Ad clerum on Living in Love and Faith: November 23

Bishop Stephen wrote to all licensed clergy and lay ministers, following the General Synod meeting which approved trial use of standalone services for same sex couples, and prayers of living in love and faith.

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ 

Your General Synod representatives and I have just returned from three days of intense discussion and emotion at General Synod. I will say more on this shortly. But I want to start this letter to you all, as Archbishop Justin started Synod, with an appeal for Gaza. An appeal for prayer, for financial support and for an end to the bloodshed.  As Justin said: “I do not have military or political answers to this crisis. I do not speak from those perspectives. But the call for a ceasefire is a moral cry that we are hearing from people of many faiths and none. Our common humanity must find another way to achieve justice, security and peaceful co-existence for Israelis and Palestinians from now, for the future.  In Christ’s name, we cry out from our hearts: “No More. The killing must stop.” It is well worth reading his address in full. 

As we are soon to enter the season of Advent and prepare for Christmas – perhaps using the Bethlehem carol sheet produced by the charity Embrace the Middle East which supports Christians in Palestine and elsewhere - please do encourage your congregations to support the appeal for the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza. The hospital is owned and supported by the Episcopal diocese of Jerusalem and remains open to serve all Gazans, despite shelling and missile attacks. Medical staff are continuing to serve at huge personal risk to themselves. 

Apart from giving from a place of our own blessing, what can we do? We grieve, we lament and we pray for justice, hope, reconciliation and peace. For Gaza and Israel, but also the Sudans, Ukraine and so many other parts of the world in which we have become inured to conflict. 

Living in Love and Faith 

This week the General Synod met in London attended by your diocesan and Channel Island representatives. You may know by now that the Synod voted for an amended motion continuing the Living in Love and Faith process. The debate lasted over 24 hours over three days and was frank, faithful and courteous. The amended motion is provided here: 

‘That this Synod, conscious that the Church is not of one mind on the issues raised by Living in Love and Faith, that we are in a period of uncertainty, and that many in the Church on all sides are being deeply hurt at this time, recognise the progress made by the House of Bishops towards implementing the motion on Living in Love and Faith passed by this Synod in February 2023, as reported in GS 2328, encourage the House to continue its work of implementation, and ask the House to consider whether some standalone services for same-sex couples could be made available for use, possibly on a trial basis, on the timescale envisaged by the motion passed by the Synod in February 2023.  

As always with important matters, the outcome was received in prayerful silence, calling upon the Holy Spirit. The full range of deeply held convictions are represented in your General Synod members, and in the diocese. It is important now that we all move into a period of reflection and reception, as we rejoice or lament or simply continue in mission. As the Archbishop asked at the end of the Synod, I invite us all to pray for those with views different from our own, seeing one another made in the image of God. 

As your bishop, I do not see this as a credal issue, unity is a credal issue. I call us all to focus on the person of Jesus Christ, seeing one another as a gift to the church. 

I was moved by a newspaper letter this week by Bishop James Jones, formerly Bishop of Liverpool who said; “Sir, For Anglicans seeking common ground in the debate about sexuality, the role of conscience in interpreting the Bible might be relevant. The Anglican tradition respects conscience, especially when it comes to taking up arms. It embraces both pacifists and the military as this weekend’s Remembrance commemorations proved. If we can recognise conscience when it comes to the taking of life, perhaps we could also acknowledge the role of conscience when it comes to how and whom we love”. 

Your bishops are committed to unity, to mutual flourishing, to the respect of conscience and inclusion. Please be assured of our prayers for you as you read this and please pray for us. 

Finally, I’d like to turn back to some further words of Archbishop Justin, this time his response to the Rwanda judgement which was published yesterday.  I commend it here. In this diocese, through our clergy and congregations in Weymouth and Portland, we have been involved in welcoming and offering support to refugees on the Bibby Stockholm. Through the leadership of Canon Nick Clarke, which I know has come at some personal cost, the Church has advocated for both the refugees who have been sent there, against their wishes and hopes and dreams, and the unmet needs of the wider community. Local Christians have advocated for both with love and compassion, resisting the calls of division, the pull of an either/or response.  As we emerge from Synod and enter this Advent season, I pray we may treat each other with this same gentleness - supporting and advocating for each other, in the name of Christ whose mercy is infinite. 

With every blessing 

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