A vicar writes to his congregation about the Synod decision on ‘gay blessings’

Nov 17, 2023 by

St Denys Church. Stanford in the Vale

Dear Church Member

GENERAL SYNOD VOTE – THE ‘BLESSING’ OF GAY RELATIONSHIPS

On Wednesday, after nearly nine hours of debate on Living in Love and Faith (LLF), the Church of England’s General Synod voted on a motion, put forward by the House of Bishops (HoB), and amended by a proposal by the Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft (see italics below).

In effect, + Steven’s amendment torpedoed a carefully staged proposal by the HoB, including that ‘prayers of blessing’ for gay relationship could not be used as a ‘stand-alone’ service, separate from a main Sunday service, as the perception and experience of those attending would be that the service was a ‘wedding’ in all but name, and therefore, the CofE would have changed its Doctrine on Marriage. I agree with the HofB that that would be the perception.

The HoB had received legal advice on their initial proposals, and on + Steven’s amendment (they are refusing to make such advice public, even to synod members), plus constant submissions from orthodox clergy and laity.

Their original Motion to Synod for Wednesday’s vote was that the prayers NOT be allowed, other than as part of a normal Sunday service, and until General Synod – and importantly each diocese – had seen the legal advice, debated, and voted on such a massive change in Church belief and teaching. Pastoral Guidance which would safeguard clergy who, for conscience reasons, could not conduct the gay blessings (like me) would be fully covered, and following full consultation, proposals for structural visible difference between revisionist parishes and orthodox ones. In effect, two churches within one church – because of a near 50/50 split in General Synod on the issue: this is our Brexit! Without formal structural visible differential, those in our church who wany gay relationship blessings, and then gay marriage, and those of us who hold to biblical teaching would split, either side leaving with disastrous consequences on dioceses.

When the HofB’s proposals had gone around the dioceses and returned to General Synod, as it would potentially change the Doctrine of the CofE, under our Canons a two-thirds majority in each ‘house’ of General Synod (Bishops, Clergy and Laity) would be needed. [NB. Both sides of this debate recognise there are NOT the numbers needed for a 2/3rds majority in the house of laity, and possibly the bishops, as orthodox members will vote ‘no’]. However, on Monday, + Steven tabled an amendment which would allow ‘stand-alone’ gay blessing services to take place from as early as mid-December, IF individual diocesan bishops, like himself, authorised them – and on a ‘trial basis’. No timescale was attached to his specific proposal as to when his trial would end. Synod members in all three houses said this would effectively mean a perceived change in marriage doctrine before the diocesan/synod discussions, and votes (approval or not), and thus, + Steven was effectively advocating a change in doctrine by the back door, and possibly against what would be the end vote! It was also said that once trial services started in dioceses, it would be near impossible to row back.

The Motion in full, which passed by the very slim numbers at the bottom, says:

“That this Synod, conscious that the Church is not of one mind on the issues raised by Living in Love and Faith, that we are in a period of uncertainty, and that many in the Church on all sides are being deeply hurt at this time, recognise the progress made by the House of Bishops towards implementing the motion on Living in Love and Faith passed by this Synod in February 2023, as reported in GS 2328, encourage the House to continue its work of implementation, and ask the House to consider whether some standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis, on the timescale envisaged by the motion passed by the Synod in February 2023.” [NB.That timescale is already recognised as not practical now].

 

The Official Votes on Wednesday were as follows:

Bishops: 23 for, 10 against, 4 abstained

(62%, 27%, 11%).

Clergy: 100 for, 93 against, 1 abstained

(51%, 48%, 1%)

Laity: 104 for, 100 against, 0 abstained

(50.9%, 49.1%)

 

Total GS Members For: 227 52.18%
Total GS Members Against: 203 46.66%
Total Abstaining: 5 1.16%
Total Synod Members Voting: 435 100.00%

 

At present, I am consulting with vicars of the other Simeon’s Patronage parishes (https://www.simeons.org.uk/) like ours, other Orthodox incumbents/parishes in this diocese, and across the CofE via various groups of which I am a member. Following those consultations, I shall share with you what impact such a vote has made, backed by the other three bishops of this diocese, and will have in my relationship with our four bishops.

For now, I’d simply ask you to reflect on whether it is right, and a Godly way to change the Doctrine of the Church on marriage via one amendment, with no notice given to the wider Synod (until the actual start of the London meetings), and that the amendment occurred via a 57% to 52.18% against vote? As a PCC here, would probably not even choose a vacuum cleaner with that sort of division! After 7 years of LLF meetings, talks, reflections, study and debate across the CofE, it came down to a 5% difference? Remember, a formal change in doctrine needs a two-thirds majority in ALL three houses. That’s will now be by-passed by new praxis. If this is the way the CofE should be heading, changing its doctrine, where is the clear Holy Spirit direction in all this?

Where is there evidence that hearts and souls have been moved and stirred, and that unity, in a majority, has been formed by the Holy Spirit? I see no evidence the Holy Spirit is in this.

As lay people, I think you need to know that as a vicar, + Steven’s amendment leaves me, and my colleagues extremely vulnerable. The ‘not fit for purpose’ Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), which Synod is trying to change due to so many terrible cases of mistreatment of clergy, and the bullying of clergy by parishioner’s repeated formal CDM complaints, is still to be amended and improved. So, any complaints against clergy for saying they would not conduct the gay blessing services would come under the CDM – and can take over a year from start to conclusion of a complaint, leaving vicars anxious about their future livelihood and undermining them within the parish.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bshop of London (who has been leading the whole LLF process), publicly promised all clergy that no prayers of blessing would be authorised until Pastoral Guidance had been published! That Guidance would officially respect the consciences of clergy who cannot agree to a change in marriage doctrine and, would not conduct such services. + Steven’s amendment has driven a horse and cart through that welcomed, and necessary promise. No Pastoral Guidance is available, and a first draft is not expected until Spring 2024, leaving me, and all vicars very vulnerable to complaints – either by genuine gay couples who are disappointed in my historical Christian stance or, increasingly, likely from activists who we know are already targeting orthodox vicars, and have been pushing the CofE hard for change.

