LGBT chaplaincy team planned by diocese in response to past ‘hurt and exclusion’
The Diocese of Oxford said the proposed group – based on similar ministries operating in Wales and elsewhere – would also support the relatives and beloved of LGBTI+ people. It comes after “many” requests for guidance on the issue.
In a letter, four local bishops said chaplains would be available to guide clergy and lay- readers, in light of past “hurt, exclusion and misunderstanding” that members of the LGBTI+ community have experienced within the Church.
The Bishop of Oxford Rt Rev Stephen Croft (pictured above), along with three suffragan – or junior – bishops also set out five principles to promote a climate of “inclusion and respect” across the diocese. They include welcoming “all people” into the church, banishing “intrusive questioning” about someone’s sexuality or experience of gender and ensuring people are not told their sexuality or gender difference reflects a lack of faith. Under the tenets, nobody should be excluded from taking part in Holy Communion because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and LGBTI+ people should not be excluded from positions of church leadership.
In their letter, which has been sent to 1,500 ministers across Oxford diocese, the bishops acknowledged leaders hold “different views” on matters concerning sexuality and transgenderism.
The Bishops of Oxford, Dorchester, Buckingham and Reading added: “In all of this, we ourselves and the chaplaincy team will continue to work within existing Bishop’s Guidelines on human sexuality in this next stage of the national process.”
They continued: “LGBTI+ Christians have always been, and remain, actively involved as clergy and laity in all areas of church life, and at all levels. How open and authentically themselves they may be in this is the issue at stake.
“We are conscious as bishops of the pain felt by many LGBTI+ people and their families in the midst of these continuing debates. As a Church, we have continually failed our sisters and brothers in Christ. We are concerned to listen well to LGBTI+ people from a variety of perspectives including both those seeking change in the Church of England’s polity and those seeking to live faithfully within it.”
Oxford Diocese in the Church of England became known for its call to Fr. Jeffrey John (now Dean of St.Albans Cathedral) to become Bishop of Reading (suffragan to the diocesan bishop). However, mostly overseas conservative provinces of the Anglican Communion threatened to leave the ACC if his appointment was taken up – forcing the then ABC – The Most Revd. Rowan Williams – to ask Jeffrey to relinquish his appointment. This proved to be a watershed moment in the C. of E. (and in the Anglican Communion) when the Primus-inter-pares – who was known to be personally accepting of gay-partnered clergy – was virtually forced to back down on Jeffrey’s appointment and in the process, to set back the hopes of the LGBT+ community in the Church.
After the recent House of Bishops Statement, which declared that sexual activity was only permitted by the Church of England within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage – a direct contravention of Civil Law in England – thus putting out of bounds any Blessing of heterosexual Civil Partnerships now sanctioned by British Law – let alone the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions, a policy that has already gained acceptance in other parts of the Anglican Communion. – including our Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
This radical communication from the C. of E. House of Bishops has caused great anguish for those in the Church, for instance, whose same-sex committed relationships have already become an accepted part of ordinary parish life – as a pastoral provision which many Anglicans approve of – though the GAFCON Provinces (who initially protested against J.J.’s appointment as Bishop of Reading) have already set themselves apart from the rest of us in the ACCC by forming their own separate ecclesial; community.
What comes across to ordinary people in the Church is the perceived hypocrisy of appearing to support stable two-person relationships while yet issuing a statement that denies such people the blessing of the Church. Outsiders of the Church are also sceptical!
My highlighting of two paragraphs in the above article demonstrates the willingness of the bishops of the Oxford Diocese (including the Ordinary)to go out on a limb for the LGBT+ people whose lives in the Church (we are led to believe in contradictory statements by the House of Bishops) are valued and pastorally supported. This double-mindedness of the C. of E. Bishops is rightly (in my view) being directly challenged now by the Oxford bishops – as may be expected of a diocese that long ago wanted a same-sex-partnered man to be a bishop in their part of the Church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand