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Responses to the 'Pastoral Letter' of January 2020

 

After the release of the 'Pastoral Letter' of January 2020, ostensibly from the Bishops, but seemingly without clear notification to most bishops, large numbers of people inside and outside the Church were shocked and dismayed - some by its tone, some by its timing, and many by its content, which appeared to entrench the conservative theological position at a time when the Church had committed to listening and reflecting, while 'Living in Love and Faith' ran its course. In doing so, the Statement seemed to pre-empt the LLF process. Most seriously, the Statement caused harm to local mission and outreach, alienating many people, and hurt and distress to many people in sincere and devoted, healthy intimate relationships, which seemed relegated and theologically vilified as sinful.

Because the Statement seemed so crass to many in its execution, when an Open Letter in response to the Archbishops was launched (nb: it has no connection to this website), it attracted an immediate and very significant number of people - many of them holding positions of significance and years of service within the Church. The Statement did not seem to emanate from the kind of Church they believed in. Nor did it acknowledge and recognise the de facto reality that the Church of England is divided down the middle on issues concerning human sexuality and relationships.

Over 3700 people have signed the Open Letter. This includes:

Over 1000 Church of England Clergy (about 100 of them retired)

Around 100 Readers and Licensed Lay Ministers

More than 75 Ordinands

Bishops (including serving and former Bishops): Rt. Rev. Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham. Rt. Rev. Humphrey Southern, formerly Bishop of Repton, and now Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon. Rt. Rev. Tim Ellis, formerly Bishop of Grantham, currently serving as an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Sheffield. Rt. Rev. Laurie Green, formerly Bishop of Bradwell, and is Bishop Visitor to the Benedictine Community at Malling Abbey. Rt. Rev. Stephen Lowe, formerly Bishop of Hulme, and then Honorary Assistant Bishop in St Asaph. Rt. Rev. David Gillett, formerly Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, and Bishop of Bolton, currently serving as Honorary Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Norwich. Rt. Rev. Peter Selby, formerly Bishop of Worcester, and currently Honorary Assistant Bishop, diocese of Southwark. Rt. Rev. David Stancliffe, formerly Bishop of Salisbury, currently Honorary Assistant Bishop, diocese of Durham. Rt Revd Peter Maurice, retired Bishop of Taunton.

Deans, including: Very Rev. Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans. Very Rev. Michael Tavinor, Dean of Hereford. Very Rev. David Monteith, Dean of Leicester. Very Rev. Joseph Hawes, Dean of St. Edmundsbury. Very Rev. Mark Bonney, Dean of Ely. Very Rev.Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford. Very Revd Dr Rogers Govender, the Dean of Manchester. Very Rev. Peter Atkinson, Dean of Worcester. Very Rev. Dr Sue Jones, Dean of Liverpool. Very Rev. Dr John Davies, Dean of Wells. Very Rev. Andrew Nunn, Dean of Southwark. Very Rev. Jo Delfgou, Dean. Very Rev. Dianna Gwilliams, Dean of Guildford. Very Rev. Dr Tim Stratford, Dean of Chester. Very Rev. Roger Bush, Dean of Truro. Very Rev. Dr Anthony Cane, Dean of Portsmouth.

Over 20 Professors, including: Professor Mark Higton, Professor of Theology and Ministry, Durham University. Professor Adrian Thatcher, Visiting Professor, Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter. Canon Professor Mark Chapman, Professor of the History of Modern Theology, and Vice-Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon. Professor Helen King, Emeritus Professor of Classical Studies, at the Open University. Rev. Professor Sir Bernard Silverman, Statistics Department and Council Member, Oxford University and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Home Office. Rev Diarmid MacCulloch, Emeritus Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford. Rev Canon Professor Sarah Foot, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Oxford. Professor Robert Song, Professor of Theological Ethics, Durham University.

Some other Signatories: Rev. Naomi Nixon, CEO designate of SCM, the Student Christian Movement. Rt. Hon. Ben Bradshaw, MP, member of the Ecclesiastical Committee in Parliament. Rev. Canon Chris Newlands, Prolocutor of the Convocation of York, and member of the Archbishops’ Council. Ian Green, Chief Executive of the Terence Higgins Trust. Ruth Wilde, National Co-ordinator of Inclusive Church.

