Rt Rev Sarah Mullally's address during the Church of England's press conference on the proposals for same-sex partnerships in the church.
Bishop of London, Rt Rev Sarah Mullally
Thank you for coming. It's good to be with you and also those online. We're glad that you could join us.
My name is Sarah Mullaly, and I've chaired the Next Steps Group over the last two and a half years. The Next Steps Group is made up of bishops from the Church of England, and we've been steering this process. But in doing that, we have been accompanied by a reference group, which are people with diverse lived experiences and convictions.
Back in 2017, the Archbishop's and the house of Bishops commissioned a major study of human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage in the context of the Christian faith, changes in society and the disagreements within not just the wider church but the Church of England. The result was a suite of teaching and learning resources which was published in November 2020 under the banner of Living in Love and Faith (LLF).
The teaching and learning resources were designed to be accessible. They included not just the book but also a video-based course. There were films, and there were podcasts. They told stories of individual couples and families with diverse lived experiences and convictions about sexuality, identity and relationships. During 2020 2021, and 2022, the bishops encouraged church communities around the country to use the resources to learn together, to listen to one another, and also to God. Thousands of people took part. In fact, over 6,000 people responded to a questionnaire about the experience of learning together. Many sent poems and artwork in response to the topics that they explored. This was the first church-wide process of this type in the Church of England.
We, the bishops, also played our part in Living in Love and Faith. We were involved in drafting the book, we encouraged people in our diocese to take part in the LLF course. And we engaged with the resources ourselves alongside studying scripture and reflecting on the church's tradition. We then listened to what people said. The things that they said about the matters of Living in Love and Faith and the issues that were raised towards the end of last year and earlier this week. The bishops have been meeting together to discern what we believe God is saying to the church. We are accompanied in this process by 12 people, again representing the diverse lived experiences and convictions, who provided a non-Episcopal (they weren't bishops) perspective and held us to account in that process. And we are very grateful for what they offered to us, recognising that for some it also cost them.
Together, the bishops have studied the scriptures, and we have paid attention to the church tradition. And we have listened to wider society, as well as the voices of our sister churches in the Anglican Communion and our ecumenical partners. Above all, we have sought the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in prayer and worship.
The differences within the Church of England are also present among the bishops of the Church of England. Engaging with the Living in Love and Faith process has enabled us to become more open and honest with each other. That has been an important part of the process, which I think has given us a greater understanding of what it means to be living together as members of the Body of Christ. Being honest has not erased our disagreements, but it has deepened our relationship and our desire to continue to work with one another, seeking the deep deeper unity for the church for which Christ prayed for.
Some clear developments have emerged from our discussions that, in fact, are a series of firsts for the Church of England. In an open letter, we together apologise for the pain, hostility, exclusion and rejection that LGBTQI people have experienced within the church. We realize that this behaviour has not reflected the universal love of God for all people. We know that we need to change. And Archbishop Stephen will speak more on this shortly.
In our letter, because we write a letter to the church, we express our joyful affirmation and celebration of LGBTQI people in our church communities, and we have begun to produce a suite of prayers. These prayers are known as Prayers of Love and Faith. They mean that same-sex couples, who are faithful and seek a lifelong relationship, will be able to come into churches in the Church of England for prayers of dedication, thanksgiving, and of God's blessing after, for example, coming to a significant point of their relationship, or entering a civil partnership, or marriage. For the first time, churches within the Church of England will be able to do this, this is a real first.
Up until now, same-sex couples have had no way of publicly expressing their desire to put God at the centre of their relationship and commitment to one another in a Church of England church. These prayers can be used flexibly for relationships at different stages and in different contexts. Services that use these prayers are not marriage services, and their use by clergy is entirely voluntary. This means that the church can continue to embrace the different perspectives that are held by clergy and congregations within the Church of England about same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships.
We realise that for some, this will be deeply disappointing, particularly for those who long for equal marriage for same-sex couples. We also realise that for others among us, there will be a deep concern that the prayers of love and faith will go too far. Your consciences and theological convictions will not allow you to use them. Any discussion around identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage involved deeply held convictions across the spectrum of lived experiences and theological understanding. People's personal identities and interpretations of scriptures are caught up in this process. It is inevitable that from a wide range of perspectives, there will be many feelings, which may include vulnerability, fear, sadness, resignation, anger, as well as joy and hope. Along with this, we live in a society in which we often are pressured towards adversarial behaviour. As God's church, we are called to a different way. By being honest about our own disagreements and through gracious interpretation of doctrine, we will honour the reality of our differences within the Church of England and across the Anglo Communion and among our ecumenical partners. We hope to model this by providing prayers that bear a nuance of variety and of understanding.
This is not about enforcing unity, but it is about pursuing it by the grace of God. What we must do is create a gracious space for the Holy Spirit to fill as we stay faithful to Jesus Christ, rooted and grounded in the love of God. Thank you.