+Chelmsford’s Diocesan Synod Address

I thought this address to Chelmsford’s Diocesan Synod was actually really good. First, on mission and evangelism +Stephen sounds like a Bishop who actually means and does what he says. Secondly, on human sexuality, he indicates the right kind of path forward.

Bishop Stephen CottrellOn the issue of human sexuality I want you to know that I am aware of and feel for the hurt that the House of Bishops letter has caused to some people, and that I fully support the facilitated conversations that will be set up later this year to help us respond and minister appropriately to gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

On the issue of gender the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has been able to agree that those who accept and those who cannot accept the oversight and ordained ministry of women are both faithful Anglicans. We do not have that sort of good disagreement on the issue of sexuality. That is surely why we need to talk about it. Since the publication of the House of Bishops Pastoral Letter on same sex marriages, I have received a lot of mail. Some hurt and angry. Others relieved that traditional teaching is upheld. However, that letter begins by making it clear that LGBT people are welcome in the church and welcome in the ministry of the church. I want that to be known in our diocese. I want gay and lesbian Christians to know that I do believe there may be ways of enabling them to flourish in the church. I also want those who continue to hold to the traditional view to know that as far as I am concerned they are not homophobic. Indeed, this remains the position of the Church of England wherever we stand on this issue. Nothing in our doctrine or practice has changed. However, to the eyes of the society in which we serve we look homophobic, and this should cause us all concern.

But most of all I want it to be known that I believe we need an honest conversation. And we need it for the sake of the gospel.

The context in which we minster has changed. We need to rise and meet the challenge that this culture poses, not least from sisters and brothers within our own community. The outcome of the facilitated conversations is not, therefore, already decided. Far from it. But the agenda is set. There are real and substantial theological and pastoral discussions ahead of us. Faithful gay and lesbian Christians are often forced to live a lie within the church they serve so well. This grieves me. It can’t be right. At the same time, faithful followers of Christian tradition feel as if the carpet of the faith is being pulled out from under them. This grieves me too. I want us to have an open conversation where we can be honest with one another, and hear more clearly whatever it is that the Spirit may be saying to the church.

Of course this will be difficult. Of course it will be painful. Of course we have to take heed of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Anglican Communion. I go to Kenya next week. So I am very well aware of this. But behind the presenting issues of gender and sexuality there are other vital questions which will form the agenda for these facilitated conversations. What sort of church does God want us to be? One where we all agree? Or one with diversity and difference? And if so, what are the boundaries of legitimate disagreement? And how can we live with diversity? And what does it mean to be made in the image of God and yet made with such variety and difference?

We find ourselves standing where our forebears have stood before, taking the gospel into the uncharted territory of post-modern, post Christendom, 21st century culture. There are things to embrace and there are things to resist. The gospel will stay unashamedly and determinedly the same. But as we open ourselves to this missionary challenge I believe we will discover, within this unchanging gospel, new depths and new insights; and speaking it in the strange tongue of this culture, hear it as if for the first time.

1 Comment on “+Chelmsford’s Diocesan Synod Address

  1. The problem with Bishop Stephen, and I say this as someone in Chelmsford diocese, is that I am not wholly convinced that he is consistent in what he says and does.
    Granted, he has been fantastic at challenging every church in the diocese to take part in a mission project to celebrate the centenary of the diocese, and he is certainly a very enthusiastic person generally. However, in conversations I have had with him he has said things that do not hold together.
    The issue we discussed was communion and the idea of whether youth workers (like me) could do communion with our young people. Bishop Stephen said no, with his reasoning being that the Church has a tradition that it is the priest that does it and we should adhere to that tradition. Yet he is pretty open about his views on sexuality and women priests/bishops.
    Why is this a problem? Because the Church has a tradition that homosexual practice is wrong and that women priests and bishops is wrong. And yet in these 2 instances he ignores the tradition.
    And the big problem, for me at least, is that of the 3 traditions the 2 that he wants to drop are able to be argued from the Bible and the one he wants to keep is not. Granted, women priests/bishops is also able to be argued for by the Bible (which I happily do when the argument arises) but there are still verses that can be used against it. But on the issue of sexuality the Bible is consistent.
    Now I must be clear, I am not saying that Bishop Stephen is definitely going to go against what he has said. However, based on what I have laid out above, I am unable to be certain that he won’t go against it. His reasoning appears inconsistent (something I would happily say to him if the proper context for such a conversation arose) in how he takes a position, which does worry me in a time where tradition is being rewritten, very often with no reference to the Bible.

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