Many of us were conscious of being prayed for as we participated in last week’s General Synod. It was a full agenda which included a crucial debate on the Report by the House of Bishops on sexuality. This debate hit the headlines and you will no doubt have read some of the comments.
Our thoughts and process were initially guided by the Bishops of Norwich & Willesden. Both offered us helpful perspectives, particularly on the historical development of the Church of England’s explorations of this matter over the recent decades (Presentations from the Bishop of Norwich and the Bishop of Willesden). Both Bishops expressed regret that the Report may have caused pain or confusion, as do I.
The debate itself was given extra time following an opportunity for Bishops to listen, in small groups, to responses to the Report. I was grateful to hear from others as we explored case studies and then shared views.
The debate lasted for just over two hours and involved a wide range of participants. Some shared strong opinions and some risked sharing personal stories and deeply held views. When it came to the vote there was an overall majority in support of the ‘take note’ motion, but the vote was taken by Houses and there was no majority in the House of Clergy, so it was not carried. However, as was made clear when the Report was originally published, the debate was on a neutral motion, meaning the Church’s current teaching remains unchanged.
Following Synod, the Archbishops issued a letter explaining what would now happen (Letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York following General Synod). Over the coming weeks we shall be following up on the practical proposals in this letter, including the Diocesan Bishops meeting with Synod reps.
Our discussions about sexuality raise deep questions about our faith, especially our identity as human beings recreated in God’s image, through Christ. The process set out by the Archbishops will take time, and require patience with each other to discern how we can proclaim afresh within our culture what is uniquely revealed in the Scriptures. In our pastoral care and mission engagement we need to be properly confident in our Christian teaching, whilst listening to and learning from our personal stories.
I pray that, as we go forward, we will be able to respect each other, acknowledge our deep differences, and explore how we can cooperate with each other. I pray that God will give us grace and generosity to do that. Above all, let us pray for that unity which is a gift from God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
With my love and prayers,