 

News media reported the whole debacle, for example Harriet Sherwood in 'The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/27/laughing-stock-letter-from-clergy-attacks-c-of-es-guidance-on-sex

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jan/28/church-of-england-sex-guidance-unnecessary-pain-bishops

 

Acting, serving Bishops were also speaking out, with hardly disguised criticism: in some cases not disguised at all. In an ad clerum today Oxford bishops apologised for distress caused by the statement, saying it had caused “consternation” for them and that they hoped something “more fitting” would emerge from discussions at the College of Bishops this week. They also referred back to their 2018 Oxford pastoral letter “clothe yourselves with love”.

David Court, acting Bishop of Lincoln, and Nicholas Chamberlain, Bishop of Grantham sent out an Ad Clerum, expressing their unhappiness: “We hear, understand and share the concern that has been expressed relating to the Statement’s timing and tone. We both believe that the Statement as it stands has significant pastoral and missiological implications which clearly undermine the work of the Church today. We will bring all these concerns to the meeting of the College of Bishops in London from 29th -30th January."

Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, is reported to have endorsed a Statement issued from Southwark Cathedral, which stated: "It was with sadness that we read the recently published statement from the House of Bishops... we want to support and encourage people who are entering loving, faithful and stable relationships of all kinds and joyfully celebrate their love for one another. We will continue to offer a pastoral and liturgical response to those from our community who ask for the opportunity to come to church around the time of their Civil Partnership or Marriage and, whilst keeping within the bishops’ guidelines, will always make a generous response... Southwark Cathedral will continue to remain as a beacon of light and hope for all who feel excluded by the church."

Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester: "I was deeply frustrated and saddened in the way that the House of Bishops statement re civil partnerships was published on Thursday. I recognise that it has fanned into flame unnecessary pain and distress and I wish to acknowledge my part in that...For me, the publication of the statement in cold isolation from anything else, on a seemingly random day and lacking any pastoral ‘surround’ or mention of the Living in Love and Faith’ process, has been perplexing and upsetting. This is even more so as it has been released just days before the College of Bishops convene once more to focus on ‘Living in Love and Faith’ as we stand in the present looking to both the past and the future."

Christine Hardman, Bishop of Newcastle: "I agree with everything the Bishop of Gloucester has written. Thank you + Rachel."

Vivienne Faull, Bishop of Bristol: "I support all that +Rachel has said here and am grateful she has said it."

Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield: "Very helpful comment and context from the Bishop of Gloucester."

John Inge, Bishop of Worcester: "I echo what Bishop Rachel says."

Jan McFarlane, Bishop of Repton also re-iterated support for Rachel Treweek's criticism.

Jackie Searle, Bishop of Crediton, supported Rachel Treweek's comments as well.

John Thomson, Bishop of Selby, writing about the 'Pastoral Statement' said: “Statement it was. Pastoral it was not. As a suffragan I didn’t even know it was to be published. Wrong tone and poor timing.”

Olivia Graham, Bishop of Reading (consecrated 5 weeks ago): “As CofE’s newest bishop I was deeply saddened by the unpastoral tone of HoB statement on civil partnerships. Cold. Legalistic. Loveless. Astonishing timing – mid LLF discussions. Please know that bishops are not of a mind on this.”

Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich: “I’m frustrated by the process which led to the publication of a House of Bishops Statement on civil partnerships, not least because it was deemed business and not discussed and debated by the House. But more, I’m deeply saddened by the hurt it has caused.” .

Peter Hancock, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Ruth Worsley, Bishop of Taunton: "We are very acutely aware that the release of the statement from the House of Bishops last week has caused a great deal of hurt and pain. We are deeply sorry for this. This week sees us meeting as a College of Bishops to consider further work on Living in Love and Faith, which is exploring ways to help the Church respond to issues of human sexuality. Releasing a statement without any of the context provided by those discussions was not only unhelpful, but hurtful to all those affected by the deeply human issues raised in these conversations."

Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, provided the link to the strongly-worded Open Letter, so that people could sign the letter if they wanted to.

David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, and Rob Wickham, Bishop of Edmonton, also circulated Rachel Treweek's message.

Another highly-supported letter to the Archbishops:

Simon Butler and Chris Newlands, the prolocutors of Canterbury and York respectively in the General Synod, have made public the letter they have written to the archbishops. The full text of this is available here (pdf). This letter has attracted wide support for its balance and thoughtful critique.

I find these words of Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, written in a different context apposite and strong: “…be warmly angry, be hot with anger, but do not boil away. Be warmly angry, but do not boil away. Feel what you feel, and turn the feeling to strength. Don’t mourn, organise. Let the person you are in God speak out, so that your own desires and your own anger become the engine for a just world.”

 

 

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website and author: Susannah Clark

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