And now Guildford

From the Rt Revd Ian Brackley (Suffragan in the Diocese and currently “in charge”).

Rt Revd Ian Brackley, Bishop of DorkingYou will no doubt have heard through the media news of the Pastoral Letter which the House of Bishops has issued as guidance concerning the Same Sex Marriage Act which comes into force at the end of March this year. Inevitably, the media have highlighted what is seen as the negative outcome rather than the many positive things which the Guidance has to say. The Letter and the accompanying advice contained in the Appendix are available online on the Church of England website. Please read all of it very carefully.

You will notice, and this is what Bishop Christopher and I were keen to point out in our earlier letter to the clergy, that a pastoral response of prayers is encouraged, where appropriate, to gay couples who may enquire about the possibility of some form of service. This would not be any fomal rite or liturgy but, as paragraph 22 of the Appendix states, a ‘more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of circumstances’. My own view is that this might be best done in the couple’s home.

Yours in Christ

Bishop Ian appears to agree with me that a “blessing” in private is acceptable, but any form of public liturgy is the issue.

If you receive an ad clerum in your diocese, please let me know.

23 Comments on “And now Guildford

  1. it’s still utterly confusing. How is a “blessing” ever appropriate for something that elsewhere the document also calls “contrary to the teaching of the Church of England”?

    • It is the sexual content of the relationship that makes it contrary to teaching. And yet, this type of relationship is being given special attention precisely on the basis of its difference from a relationships between, say, two sisters. Any “blessing”, then, would be simultaneously “despite the sexual content” and “because of the sexual content”! That’s pretty much the definition of a contradiction. On those grounds, the two sisters should have their relationship blessed because of its absence of sexual content. And so on…

    • I read something like this somewhere: “I cannot bless what you’re doing because I believe it to be wrong, but I would love to pray for you and bless you in any other way I can”.

        • Most of these statements (like the original one from the House of Bishops) are designed to permit everything short of a public service or formal liturgy. It’s a typical Anglican compromise.

          • A depressing capitulation. Perhaps, I need a bit a healthy, growing new independent church to get over it.

            And, yes, staunch believers in the Christ-ordained apostolic authority perpetuated though scripture to each generation know where the door is: ‘Let us go outside of the gate bearing His reproach’.

      • well I guess that’s the way we’re meant to read it. But I fear most of us are not nearly so naïve. The reality is that any orthodox minister is going to be very wise about not “blessing” anything to do with the relationship.

        And the liberals will, of course, use it as an excuse to in some way formalise the relationship. This will be contrary to the bishops’ intentions, of course, (well, most of them) but it is an option left tantilisingly dangling there for them as things currently stand.


    Here’s the phrasing of Appendix item 20 of the Pastorsl Statement on Same-Sex Marriage:
    ‘The House did not wish, however, to interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances.’

    So how does ‘Did not wish to interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion’ and might be appropriate become ‘You will notice, and this is what Bishop Christopher and I were keen to point out in our earlier letter to the clergy, that a pastoral response of prayers is encouraged, where appropriate, to gay couples who may enquire about the possibility of some form of service.’

    How is heaven’s name does an HoB policy of non-interference in pastoral discretion and possible appropriateness become encouragement. And, of course, the phrase ‘blessing’ slowly creeps into common clerical parlance.

    Guess who will raise this question at the 31st March Guildford Diocesan Synod meeting!

    Whatever is said of the church’s refusal to authorise a public liturgy, the Liturgical Commission has itself explained in a paper entitled the Blessing of Worshippers in the Christian Tradition: ‘The underlying issue was not so much a question of cultic competence or power (although these factors emerged in systematic reflection from the 12th century onwards) but of the one blessing being in some sense a recognised representative figure.’

    So, what we really have is a representative (whose actions are meant to be a pattern and example for the entire church) performing an unqualified ‘blessing’ of a same-sex marriage.

    So, for all the House of Lords bluster, you can see how a fifth column of moderate conservatives and liberals are happily beginning the process of developing an unconscionable form of ‘two integrities’: the New Connivance.

    But you have to be clever to see the theological machinations at work. By claiming that most gays and certainly no lesbians engage in the kind of sex that some conservatives think typifies the scripture’s homosexual proscriptions, the actual offence that scripture mentions (para phusis) magically disappears. In fact, with a bit of creative hermeneutics, rabid heterosexual and homosexual lust that contradict the framework of marriage become okay because that form of ‘attraction’ is hard-coded. Again, some homosexual acts that fall short of particular proscribed forms of intercourse become okay too.

