East Barnet PCC writes to the Bishop of St Albans
Here is the full text of the letter mentioned in a news item in the Church Times today. That news item, North-London PCC votes against Bishops’ same-sex marriage guidance, is available only to subscribers.
To the Bishop of St Albans
from the Rector, Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council of East Barnet.
1. In partnership with our bishops, we are committed to upholding the Established ministry of the Church of England in this parish. We believe that the church exists for the benefit of all: people of all faiths and none.
2. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people, and others who do not identify as heterosexual, live in our parish, as they do in every parish in the land. [note 1] The Church of England’s bishops stand firmly against homophobia. [note 2] It is implicit, therefore, that the church exists for everyone, to enfold the lives of all into our parish communities and incorporate them into the Body of Christ, whatever their sexuality.
3. The ongoing prohibition upon the public blessing of same-sex couples implies that the church has reservations about those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. It suggests that the church does not cherish them so much as fully to embrace them. We believe this is at odds with the bishops’ firm rejection of homophobia.
4. The House of Bishops states “the proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute” and it wishes to see virtues of “genuine mutuality and fidelity” in all relationships “maximized in society.” [note 3] This implies that same-sex relationships can be positive and can contribute to the common good.
5. By limiting our ability publicly to bless and recognize God’s grace in same-sex relationships, the House of Bishops implies that the church does not view them as positive and does not wish to encourage them. We believe this contradicts the bishops’ desire to see the virtues of these relationships maximized in society.
6. If we cannot publicly recognize God’s grace in same-sex relationships, we do not believe we can fully incorporate people in these relationships, or those who might enter into these relationships, into the community of faith. We believe this is
dissonant with the mission of the church.
7. We urge the House of Bishops to adopt the Pilling Report’s recommendation that “a priest with the agreement of the relevantPCC should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same-sex relationship in a public service.” [note 4]
2 March 2014
1 2011-12 Integrated Household Survey, Office for National Statistics
2 “We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained. We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.” Statement from College of Bishops, 27 January 2014
3 House of Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance, 14 February 2014
4 The Pilling Report, Church House Publishing (2013), pp. 149
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 21 March 2014
This could well be the first of a number of Church of England parishes writing to their local Bishop in order to clarify what the recently issued pastoral communication from the House of bishops actually means.
In parishes like East Barnet, near the City of London, there must be a number of LGBT people who have been members of their local Anglican parish church, whose membership in recent years may have come under scrutiny, but who have been totally accepted by their parish priest and the majority of the parishioners. Such is the degree of acceptance that has been experienced by mainstream Christians in most Churches.
The double-speak of the Bishops of the Church of England – reinforced by the recent House of Bishops communication on this subject – has muddied the waters of what is rapidly becoming a farcical situation, not only to most church-going people, but also to the public at large.
The one-time hypocritical clergy-recruitment stance of avoidance of the topic of sexuality is, it would seem, shortly to be replaced by a negative view of anyone who happens to be homosexual who is conscientiously unable to affirm their celibate life-style in order to pass muster.
In the past, a candidate may have been able to conceal his homosexuality when presenting as a candidate for ordination, but if the ordaining bishop has deliberately asked the candidate about this and the candidate has admitted to being intrinsically gay, and has been accepted for training, he has probably been counselled to secrecy on the matter. with the strict instruction not to embarrass the Church.
In today’s world, where homosexuality is considered to be morally neutral – rather than a moral disorder – there has been a tendency to a more open and accommodating attitude towards gay clergy who, however, have now been advised that – though the Church is no longer homophobic, they are expected to refrain from other than a celibate life-style – even if living with a partner of the same gender. In fact, a promise of that situation may now be required of any new candidate for ordination.
This double-entendre – the profession of an acceptance of LGBTI people, while yet denying them their right to a monogamous, faithful, one-to-one relationship with a long-time same-sex partner (a right which is now guaranteed by the state, either in a Civil Partnership or equal Marriage) does seem to be a contradiction in terms. No wonder ordinary people in the pews will be asking their bishops to explain what the problems are.
The sooner the Church sheds its structured ambivalence towards people whose sexual-orientation is different from the binary ‘normal’, the sooner the mission of the Good News of God’s love for all God’s children can be resumed. Until this happens, there is a credibility deficit that needs to be addressed – and urgently, for the Church to be able to function properly.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand