Ruth is reporting that the “Clergy Consultation Group” Eucharist went ahead in London at a secret location.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, today presided at a ‘secret’ eucharist for the Clergy Consultation, as we reported that he would back in September. He gave a talk on ‘present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the church.’ The venue, originally at St Peter’s Eaton Square, was switched to another location in London to avoid media attention after new of the meeting emerged first on the Church Society website.
The Clergy Consultation, which has between 250 and 450 members at any one time, was set up in 1976 by three Anglican priests, Malcolm Johnson, Peter Ellers and Douglas Rhymes. Changing Attitude has an interesting paper setting out a theology of sexual ethics around which members of the consultation work today. Many consultation members are married, one with six children, and are faithful to their partners. The organisation helps them cope with staying faithful to what they regard as a Christian lifestyle while dealing with a sexuality that sometimes does not emerge until later in life. Some members but by no means all are ‘out’ as openly gay but it is not difficult to understand why, in today’s Church, most prefer to remain ‘in’.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, views his taking part in the meeting and celebrating the eucharist as part of the ‘listening process’ outlined in Lambeth 1.10. A spokeswoman said: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury is committed to the listening process which was agreed at the Lambeth Conference as part of the discussions on human sexuality. That means listening to and engaging with gay and lesbian clergy in a pastorally sensitive setting. That is what he is doing.’
David Phillips, General Secretary of the Church Society, disagreed. He said: ‘This is not something that should be happening. There is obviously serious doubt in our mind about some of the people present and their standing because of being in homosexual relationships. But we do not really have much regard for Rowan Williams anyway. We came to the conclusion a long time ago that he was not really fit to be Archbishop so today does not change anything.’
He wrote to Lambeth Palace after news of the meeting emerged. Chief of Staff Chris Smith replied: ‘The Archbishop has asked me to say that unless he has clear evidence to the contrary, he would assume that members of the consultation, whether clergy, ordinands or religious, are in good standing with their diocesan bishops.’ Mr Smith continued: ‘The group, as described by its co-convenors in response to the Church Society website article and The Times newspaper, is in no sense a campaigning organisation, hence the confidentiality of its meetings. The purpose of the meeting was to listen to the concerns of individuals and to give the Archbishop the opportunity to engage with them from the position of the received mind of the Church.’
The letter went on: ‘This engagement with different groups and individuals is constant and helps inform his deliberations on the course of action that he and his fellow primates will need to formulate for the resolution of the Anglican Communion’s current divisions.’
Interesting, as Ruth’s piece describes a far from monochrome group. It seems that the Consultation includes all manner of people. For example:
Many consultation members are married, one with six children, and are faithful to their partners. The organisation helps them cope with staying faithful to what they regard as a Christian lifestyle while dealing with a sexuality that sometimes does not emerge until later in life. Some members but by no means all are ‘out’ as openly gay but it is not difficult to understand why, in today’s Church, most prefer to remain ‘in’.
That doesn’t sound like people who always knew they were gay but repressed it. Rather, it sounds as though at some point that realised that their sexual desires weren’t what they were a decade ago, but they chose at that point to remain faithful to their marriage vows.
I’d like to ask two questions:
- Any chance of anybody getting hold of Rowan’s piece?
- Do we want “secret communions” in the Church of England? Is such a Eucharist even vaguely Anglican?
Update 19:00 GMT – The Clergy Consultation Website is here. On the links page the only website given is Inclusive Church. A Nominet WhoIs brings up the following details:
PO Box 19184
Mr Site Ltd [Tag = MRSITE]
Registered on: 03-Jul-2007
Renewal date: 03-Jul-2009
Registered until renewal date.
The registered owner is John-Francis Friendship who is the Rector of St Andrew’s, Romford (Chelmsford Diocese) which has a link to Inclusive Church on its website. John-Francis Friendship is the convenor of Changing Attitudes in Chelmsford Diocese so one wonders whether Clergy Consultation is in any sense a non-aligned group.