    I just don’t get how this clever little play on words can ever pass for authentic Christianity.

    • David,

      I think you’re being overly harsh, possibly jumping to the most negative conclusion. It seems to me that Bishop Ian is saying that “encouragement” is to conduct private pastoral prayers rather than public liturgical ones – i.e. he is encouraging restraint on the part of those who wish to conduct public same-sex marriage blessings. This would surely accord with him being the only bishop (?)(so far) to explicitly state that no formal rite or liturgy is envisaged, and not even informal in a church building.

      • The thing is, Bishop Ian highlights the pastoral guidance’s concurrence with the earlier letter from Bishop Christopher and himself.
        That letter stated:

        ‘it would be appropriate for clergy who conscientiously judge a same sex Civil Marriage to be an authentic Christian relationship to similarly pray with, and for, such a couple..’
        Let’s clarify.
        The clergy are to welcome. I agree.
        They are to baptise, confirm and administer holy communion.
        This statement continues to inform the decision of DoG clergy to conduct informal prayers after. In the light of the church’s current doctrine and practice, there’s a need for the Bishop to clarify how any same-sex marriage can be conscientiously judged to be an authentic Christian relationship.

        • I think the difficulty is that some clergy, having found out about lifestyle (and please can that mean more than sexual activity!), will judge a same sex marriage to be the relationship of two Christians who are faithfully living out the discipleship to which they have been called – i.e. an authentic one.

          Members of the clergy may conclude this because they think that sexual activity is a relatively unimportant part of lifestyle and discipleship, or because they have concluded that homosexual activity within a stable, loving, faithful relationship does not have the character of sin.

          In the former case, the judgement might be that it is better to pray with and for the couple in the hope that the whole of their lives may come to reflect the discipline of the Church, rather than to leave them out in the cold. This seems to be the situation envisaged by the HoB’s guidance when it encourages talking to the couple as well as praying for them.

          In the latter case, there will be a reliance on a more “liberal” reading of scripture than some other clergy would allow, but (cf Jeffrey John), once the Church has allowed a more liberal reading of scripture on second marriages after divorce or the ordination of women, it is hard to see how any bishop could insist it is plainly wrong to be “liberal” on this topic.

          The bishops are thus caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of conservative and liberal readings of scripture. Steering the middle course is next to impossible. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Support them as much as possible I say – and remember that we’ll be arguing about something new in 50 years from now, but God won’t allow his Church to fail.

          • Firstly, let me commend you for your honesty. For too long, conservatives and liberals have dodged around this.

            You state: ‘once the Church has allowed a more liberal reading of scripture on second marriages after divorce or the ordination of women, it is hard to see how any bishop could insist it is plainly wrong to be “liberal” on this topic.’

            Yet, there’s key difference. However ‘liberal’ the reading of scripture:

            1. Synod was first consulted and affirmed its will;

            2. Divorcees are subjected to questions about their ‘lifestyle’, or relationship before they can be re-married.

            Of course, lifestyle is more than (a type of) sexual activity. However, the pastoral discretion to conclude that sexual activity is a relatively unimportant part of lifestyle and discipleship, or that homosexual activity within a stable, loving, faithful relationship does not have the character of sin is not consistent with the current doctrine of the church. As point 26 states: ‘getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England’.
            So, let’s be clear, as far as we can see, clergy would be instructed by Bishops that they could exercise their pastoral discretion by either:
            1. Treating what the HoB calls ‘variance of same-sex marriage with the teaching of the CofE’ as a relatively unimportant part of life style and discipleship or,
            2. Based on the perceived mutual devotion of the couple, render morally neutral a type of relationship that both the church and the scripture currently identifies as sin (i.e. failure in our duty towards God)
            There is no middle course here. Only a gradual end to fudge and spin.
            No, God won’t allow the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church to fail. Any double-minded establishment that invokes the name of His dear Son is another matter.

            • On your first pair of points:

              Synod (or the equivalent) has affirmed its will and then changed it over various matters in the past; it may do so again, although for now the “official” position is clear enough (though for what’s it’s worth, I would say that the “official” position is what the bishops say).

              Yes, divorcees are to be questioned, but I think it’s not ridiculous to say that in practice the level of scrutiny will vary considerably, and clergy have absolute discretion about what would disqualify a couple from being married in their church. This is where being “pastoral” covers a very wide range of possible responses (and I wonder how many clergy might be too embarrassed to say “no”).

              Of the two approaches to judging something to be an “authentic Christian relationship,” I agree that the second would be inconsistent with the current doctrine of the Church (although a liberal reading of scripture per se is clearly not).

