Eleven bishops in the Church of England have decided to "dissent publicly" on the House of Bishop’s recent decision to approve the Living in Love and Faith prayers for same-sex couples, admitting there was "deep disagreement within the House".
The group, which includes the Bishop of Blackburn, Nottingham and Sheffield, believe the decision does not permit the General Synod to “consider the full significance of the prayers” and fails “to safeguard the pastoral stability, mission and unity of the church”.
Some have described the statement, exclusively provided to Premier, as "historic," as it is believed to mark the first occasion when bishops within the House have openly and publicly voiced their dissent on this topic.
Their remarks come as the House of Bishops - which comprises of diocesan bishops, suffragan bishops, and other senior ecclesiastical leaders – agreed “in principle” to approve prayers for same-sex couples on Monday, while emphasising the creation of stand-alone services for the blessings will require a two-year process, involving a vote under canon law and consultation with dioceses.
However, the dissenting bishops say that while they welcome that vote for a stand-alone service, they are frustrated the prayers are expected to be approved without General Synod discussion. They believe the decision “does not permit the General Synod to consider the full significance of the prayers” nor allow members to determine “whether the bishops have fulfilled their intention (supported in February) that the final form of the prayers should not be ‘indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England’.”
As the set of prayers was discussed and agreed upon during the General Synod meeting in February, blessings of same-sex couples could take place between the end of the November meeting and the potential authorisation of special same-sex blessing services in 2025. However, this will be confirmed once the meeting next month concludes.
The House of Bishops also announced it had finished a draft of new pastoral guidance, acknowledging that “further work is under way to explore further forms of pastoral reassurance and formal structural pastoral provision to ensure the conscience of everyone is respected”.
Nevertheless, the evangelical and catholic bishops who have now voiced their concerns publicly believe the pastoral guidance and pastoral reassurance need to be brought to Synod as a “single package” rather than in a “piecemeal fashion” and are therefore “unable to support the collective decisions made by the House”.
They concluded: “Faced with these sensitive matters over which there remains deep disagreement, we are committed as bishops to continue seeking to discern a way forward in the interests of the whole Church and to providing pastoral care for all. At the same time, we believe that bishops must have due regard to the obligations of good and proper governance. Even at this late stage, we urge our episcopal colleagues and the Archbishops, as joint Presidents of General Synod, to reconsider the course we saw mapped out in our meeting.”
The signatories include the following bishops: the Bishop of Blackburn, Rt Rev Philip North, the Bishop of Chichester, Rt Rev Martin Warner, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, Rt Rev Rob Munro, the Bishop of Guildford, Rt Rev Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Hereford, Rt Rev Richard Jackson, the Bishop of Islington, Rt Rev Ric Thorpe, the Bishop of Lancaster, Rt Rev Jill Duff, the Bishop of Oswestry, Rt Rev Paul Thomas, the Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev Jonathan Gibbs, the Bishop of Sheffield, Rt Rev Pete Wilcox and the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, Rt Rev Paul Williams.
You can read the letter in full here.