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LLF - will it go to penalties?

Watching England playing in the Euros yesterday, was a reminder of the harsh reality of the penalty shoot-out. As one by one the chosen champions walk to the spot, the goalie takes their position, and the ball is placed, the tension builds and the result is immediate. Yet, at the same time, the nail-biting ritual offers a welcome relief from the unpredictable ebbs and flow of extra time.

At General Synod, the PLF/LLF (Prayers of Love and Faith/ Living in Love and Faith) process is stuck in extra-time. Everyone is exhausted, there are no new players to bring on, there is the occaisonal bad-tempered foul and a few breath-taking saves, but every time it looks like there will be a 'result' the referree adds on a few more minutes.

Yesterday, those who hadn't decamped to the bar to watch the football were offered a presentation, prior to Monday afternoon's actual debate. Bishop Martyn Snow, took to the stage and explained,"This is not the debate before the debate - it is so we all know what is and isn't being proposed." And to give him his due, his willingness to be honest means there is now greater clarity about most aspects of the work, including the ever-lengthening timeline. Standalone services are unlikely to be possible before July 2025 , with Synod members being warned a November Synod might be necessary, if agreement has not been found at that time.

The delay is an indication of the House of Bishops' commitment to the project and their willingness to work hard to do everything they can to ensure that all those who are prepared to agree to disagree about the blessings can flourish in a single, united Church.

There continue to be three interlocking streams of work and Synod received updates from some of the clergy involved in the Working Parties and from the lead bishop of each pathway.

Prayers of Love and Faith

The House of Bishops commended the Prayers of Love and Faith for use in regular services last year. That means that the 'principle' of whether such blessings should take place has now been 'decided'. That matter is in the rear-view mirror - as Bishop Martyn has said, "If prayers are commended, I don't really see a scenario where they are uncommended." Thus, the discernment process is not about whether or not same-sex couples should be blessed - but rather how well the liturgies and Pastoral Reassurance are working.

Bishop Martyn confirmed when answering a question raised by Bishop Martyn Beasley about whether standalone services would constitute a change in the doctrine of marriage:

"The House of Bishops has agreed that the Prayers of Love and Faith, as they stand, do not constitute a change in doctrine in any essential matter. Not everyone agreed with that in the House of Bishops - be very clear on that. There was a divergence of views, but nevertheless that was the considered view and the vote that was taken."

So, unless there is a legal challenge, the matter is settled. As GS2358 states:

"Only the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved, dealing with proceedings under the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963, can resolve that question in a way that would be legally binding."

The House of Bishops are realistic about the possibility of such a challenge, but warn, "The statutory procedure for dealing with such allegations is GS 2358 Page 10 of 31 quite complex and ultimately involves a trial before a court comprised of three bishops and two holders of high judicial office (i.e., judges of the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court). The likelihood of such proceedings being brought will likely be considerably lower if all concerned are content with the arrangements for Pastoral Reassurance outlined in this paper and, correspondingly, will likely be higher if that is not the case."

Thus, the reason for the delay in introducing the standalone services seems not to be due to any further concern about the lawfulness of the prayers themselves and more about seeking to ensure that the Pastoral Guidance and Pastoral Reassurance that goes alongside them are in place.

Pastoral Guidance

The main area of contention for those developing the Pastoral Guidance is whether or not clergy can enter into same-sex civil marriages.

Bishop Sam Corley argued that for some clergy being able to enter into a same-sex civil marriage, would be, "a theological necessity, in the sense that if clergy are praying prayers over other people and yet are unable to receive these prayers themselves - that for some would be theologically unjustifiable."

It is concerning that Bishop Sam cannot see the error in this thinking. The Prayers of Love and Faith are, by definition, a blessing of a couple not the relationship and as the 'Note on the Legal Position' [GS 2358 p31] states, "The PLF Resource Section does not treat those couples who have entered a same-sex civil marriage any differently from the way they treat a same-sex couple who are in a civil partnership or who have not acquired any formal civil status for their relationship". Clergy therefore do not have to enter into a same-sex civil marriage to enjoy the benefit of these prayers.