              But I would suggest that the first approach is consistent with the current doctrine of the Church – hence the bishops allow clergy to pray with and for such couples. After all, we all sin. Are all heterosexual couples in any given congregation free of sexual sin (and I don’t mean exceptional adultery, but rather systematic sexual sins)? And which is worse, sexual sin from time to time, or consistent failure to give of one’s time, effort and possession in the service of the Church? I know which seems to me the greater threat to the continuance of the Church of England in its current form.

              • Again, I commend your honesty.

                While it’s not ridiculous to say of divorcees ‘that in practice the level of scrutiny will vary considerably’, the difference is that for gay couples, there is to be no scrutiny.

                In every other case, pastoral guidance is meant to permit accommodation, not to endorse a clear divergence to the ‘official’ position of the church.

                1. I really can’t see how re-marriage after divorce can be treated as a relatively important part of discipleship, while gay marriage is treated as relatively unimportant. Both concern the importance of marriage.
                How, for those in a sexual relationship, can a divergence from marriage, a creation ordinance, as church doctrine prescribes, be relatively unimportant for gay couples, but not for the divorced? Can you see why divorced converts should be up in arms?

                2. Of course, we all sin. This issue is not about censoriousness towards an activity engaged in from time to time. But let’s be honest, by this ad clerum, the clergy aren’t being specifically permitted to offer prayer at any time; they are being ‘encouraged’ to offer an alternative of prayer after a same sex marriage ceremony

                It is giving religious affirmation to a ceremony that contradicts the current church teaching and on the basis that a marriage between those of the same-sex is relatively unimportant to discipleship.

                The issue here is about pre-empting the debate about whether the church should continue to maintain divinely instigated pattern for expressing the gift of human sexuality. Whether the optimal and foundational pairing of the human family was gifted to us in creation for earthly perpetuity. That’s flipping important.

                Now, you and others could choose to believe that we now need to jettison what some view as the early church’s warm-over Pentatuechal views about gender, women and human sexuality. Your entitled to express that opinion.

                What is immoral is for some to claim that all sides will have a fair hearing and involvement, while subtly treating the liberal view as a fait accompli and starting to pre-emptively change to church doctrine and practice without our involvement.

                • I hope I’ve not expressed any opinions about the rightness (or otherwise) of the major topics under debate. I’m just trying to give as fair and balanced an account as I can of how I think the ground lies, in order to try and take some of the heat out of things.

                  I think you’e right that there is something of an inconsistency in quizzing divorcees compared to not for same sex couples – that’s an important point. But the quizzing is mainly about how and why the former marriage ended, rather than specifics of sexual activities in past or present. So the inconsistency is perhaps not quite as bad as it might first seem. Nevertheless it needs some thought.

                  As to your second point, the prayers are to be a response to a request from a couple – so in a sense, because this could happen at any time, the timing is coincidental. It’s just that soon after a ceremony is the most likely time for them to ask.

                  The idea of it being “relatively” unimportant is key here. Does the member of clergy think that it is better to offer some kind of prayer to a couple, and thus keep them within the Church where the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can get at them through Word and Sacrament, or is it better to have them walk away from the Church entirely? That’s a pastoral judgement call, specific to individual cases (which are not likely to be quite as cut and dried as that). Much will no doubt depend on the way (if at all) that sexual and marital ethics are taught in that congregation.

                  As for a subtle fait accompli, I think that’s unfair. Looking at the situation on the ground, at least in many parish congregations, that horse has bolted. For the bishops merely to close the stable door would do no good. It seems to me that what they are trying to do is to coax the horse into returning – a near-impossible task, perhaps: work too hard and you scare it further, not hard enough and it never comes back.

                  The point of the facilitated discussions might be to decide whether it is worth getting the horse back; and if it is, how best to do that, if it isn’t, what to do with the stable.

                  • ‘It’s just that soon after a ceremony is the most likely time for them to ask.’

                    I don’t buy that. It assumes that these gay couples are uniformly new to church life. Admittedly, some gay couples will be. However, other laity who are gay might be regular churchgoers and accustomed to receiving prayer.

                    This is a pastoral response occasioned by and framed in response to a particular event: the same-sex wedding.

                    ‘Does the member of clergy think that it is better to offer some kind of prayer to a couple, and thus keep them within the Church where the transforming power of the Holy Spirit can get at them through Word and Sacrament, or is it better to have them walk away from the Church entirely?’

                    That’s a fair question. But we are commanded to pray for everyone and it would be redundant for the Bishops to simply declare that clergy should pray for everyone.

