by Madeleine Davies and Tim Wyatt
CHURCH TIMES – Posted: 15 Sep 2016 @ 14:30
THE next stage of the Church of England’s debate on same-sex relations will be in the hands of a “Bishops’ reflection group on sexuality”, it was announced on Thursday.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting of the College of Bishops said that the Archbishops had “invited some bishops to take forward work on sexuality to assist the episcopal discernment process”.
The group of ten bishops will be chaired by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, and includes three women: the Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane; the Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally; and the Church’s newest bishop, the Bishop of Dorking, the Rt Revd Jo Wells, who took up her position this week.
The group also contains a traditionalist, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall, and a conservative Evangelical, the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas.
The terms of reference of the group were published on Friday. They include assisting the C of E’s bishops in their reflection on sexuality following the Shared Conversations, which began in 2014 and concluded at the General Synod in July (News, 11 March, 12 July).
The brief statement about the group’s tasks includes coming up with questions for the House of Bishops on sexuality, especially same-sex relationships — and to formulate possible answers to these questions.
When the House next convenes in November to consider issues around sexuality, they will use material created by the reflection group.
Finally, the terms of reference state that the group must also “consider any matter which the Archbishops request that the group should have on its agenda”.
As for timing, the earlier statement said that the “new process of episcopal discernment” will continue during the House’s next meetings in November and December, and then the subject will return to the College of Bishops in January.
The ten bishops will be supported by a number of high-profile officials from the Church, including William Nye, the secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council and General Synod; Canon David Porter, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chief of staff; and the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, the director of mission and public affairs at Church House.
The full membership of the reflection group is:
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James (Chair)
The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent (Vice-Chair)
The Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft
The Bishop of Ebbsfleet, the Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall
The Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson
The Bishop of Stockport, the Rt Revd Libby Lane
The Bishop of Crediton, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally
The Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley
The Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas
The Bishop of Dorking the Rt Revd Jo Wells
“As is the usual pattern of meetings of the College every third year the College of Bishops are joined for part of their meeting by bishops from the Scottish Episcopal Church, Church of Ireland and Church in Wales. Representatives from each of the sister churches made presentations to the college and engaged fully in discussions during the first days of the meeting.
A wide-ranging agenda included presentations and discussions on safeguarding, the Renewal and Reform programme, the post-Brexit political landscape, clergywomen in leadership, clergy well-being and issues of sexuality.
“Discussions on issues of sexuality took place as part of a new process of episcopal discernment which will continue during the meetings of the House of Bishops in November and December of this year and in January next year at the next meeting of the College of Bishops. These discussions were undertaken by the College of Bishops alone.
Whilst the process of episcopal discernment is in the public domain the Bishops agreed that the contents of their discussion should not be shared in public during the process so as to enable those discussions to be conducted freely and in a spirit of full collegiality. Consequently the contents of the conversations will remain private and participants have agreed not to comment on the contents of the discussions beyond their own views.
Following the conclusion of the Shared Conversations process the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have invited some bishops to take forward work on sexuality to assist the episcopal discernment process. The Bishops’ Reflection Group on Sexuality will be chaired by Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich. The full membership of the group and its terms of reference will be published in due course.”
Terms of Reference
- To assist the Bishops of the Church of England in their reflection on issues relating to human sexuality, in the light of theological, biblical, ecumenical, Anglican Communion, pastoral, missiological, historical and societal considerations bearing on these issues, and following experiences of the shared conversations held around the Church between 2014 and 2016.
- To assist the House of Bishops in identifying questions in relation to human sexuality, with particular reference to same-sex relationships. It will also develop possible answers to those questions for the House to consider, as a contribution to the leadership which the House provides to the Church on such issues.
- To provide material to assist the House of Bishops in its reflections in November 2016, and subsequently as requested, and to assist the House in its development of any statements on these matters which it may provide to the wider Church.
- To consider any matter which the Archbishops request that the group should have on its agenda.
It’s easy to see that there is no such thing as ‘proportional representation’ in the Church of Englands’s ‘think-tanks’ – at least, not as far as the furthering of conversations about the inclusion of LGBTI people goes. Interestingly, while there were women clergy co-opted into meetings of the House of Bishops prior to the recent Women Bishops legislation, there has been no such inclusion of gay bishops into this group appointed to sort out the ‘problem’ of Gays in the Church.
Despite the much-trumpeted ‘Conversation on Human Sexuality’ – which included voices from the actual minority of Church people involved as the subject of discussion on the grounds of whether, or not, they are welcome in the Church – the expected follow-up conversation in the House of Bishops will be hindered by the fact that the number(10) of bishops who have been chosen by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to form an advisory group to the H.o.B. does not include (at least knowingly) one single Gay Bishop.
Surely, as the Archbishops already are aware of one Out-Gay Bishop (+ Bishop Nicholas of Grantham, whose sexual orientation and live-in partnership was actually known to them before his recent episcopal ordination), it would have afforded more of a balance to the further ‘conversation’ to at least have included this one bishop within its circle?
However, it would seem that outward appearance (like that of exclusive heterosexuality of serving clergy in the Church) is more important than the reality of the fact that there are serving gay clergy and bishops in the Church of England who, for employment reasons alone, are loth to make public their sexual orientation. If only the archbishops – having already announced that it is not wrong to be intrinsically gay – there might be more clergy and even bishops who would ‘come out of the closet’ and help resolve the current dilemma.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand