A month ago, this blog described the “travelator” running through the Church of England. The post described how the strategy of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “Strategy Consultant”, David Porter works, so that the process is the outcome by:
Setting the parameters of the conversation.
Defining the relationships.
Controlling the flow of information.
Controlling who is “in the room”.
Keeping the decision in the future until it is in the past.
On Monday, the press release on behalf of the House of Bishops outlined the progression of the travelator for at least the next two years, but probably a lot longer.
After the meeting of General Synod in November, during which, presumably, issues around the proposed Pastoral Guidance and Reassurance will be further aired, the Prayers of Love and Faith will be commended by the bishops for immediate use.
Then the travelator just rolls on - the future parameters of the conversation will be limited to the guidance and moving on to a synodical vote on "standalone services" in a form that will be hard to amend. The travelator will become somewhat more crowded for a time as diocesan synods are “consulted,” using whatever information is available to them, while smaller central groups develop the guidance, all with a view to a vote in Synod to approve, “standalone services” in 2025.
Whether the services are passed or not won't overly concern the bishops. The vote is, in truth, something of what is known in cricket as a “free hit”. If, perhaps amidst great pressure on the House of Laity from the diocesan synods and possibly some small changes in the composition of the House, the liturgy is passed, it is “job done”. Then the travelator can move on into the next quinquennium with an attempt to introduce same-sex marriage itself.
If the laity can block the vote’s passage, there will be nowhere to hide in the Synod elections of 2026. It won’t be possible to be “quietly” orthodox - the votes of candidates standing for re-election will be on the record and “clean skins” will either have to to reveal their views or accept being presumed to be conservative. Pressure for there to be greater “transparency” in election addresses would be no surprise. And, of course by 2026 churches that do not use the Prayers will be identifiable. Progressive candidates will trumpet their attendance at such churches and campaigners will “out” those from churches who have rejected the innovation, much as had happened recently, albeit in much greater detail, in Oxford. Some orthodox candidates will, of course, have simply had enough - of Synodical politics, if not the Church itself, or fear the personal consequences of making themselves targets.
All the time the number of the faithful who might sit on deanery synod and be part of the electorate for General Synod will be dwindling - dismayed at the machinations of the House of Bishops and, quite possibly, walking away from the Church of England altogether.
If the elections result in there being no “blocking minority” after 2026, those in Synod will have the option of re-introducing (something very like) the existing proposals or proceeding straight to Same-Sex Marriage.
But again, whether the elections are “won” or “lost” is not of great consequence because the supposedly future decision is already in the past - after many years of much the same happening covertly - the commended prayers will have been in formal use for nearly two years by the time of the 2025 vote and every year that goes by thereafter will simply embed and normalise the position. The option of experimental liturgy during a process of reception was rejected in favour of this permanent change.
Liberals are already designing services using the prayers which they gleefully explain will be all but indistinguishable from “stand alone” services because they have been practicing for this development for years. Look out for a rash of parishes starting up Saturday afternoon eucharists. Then if it "so happens" that couples recognise this new service as the ideal opportunity to ask for Prayers of Love and Faith to be used to bless them, and if they were to invite all their friends and family to join them, and if they asked that in return for the welcome they are receiving in the church that they might provide the flower arrangements for that week, it is hard to see in practice what difference the ‘special stand-alone service’ will make in practice.
There is essentially no way of reversing the ever greater establishing of the “facts on the ground” without an unimaginable change in the composition and mind of the House of Bishops. The orthodox have “lost” the argument against the blessing of sin and they have lost the argument for the retention of “Issues in Human Sexuality”. Those defeats and the “red lines” that, for some, went with them are now in the rearview mirror.
The travelator is not going to be, indeed cannot be diverted or derailed. Exactly who is on it, doing what and at what speed will vary but what the process has already achieved, and will eventually be achieved, is already determined. Even those bravely facing the public shame of running as fast as they can in the opposite direction are in fact being swept along by the process.
Some are clinging to the handrails in the hope that, however unlikely it might be, a secular court will challenge the Bishops’ leadership of an episcopal church, and hit the emergency stop button, but to rejoice in that would be very odd and, anyway, all the time there are those facts on the ground.
Some years ago a senior Conservative Evangelical clergyman was briefed by a delegation from the Anglican Church in North America on how The Episcopal Church of the USA had been moved to a revisionist position on matters of sexuality and human identity. The clergyman listened, more or less patiently and politely, before leaving with the words, “well yes, but we are not Americans, it won’t be like that here”.
JFK and Heathrow are indeed very different in appearance, culture and operation, but the travelators are strikingly similar.
With thanks to Bryan Low at Unsplash for the image
Anglican Futures offers practical and pastoral support to faithful Anglicans
If you would like to hear more:
subscribe to our regular emails