However, it is becoming apparent that allowing clergy to enter into civil same-sex marriages without rebuke is a priority for many of the bishops. As the Bishop of Oxford wrote to The Alliance:

"When this happens under the present disciplines, clergy are not subject to CDM procedures nor deprived of their living nor their license. The new proposal is simply to remove the requirement for such clergy to receive a formal rebuke and to be able to move to new roles (and therefore to enable ordinands in same sex marriages to be treated in an identical way)."

Bishop Martyn Snow, explained, "It does go back to the question of when does doctrine change and how do we decide on that. The further work we have asked FAOC to do on that and again the House of Bishops will have to come to a considered view as to whether clergy entering into same sex marriage represents a change of doctrine - or any other steps we may look at.... There may come a point when we have to look at a formal change of doctrine because that's what the majority on the House of Bishops want - but I'm clear we have not reached that point at the moment."

It's perhaps not surprising that Sandra Turner, a lay member from Chelmsford, described how she felt she was being asked to sign something of a 'blank cheque' as to the doctrinal direction of travel if she was to vote in favour of the motion on Monday. It is clear that there are still legal challenges ahead for the House of Bishops to overcome but there is a determination to overcome.

Pastoral Reassurance (or Provision)

This is the most controversial element of the way forward. Not only because of the complexity of providing for those with fundamentally opposing theological convictions but because the plan that the Working Group proposed to the House of Bishops for 'three spaces' was overturned.

Nevertheless, Bishop Martyn was quick to explain that the bishops have agreed in principle to offering some form of delegated episcopal ministry and called on Synod to recognise, "... how significant that is. As bishops, even to contemplate the thought of having to, in some sense, having to pass care over to others is huge - please don't take that lightly in any way at all."

As John Dunnett, the National Director of CEEC has said on numerous occasions, "delegated episcopal oversight is not enough," for those who cannot agree to disagree. During Questions, Rev Ian Paul, asked Bishop Martyn whether there was any hope for such people, given that the majority of bishops voted against Ed Shaw's amendment in February 24 which asked for that position to be recognised.

"I'm not sure that the House doesn't acknowledge the existence [of those who cannot agree to disagree]. I think it's it's a question rather more of an understanding, I guess, that there are people for whom this is very very deeply held in terms of the conviction.

But then a following question of what then do we do with that?

My desire is that such people should have a place within the Church of England, um, but inevitably if that's to be the case there will have to be some shift from an understanding that says, "We cannot simply agree to disagree". So that's what we're trying to do with the current motion, to create something which I hope will allow as many people as possible to stay within the Church of England uh if there are those who feel this really doesn't work then there's not a lot I can do about that."

Bishop Martyn Snow been a breath of fresh air in the LLF process - he appears to have been open and honest about what he is trying to achieve, what he can achieve and when there is little more that can be done.

On Monday afternoon at 2pm, the General Synod will debate the following motion:

‘That this Synod:

(a) support the overall proposal and timetable set out in GS 2358;

(b) request that the House of Bishops, with the advice of the LLF working groups:

i. revise the Pastoral Guidance to remove restrictions on the use of PLF in ‘standalone’ services alongside the introduction of an arrangement to register for Pastoral Reassurance;

ii. establish the basis for the provision of Pastoral Reassurance through a House of Bishops’ Statement and Code of Practice which provides for the delegation of some specific and defined episcopal ministry, and which is overseen by an Independent Review Panel;

iii. report to this Synod at its February 2025 group of sessions on the further theological work carried out under the auspices of the Faith and Order Commission around the nature of doctrine, particularly as it relates to the doctrine of marriage and the question of clergy in same-sex civil marriages.

(c) Agree that taken together the Pastoral Guidance, the Bishop’s Statement and Code of Practice for pastoral provision will replace Issues in Human Sexuality.

(d) Agree for the arrangements for Pastoral Reassurance to be regularly monitored over a period of at least three years before being formally reviewed by General Synod.’

It is not yet known whether there will be numerous amendments or whether the debate will be relatively straightforward. If, however, this motion passes tomorrow, then Synod will have agreed to the bishops' proposal that delegated episcopal ministry will be sufficient for those who do not wish to use the Prayers of Love and Faith.

Be assured that Anglican Futures will be providing regular updates during the debate on a separate blog, which you will find here https://www.anglicanfutures.org/blog and on the Anglican Futures Facebook page and X account.

Please pray for all involved in the decision making process.

 

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