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Confidence in church leadership at an 'all-time low' says priest after Bishop quits LLF role

by Donna Birrell
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The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have expressed regret that Rt Rev Helen-Ann Hartley, Bishop of Newcastle has stepped aside from her role as one of the co-chairs of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process.

LLF is the Church of England’s learning process around finding a way forward on matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.

In a statement released yesterday, Bishop Helen-Ann who was appointed in November as co-lead bishop along with Rt Rev Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester said she had “serious concerns” about the recent appointment of a new interim theological adviser to the House of Bishops. Rev Dr Thomas Woolford, a tutor at Emmanuel Theological College, was announced as the interim secretary to the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC). Bishop Helen-Ann said neither she nor Bishop Martyn had been involved in his appointment.

Dr Woolford holds a conservative view on the issue of church blessings for same sex couples. Bishop Helen-Ann holds a differing view and in her statement said:

“This was, and is not, an LLF appointment, and neither Bishop Martyn nor myself were involved in it. Whilst the remit of the theological advisor is broader than any matters relating to LLF, there is no doubt that LLF remains front and centre in the life of our Church at this time.

“What has transpired in the last 48 hours has had a critically negative impact on the work Bishop Martyn and I were seeking, in good faith, to do. My role as co-lead bishop for the LLF process is now undermining my capacity to fulfil my primary calling, to lead and care for the people and places of the Diocese of Newcastle.

“Mindful of different views within my own diocese, I am also fully committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. I do not believe these are mutually exclusive, and I am not naïve in saying this.”

Bishop Martyn also issued a statement calling for a second theological adviser to be appointed to the House of Bishops “so that there is a similar model of working together across difference.”

Bishop Helen-Ann’s decision to step aside from her LLF role has caused a raft of comment from both conservative and liberal wings of the church.

Peter Ould who is a priest in the diocese of Canterbury and a commentator on Church of England issues, told Premier: “This kind of resignation raises a whole bunch of questions about the whole way that the prayers of love and faith process is being run and will be run in the future.

“If we say that theological advisors to the House of Bishops or the Faith and Order Commission can't have a view on anything, we won't get anybody for those roles. There are real questions to be asked here about the process of doing this and power and dynamics.

“The idea of a conservative theologian holding this role isn't a problem, because their role isn't to put forward their views. Their role is to bring together and help the bishops understand all the views and think about it theologically.

“Context is everything. If she’s resigned, because he's a theological conservative, then that indicates that she isn't playing the diversity game.

“It doesn't really matter where they [theological advisors] sit on the theological spectrum, they're there to put together all the views and help how the bishops think. Having two theological advisors, one conservative, one liberal, is that actually going to make more conflict, rather than reduce it?

“I think the whole LLF Process is in an absolute mess. The trust from the House of Clergy and the House of Laity in the House of Bishops is at an absolute all- time low.

“I think what the bishops really need to do is to completely stop and reset and think about this whole process.

“The danger here is that if the leadership of the Church of England, if the bishops, just plough ahead with this, they will find that the crucial parts of their community are going to walk away.”

In a statement, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said:

“We want to acknowledge the commitment and work she (Bishop Helen-Ann) has put in to LLF, as well as her vision for moving forward more creatively. We are very sorry she is stepping down, but respect and support her in her decision.

“The LLF process has encouraged us all to learn more deeply about our own identities, those of the people we love, our convictions and how we live well in the world. This has been complex and painful for many of us.

“Although, of course, we continue to support robust debate around these issues where there is disagreement in our church, we are dismayed that sometimes this has also included unjust and inappropriate personal attacks. As followers of Christ, the manner in which we conduct our debate is as important as the debate itself.

"We are grateful to Bishop Helen-Ann and Bishop Martyn for their call for a change in tone, and their encouragement to reflect on how we all conduct ourselves in this conversation.

"We hope and pray for a renewed grace and commitment to one another as we move forward together."

The LLF process is set to be discussed at the next meeting of the CofE’s General Synod later in February.

A permanent theological adviser is due to take up the position in September.




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