On Wednesday evening, within hours of the vote and media coverage, two vicar friends on Facebook said they had already received a request for a ‘gay wedding’ in church, next year, and as a ‘separate service’ on a Saturday! Neither has responded yet but will decline. When they do, it is possible the couples will turn to their local media (who will sell the story on to the nationals), and the vicars are likely to be officially reported to their bishop via an official complaint – under CDM.

In this diocese *, we don’t have an Orthodox bishop under whom clergy like myself can minister under their pastoral charge, or authority, or work in partnership with. The latter being a key issue that the HoB’s recognised would need fully addressing. We were promised clear agreement on how Alternative Episcopal Oversight (AEP) would be available. The Archbishop of York had even admitted in February’s Synod that this was such a potentially massive change, there might need to be new diocesan structures, of even one province for orthodox clergy/parishes, and one for revisionists.

There is now so much unnecessary damage and confusion following + Steven’s amendment. He has jumped the gun before careful, detailed work had been drafted, discussed with representative groups, and then brought to Synod for debate and agreement. He has also jumped the gun before the laity had chance to discuss and debate at diocesan level, and the whole church decide, together. Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) – what ‘gay blessings’ are formally called, are a major departure from the foundations of the CofE. I have so much more to say on this – but having had many emails and questions from church member to Wednesday’s vote, I felt I needed to at least start to help unpack what change this will mean for the Church of England: for us, and for me as your vicar.

In this diocese, around 25-30% of all vicars are members of the Oxford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship (ODEF), and many, many more are orthodox. By and large, they lead churches which are growing – in contrast to the latest CofE figures which show the ‘average’ CofE church now has only 21 adults and one child attending on an average Sunday! These orthodox churches also pay, so far, full parish share. These vicars, like me, are feeling angry, deeply hurt and hung out to dry by their own diocesan bishop.

I have always recognised and respected that in our own congregations, there are a variety of views over the main issues of LLF.. I am also known in this parish for the way in which I have pastorally supported many gay parishioners, including one over a two-year period when she was taking a CofE school to an Employment Tribunal over sexual discrimination. She eventually won, and I am not betraying any confidence as the case was in the public domain. I stood by her as a parishioner to ensure she got justice and had proper pastoral care.

At this stage, I wanted to help you to see behind the headlines, and to prayerfully consider for yourself whether this is the way the CofE should be changing the very clear teachings of Jesus on marriage, 2,000 years of Anglican marriage doctrine, departing from the wider Anglican Communion where, if the CofE proceeds with this, Primates representing 75% of Anglicans globally say they will no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as its leader, and the role our own diocesan bishop has played in what is now, very clear schism in the CofE.

Finally, I am deeply concerned for the future of the CofE. With this trajectory, there is only one way the CofE can in any way stay together. That is via a formal split between orthodox and revisionists, with orthodox clergy and parishes coming under the authority an orthodox bishop, separate to a revisionist area of diocesan bishop. Revisionist clergy and churches who want to offer the PLF/gay blessings then move into their own ‘diocese’, or province, and have oversight by a revisionist bishop, like + Gavin Collins (Dorchester) or + Steven. That is the only way to respect consciences with integrity and hold the whole CofE together if orthodox clergy and parishes are not to leave the CofE altogether, and with that, the human and financial resources all dioceses desperately need to stay solvent. Many dioceses are on the brink of bankruptcy already.

As I have consistently said since my arrival here in 2013, I believe in ’marriage’ as God intended, as recorded in the bible, and reaffirmed by our Lord to be between a man and a woman for life, and that God’s intent was that sexual activity was to be within marriage, for pleasure and procreation. Further, that all sexual activity outside of marriage – whether heterosexual or homosexual – is not what God ordained, or for our best, and that the bible is clear on same-sex sexual conduct (separate from orientation). Therefore, as vicar, I reaffirm that I will not ‘ask for, or declare God’s blessing’ on relationships, and/or sexual activity that are contrary to God’s word.

I shall write further once the consultations mentioned above have concluded. If you would like to talk privately with me about this, please be in touch.

Yours faithfully

Paul

Revd Paul Eddy, FRSA Vicar

* When + Colin Fletcher left as Bishop of Dorchester, + Steven asked clergy and laity to write to him with suggestions as to the sort of bishop needed, moving forward. Knowing that the LLF issues would soon be coming to a head, very many clergy, including me, suggesting that if he appointed an Orthodox bishop to Dorchester, then should the church come to a split in due course, all orthodox clergy in the diocese could petition to be transferred to Dorchester, whilst revisionists parishes in Dorchester archdeaconry, unhappy to be under an orthodox bishop, could petition to be under Buckingham, Reading or Oxford. That way, the diocese would hold together, clergy and parishes would not have to look to bishops outside the diocese and, a helpful model/precedent would be in place. + Steven rejected such suggestions. He appointed another revisionist bishop so now, we have four revisionist bishops in the Diocese of Oxford. Orthodox clergy will now be looking to come under the oversight of bishops outside this diocese.

Related Posts

Tags

Share This