Bishops See the Writing on the Wall
Hopes and Fears Inadvertently Made Public
Last month, the Church of England College of Bishops met privately to discuss the next steps following General Synod’s approval of their LLF (Living in Love and Faith) proposals on human sexuality. The official media blurb stated that they were reviewing responses to “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”, and that they also met to consider how to refine the Prayers of Love and Faith and prepare the new pastoral guidance.
However an unofficial media post about the meeting told a different story. Details were leaked in a photo posted to Twitter by Bishop Jo Bailey Wells. The photo celebrated a presentation made to Ms Eeva John, the outgoing LLF Enabling Officer, but behind her stood a notice board with a number of Post-It notes affixed. Many of these notes were visible and legible, and relayed the bishops’ concerns about the next step of the LLF process:
- Loss of vocations, missional energy, and unity.
- Schism, confusion.
- 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 Press Release about the Bishops’ meeting conveyed nothing of these doubts and concerns. It announced the setting up of three working groups and a steering group, each to be made up of bishops assisted by 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.
Membership of the working groups will be confirmed and published in due course.