Shhh! You Know Hugh
Participants Coy about St Hugh’s Conversations
Evangelical members of the secret St Hugh’s Conversations remain quiet about the extent of their involvement in these ongoing liberal-conservative discussions. Last month, English Churchman revealed that an “off the agenda” meeting of the St Hugh’s group was convened at General Synod just before the vital debate on Living in Love and Faith (LLF) proposals.
Dr Helen King, a lay synod member from Oxford and a participant in the Conversations, posted online the details of the meeting on Monday 6th February: “Off the agenda, an emergency meeting of the St Hugh’s Conversation – the group set up by the Bishop of Oxford three years ago to bring together prominent liberals and conservatives and to which I belong as a result of my position as vice-chair of the Gender & Sexuality Group – was called to discuss whether members want to propose in the debate the conservatives’ aim for ‘structural differentiation’ (separate bishops, separate training, separate ordinations, maybe difference provinces). This was inconclusive.”
The English Churchman asked the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) about these revelations. A promised response from the organisation had not been received at time of publication.
In February, the Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, gave an account of General Synod proceedings to The Spectator. He outlined the extent of the opposition to the Bishops’ LLF proposals amongst the Synod members and across the Anglican Communion.
He also advocated a lasting settlement within the Church of England, apparently along the lines of the St Hugh’s consensus: “In his closing speech at Synod, the Archbishop of York recognised the need for ‘some kind of settlement’. It is my fervent hope that this can be reached, so that we stop tearing ourselves apart and are instead free to get on with the task on which we long to focus: of bearing witness to the life-transforming message of Christ.”
The St Hugh’s Conversations, secret meetings of evangelicals and liberals, set up by Bishop Steven Croft of Oxford, have been running for a number of years in parallel with the LLF process within the Church of England.
Other participants appear to be more forthcoming about their involvement that conservative members or groupings. Dr King’s blog (shared-conversations.com) clarified the level of co-operation within the St Hugh’s grouping last year when the Bishop of Oxford published his booklet Together in Love and Faith, advocating the blessing of same-sex relationships: “there can’t have been any surprises there, as he [Bishop Croft] based his booklet on drafts of things he’d written and shared with them during the time that St Hugh’s Conversation has been running. There are hints in his booklet that the group exists – for example, ‘Locally … I met separately with those opposed to any change’ (p.8) and ‘There has been a vigorous and courteous correspondence and dialogue with different groups, almost continually since [October 2017]”.
“This response [of Revd Vaughan Roberts to Together in Love and Faith] came out almost immediately Bishop Steven’s booklet appeared, and both writers had shared drafts before publication.”
When news emerged of the secret St Hugh’s session at General Synod, one Church of England vicar and seasoned synod-watcher told this paper, “They have moved beyond being a talking shop, as originally claimed. They are not in conversation with liberals but in collusion with them. They represent no-one but themselves, yet they are acting as brokers behind the scenes to secure their preferred outcome and present it as the single evangelical strategy.”