A statement from the Rev Gary Owen in response to the Church of England bishop’s statement and draft prayers of love and faith.
The bishops of the Church of England have stated that they “joyfully affirm, and want to acknowledge in church, stable, committed relationships between two people – including same-sex relationships. To enable this to happen bishops plan to commend a resource under the heading Prayers of Love and Faith.” This statement has been welcomed by general synod (the Church of England parliament). The bishops are now refining their draft Prayers of Love and Faith and creating pastoral guidance for their use. They will bring these back to synod for comment (possibly in July but possibly later), although they do not require synod’s approval to commend their prayers and teaching to the church.
The bishops’ statement is clear that they do not intend to change the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage, that the prayers they are offering are to ask God’s blessing on couples, not pronounce a blessing on a relationship, and that no minister will be required to use them.
The bishops “acknowledge[e] their continued disagreement about same-sex relationships”, but “They express their shared desire to find a way of walking together in Christ, and are united in expressing their grief and apologising for the way that many LGBTQI+ people have been treated by the Church, causing pain and harm.”
A small number of bishops voted against welcoming their own statement and prayers at synod.
At present, nothing has changed in terms of doctrine, liturgy or practice in the Church of England. We must wait and see what the bishops bring back to synod in terms of prayers and pastoral guidance. What has changed is that a massive rift has opened up within the Church of England and the Anglican communion. Many archbishops from the two thirds majority world have declared that they now no longer recognise the Archbishop of Canterbury as the leader of the Anglican communion or the Church of England as their “mother church”.
As the ministry team in the Two Rivers Mission Community, we have shared our thoughts and feelings about the bishops’ statement and prayers. Like the bishops, we hold very different views. However, I feel that as the team rector and incumbent of our churches I should make my views known.
Scripture and Church of England doctrine is clear. The only holy context for sexual relationships is within heterosexual marriage. This is what the church has almost universally believed in all times and all places for the last 2000 years and continues to be the conviction of the majority of Christians around the world. The church should be a place where all are welcomed and loved, and where all are encouraged and supported to live their lives in faithfulness to the scriptures which reveal the perfect and life-giving will of God. For this reason, I must dissociate myself from the bishops’ statement and prayers.
When we have seen the bishops’ final prayers and guidance, we will need to decide how we respond as a mission community. In the meantime, you are welcome to talk to me or other members of the ministry team.