Most Rev Stephen Cottrell's address during the Church of England's press conference on proposals for same-sex relationships in the church.
Archbishop of York, Most Rev Stephen Cottrell
I spoke with a priest yesterday in the York diocese where I serve, and she said, ‘When I digested the news, when I kind of understood what's really being offered here,’ she said, ‘I wept’. And I wasn't quite sure how to interpret her tears, I thought: ‘Is it because you're so distressed by what has happened or what hasn't happened?’ And she said, ‘No,’ she said, ‘But could I just check out…Does it mean that if there's a same-sex couple in my parish, who gets married, I can invite them to church? That we can acknowledge [their relationship]? I said, ‘yeah, that's what it means’. So they were tears of joy.
Now, I know that's not where everybody is. But I think I want to emphasise this does put the Church of England in a new place. And I believe it's a good place. And it's a good place because it holds the unity of the church, but it also enables LGBTQI+ people to be part of that church and have their lived experience, and their love for each other acknowledged in the church.
And I'm really sorry. One thing we've learned in this process is just how much damage we've done. We didn't mean to do it. Nobody gets up in the morning saying they want to hurt and damage people. But we have. And I also know that saying sorry doesn't cut it for some people. It sounds hollow. 'It's all very well, you saying sorry, but the church still isn't giving us what we want'. That is how some people are responding, and I want to say: ‘Yeah, I do get that’. But it doesn't mean the sorry isn't still heartfelt. And also, the sorry now is coming from a place of being informed.
We've spent so much time listening and working with people across a whole range of diversities. It has brought us to a new knowledge and a new place of humility before God, before Church, before the world, where we can say, ‘Yes, we got it wrong’. And we're not saying, by the way, we think we've got it right now. But we are saying this is a good place to be where we can live together with our disagreements and fully acknowledge and welcome into the church LGBTQI plus people.
The other thing I want to say sorry for is… we're really sorry the news leaked. We're really sorry the news leaked because it meant that the people who would be hurt most by the news, those who are most vulnerable, heard the story not in the way that we want to tell the story. And we're really sorry that happened.
So let me finish with a story which perhaps helps make sense of the change that's happening because of what we're announcing today.
So I have a dear friend, one of my dearest, oldest, closest friends. He died two years ago in the opening months of the Covid thing. He was a priest. He was in a long-term, lifelong, stable, committed relationship with another priest, they met at Theological College. When civil partnership came in 2013, they entered into a civil partnership, faithfully following the rules and disciplines of the church. They invited me to the civil partnership ceremony. These are some of my closest friends, I was delighted to go. Rather naughtily, they tried to smuggle into the service a reading from the Bible, which, as you may know, in the civil partnership legislation, no prayers, no readings from the Bible are allowed. They tried to smuggle one in. They chose that passage from the Song of Songs, a beautiful passage, ‘Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it’. And they hoped that because it didn't specifically mention God or Jesus, the civil celebrant wouldn't notice it was from the Bible. The civil celebrant did notice it was in the Bible, and there was a whole little bit of wrangling going on before the ceremony began, and they had to remove it. I sat there heartbroken to hear these people who love each other, whose relationship so exhibits all that I would want and expect from a relationship, who taught me so much about love and sacrifice, couldn't even have this little reading from the Bible. And much of that was down to us in the Church because of what we asked the government to do. There was a great party afterwards. And the party was in the garden of the church where one of them was the minister. So we're standing in the garden of the church, we're celebrating their marriage in the garden, we couldn't go into the church, we couldn't even go into the church and say a prayer. Don't misunderstand what's happening today. All that changes.
And I'm really pleased it's changing. I'm really pleased. It's changing for my gay friends. I'm really pleased. And no, it's not enough for some, and I'm really sorry, it's not enough. And I wasn't expecting to get emotional. But because I think it puts the Church of England in a better place. And I really hope that we can hold together our unity. And I cry out for those who hate what we're doing. And so we want to hold you together in this. But this is the fullest pastoral provision that we can offer at the moment without changing legislation, which would take years anyway, years and years.
We can offer this soon. And I thank God for it. And I hope it will be well received in our church and in our world.