The London Letter

Changing Attitude today published the text of a letter that was referred to in a piece in the London Times. It was signed by 120 or so clergy (not all of whom are parish priests or full-time stipended clergy) and said the following.

We, the undersigned, believe that on the issue of holding civil partnership ceremonies in Church of England churches incumbents / priests in charge should be accorded the same rights as they enjoy at present in the matter of officiating at the marriage of divorced couples in church. Namely, that this should be a matter for the individual conscience of the incumbent / priest in charge.

We would respectfully request that our views in this regard are fully represented in Synod.

Do you know what my first response was? “So What?” Seriously, this letter tells us nothing that we don’t know already. Yes, under a quarter of clergy in London want Civil Partnerships in churches, but we knew there was a large rump of liberal clergy in the capital. Yes, they’re asking their General Synod representatives to reflect their views, but then those representatives who are conservative won’t be swayed by such a letter and those who aren’t will already hold the same position as the letter signatories.

Note the response of the Bishop of London.

I am of course aware of the letter that a number of clergy in this Diocese has signed regarding civil partnerships in our churches. Their request to General Synod is based on very proper pastoral concern and it is right that this matter continues to be discussed openly.

New arrangements relating to religious premises and civil partnerships were laid before Parliament on 8th November 2011 and came into force on 5th December 2011. The Church’s position under those arrangements is that no Church of England religious premises may become “approved” for the registration of civil partnerships without there having been a formal decision by the General Synod to allow this.

It is quite legitimate that this issue is being raised. However, the unity of the Church and our core mission particularly in these sobering and challenging economic times, must remain paramount. I hope the discussion will continue in a prayerful and respectful way, whilst not distracting from the important ministry our churches are carrying out in their communities.

With thanks for our partnership in the Gospel.

That can basically be summarised as,

That’s interesting, but nothing changes.

The situation in London Diocese has been described as a Cold War or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Yes, there are gay clergy with partners, yes some churches carry out the blessings of same sex unions, but as long as they are not made public the Diocese doesn’t act. All well and good, but one is left wondering whether this letter, in combination with some recent blog posts on Changing Attitude on the stepping up of their campaign in the light of the House of Bishops’ work on human sexuality being undertaken over the next few years, is a sign that the revisionists are beginning to move into action and to attempt to move the agenda on, possibly by precipitate actions.

If that happens, conservative Bishops need to be very clear about what they would do in the circumstances of a freeholder challenging the (canon) law over the registration of Civil Partnerships. I even wonder whether that clarity is already privately in place.

P.S. Andrew Brown of the Guardian tonight described me as “a sexually conservative vicar”. For the record, I am not a vicar, but I can be quite sexually adventurous.

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