Southwark Cathedral and the House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance

Aug 5, 2017 by

by Andrew Goddard, Fulcrum:

Reports of a service in Southwark Cathedral marking the civil partnership of two Anglican clergywomen have led to serious concerns being raised by a number of evangelicals, particularly in Southwark Diocese but also further afield (see e.g. Anglican Mainstream).  Martin Davie has recently offered an account and evaluation of the liturgy apparently used.  This concludes that “this material currently being used by Southwark Cathedral contravenes the 2005 House of Bishops guidelines and should be withdrawn”.

Background: The Cathedral’s Policy and its Origins

This pattern of service appears to be one which the Cathedral has been offering for some time.  Their policy is outlined clearly on their website which claims, in contrast to Dr Davie’s judgment, that “the Chapter abides by the pastoral statement of the bishops as a matter of policy”.  This commitment is also explicitly stated in a December 2005 sermon by the then Dean, the late Colin Slee which is linked to in the online information about civil partnerships and where, in response to the then new status of civil partnership, he made clear that

This is a Cathedral Church, this is the seat of the Bishop. I will not put the Bishop in a difficult position by playing fast and loose with the order of the Church. I have a high regard for episcopacy and a high doctrine of the ancient orders of the Church. I may argue, protest, debate with, even harass the bishop, but I will always defend his right to expect the conduct of his Cathedral Church to be according to the teaching of the Church of England for the time being. The House of Bishops has recently published a paper in response to the changes in the law. That paper is very mindful of what I have called the vertical splits within the church; it seeks to maintain some unity in a developing debate and accordingly says that we cannot offer public services of blessing for civil partnerships. It will cause us, and many of you, considerable pain but we will not, in this Cathedral, break the regulation and discipline the House of Bishops has placed upon us. If this pain makes room for some people with whom we do not agree to remain members of the Church of England, and therefore to continue to hold a debate with us then it is a price I am willing to pay. I know there are those who are opposed to Civil Partnerships who are unwilling to pay the price of any pain, who demand that everyone in the Church thinks and acts as they do, but I want to work as hard as I can to show the grace and generosity of God and for this place to witness to that gospel.

Martin Davie reports that what the Dean offers civil partners is an opportunity to mark their civil partnership in the context of a celebration of the Eucharist.  This fits with Slee’s 2005 sermon which suggested that

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Due to its length, this article is also available as a PDF and there is a shorter summary PDF version as well.

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