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Church News

Evangelicals offer flying bishops and ring-fenced funding after Synod vote on same-sex blessings

by Premier Journalist

The Church of England's Evangelical Council has launched two new initiatives for orthodox evangelicals, in the wake of the decision to allow trials of special services to bless same-sex unions as part of the Living in Love and Faith process.

In a narrow victory for progressives, the church legislative body has approved a motion for CofE bishops to move towards implementation of 'Prayers of Love and Faith' (PLF).  The motion also requested bishops to trial standalone services for PLF while they are considered for permanent use.

The outcome has left bishops divided and individuals on both sides of the debate unhappy.  Same-sex couples feel their relationships are still being seen as second class, while conservative Christians believe there's no proper theological justification for the change.

In response, the CEEC, established in the 1960's by the late John Stott, former Rector of All Souls Langham Place in London, is offering an alternative system of spiritual oversight, for evangelical clergy who no longer feel aligned with the spiritual leadership of their own bishop.

A group being referred to as 'Honorary Assistant bishops', made up of retired bishops, existing bishops and others described as 'overseers', will offer spiritual support to clergy and congregations who now desire it.  

In addition new financial provision known as the "Ephesian Fund" is being set up, which the CEEC describes as a new national stewardship fund.

It's a charitable fund, which the group says it provides a way for congregations who may wish to withhold their giving from the Church of England's central fund in light of the vote, to continue to support orthodox Anglican ministry.

John Dunnett, CEEC's National Director, tells Premier neither idea has come out of the blue: "We've been saying... for the best part of six years now... the changes that the bishops have been pushing through, were always going to be divisive. So this shouldn't be a surprise to any bishop. 

"What it suggests is that they've not actually been hearing what people on the ground have been saying."

He insists they're not creating a breakaway group within the denomination:

"This is quite the opposite. This is an attempt to keep clergy and lay people inside the Church of England at a moment when it appears that the bishops are driving a wedge right down the middle - the kind of wedge that is causing people to say, 'Should I stay or should I go?' We're hoping people will say stay."

Prayers of blessing for same sex couples are expected to be commended for use by mid-December with provision for dedicated services coming soon after.

The CEEC believes the proposals are being pursued without adequate provision or protection for those holding to the historic and global majority Anglican view on marriage and sex.

The group maintains that these new measures are "informal and temporary", but will allow clergy who now "find their consciences deeply troubled" to remain a part of the Church of England "whilst more formal and official provision is pursued.”

Neither side has been willing to leave the denomination over the issue of same-sex blessings, with both conservatives and liberals pressing for a resolution that favoured their interpretation of Scripture.  The House of Bishops remains split and deep divisions exist at every level over the correct way forward.

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