, of those who believe this compromises the Church’s inherited tradition and teaching.
Living in Love and Faith has been about learning and listening together: to God, one another and the world around us. In these final stages of our discernment, we want to pay special tribute to the ‘Reference Group’: the twelve deeply faithful Christians who accompanied us in our deliberations in the last few months of 2022. Representing a diversity of lived experiences and convictions, they kindly held us to account, reminding us of the need for clarity, care and compassion.
We live in a society in which we are often pressured towards adversarial behaviour. As God’s church, we are called to a different way – a theme we discerned in many of your responses to Living in Love and Faith. We agree with you and want to continue walking together, bearing with one another in love. By being honest about our own disagreements and through a gracious interpretation of doctrine, we will honour the reality of our differences within the Church of England, across the Anglican Communion, and among ecumenical partners. We hope to model this by providing prayers that bear a nuanced variety of understandings.