                    You can call it ‘some kind of prayer’ if you like, but authorising even informal prayer after an event by a public representative of the church is a bit different. This is permission by the church teaching against same-sex marriage for the representative of the church to officially mark and affirm the inauguration of a same-sex marriage without qualification.

                    The only conditions appear to be ‘don’t use the liturgy’ and ‘don’t use the church building’.

                    While some bishops may advise that an informal home setting is most appropriate, the truth is that clergy in favour of same-sex will press the letter of the guidance to deliver a set of unprescribed prayers, perhaps, even in a Quaker church to bolster the Christian credentials that they think the event deserve.

                    If I was asked, I’d pray with a gay couple at the drop of a hat. Nevertheless, I’d prefer fro it to arise from a relationship of basic trust with them and I’d be diplomatic enough to avoid mentioning in prayer anything to do with their sexuality.

                    But neither would I use words designed to invoke God’s help in strengthening and affirming a sexual bond that (at least according to apostolic tradition, scripture and church teaching) disrupts our fellowship with God.
                    BTW, it would be the same behaviour towards a co-habiting heterosexual couple in the UK, a polygamous family from Nigeria, or an incestuous married cousins from Florida.

                    • I totally agree that “chop and choose” is a bad way to proceed, but given where we are on divorce and many other things, that is increasingly hard to insist upon.

                      I take it that the bishops do not intend that the prayer offered ought to “officially mark and affirm the inauguration of a same sex marriage without qualification.” The refusal to permit a liturgy is already a clear sign that there is qualification to the acceptance of same sex relationships. Indeed, there are clergy so much in favour of same sex marriage that they will perform public liturgies. I suspect that any clergy not willing to do a public liturgy would also not be willing to pray in such a way as to “officially mark” or “affirm.” It is surely the former group that the bishops wish to keep a lid on. The indications are that they won’t succeed.

                    • Thanks again for your refreshing honesty in discussion. In the midst of this masquerade, you could have simply defended the bishop’s guidance. No doubt Anglican Mainstream will rant on, while others will know what’s best for them and fall silent.

                      The Episcopal Church had the same idea of trying to get the horse back. They spent so much time coaxing back one horse that they forgot those leaving by the other doors.

                      I was a returning Snglican who hoped that the CofE would help me in structuring my life towards God and His Christ.

                      After four years, I’ve realised that there is a fundamental embedded readiness to compromise the hard sayings of the gospel. Or, at least, the tendency to do little more than discuss them philosophically as a basis for some sort of social advocacy.

                      Whatever the church is, there’s no point in thinking that the Holy Spirit in limited to the confines of its community. I would suggest that the Archbishop formally excise Romans 1 and several other texts that might fail to make the gay sexual bond welcome in church.

                      It will soon be time to leave.

                    • If people were a bit more honest, a lot less political, and willing to see that others in the debate are trying to be faithful Christians, this whole mess would be much easier to clear up.

                      I’m very sorry that you think it might soon be time to leave. The Church has a very long history of struggling with hard sayings (most scholars think that Matthew’s allowing divorce on grounds of “porneia” (5.32; 19.9) is just one such case). But somehow, inexplicably apart from the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church is still here.

                      Please stay, and pray, and discuss, and love your brothers and sisters (I’m quite sure you do all these things already). At the very least, wait until the facilitated discussions have had their two years. Who knows what the Lord has prepared for those who love Him?

  3. I also had a look at GS1557, Women Bishops in the Church of England, this is arguably one of the best reports developed by a House of Bishops Working Party.

    One key idea that they develop is reception:

    Reception is the name given to the process by which the corporate discernment of the will of God is finally brought to completion’

    First, it is used to describe the process of assimilation by means of which a development becomes part of the life of the Church. (p.102)

    When we hear a few more bishops interpreting HoB non-interference to mean encouragement, we will know that the process of assimilating same-sex marriage blessings into the life of the church is well under way.

    On the outside, we have a UK Supreme Court Justice, Lord Wilson of Cutworth telling the Medico-Legal Society of Northern Ireland: Then, for the next 1,500 years, Christian doctrine … cast an irrational opprobrium upon all sexual acts other than procreative ones. In my view, the malign effects of the doctrine leave a residue even today,” he said.

    “Far from destroying marriage, I think that to allow same-sex couples into it strengthens it; but in my view the most important benefit of same-sex marriage is the symbol that it holds to the heterosexual community … that each of the two types of intimate adult love is as valid as the other.

    On the inside, individual bishops use reception to throw the fight and then cover their tracks with Facilitated Conversations.

    Their nauseating euphemistic double-speak makes me retch!

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