A group reflecting a wide range of traditions within the Church of England will take part in conversations on same-sex blessings, ahead of a meeting of the church’s governing body - known as Synod - later this year. The Church of England says the first group will meet next month as part of ongoing work in the Living in Love and Faith process.
Invitations have been issued to join three facilitated conversations, ahead of consideration at the November Synod of proposals to enable same-sex couples to come to church following a civil marriage or civil partnership for prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and to receive God’s blessing.
The prayers – which have yet to be finalised - have sparked strong and mixed reactions throughout the church, and threaten to cause a major rift across the denomination between supporters of more conservative and more progressive theologies. In July, eleven prominent Christian leaders, including the Evangelical Council and the current and former leaders of HTB and New Wine, signed a public letter to CofE bishops, citing the technical process being used to introduce the new liturgy, claiming it would be “unlawful, unconstitutional, and illegitimate” to do so without a full debate and vote.
The Bishop of London Sarah Mullally and the Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, the Co-Chairs of the Living in Love and Faith Steering Group, suggested the creation of the group which they hope will bring “a wealth of knowledge from prior involvement in the LLF process, as well as a range of lived experiences”. Membership of the group has not yet been made public, but the Church of England says names will be published at a later date.
The group will receive an update on the ongoing work on pastoral guidance and pastoral assurance in relation to the Prayers of Love and Faith and will be asked to provide their insights and reflections.
The outcome of the conversations will feed into discussions at meetings in the autumn of the College and House of Bishops ahead of the November Synod.
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said the creation of the group was part of the next stage of consulting widely, following July’s General Synod meeting in York.
“The House and the College of Bishops have a real desire to create a loving, generous, ecclesial and pastoral space, despite deeply held differences of opinion, in which we can share our ministry and implement the motion agreed by the Synod in February,” she said.
“There is a desire to joyfully offer a pastoral response to loving, faithful and long-term same sex relationships. There is at the same time no intention of changing the doctrine of marriage as expressed in the canons and the authorised liturgy of the Church of England.
“Holding these commitments together is at times painful and complex. As part of this we are seeking to listen to people’s hopes and concerns and to ensure that they are satisfied that their views have been taken into consideration.”
The new group is a follow up on work which has taken place since the landmark debate in February, which welcomed proposals to enable same-sex couples to receive a blessing in church, following a civil marriage or civil partnership. The proposals came out of a six-year period of listening, learning and discernment known as Living in Love and Faith.