Living in Love and Faith

19th January 2023

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
 
The response to the report, Listening in Love and Faith, from the Bishops of the Church of England about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage has now been published and the papers and draft resources for the forthcoming General Synod are publicly available.
 
Amongst the papers and resources published is an important letter from the Bishops to the wider church and I commend this to you. My own reflections here are to be read in conjunction with this Bishops letter.
 
The process in which all bishops have engaged has been a deep, rich and at times costly one, in which we have travelled together with honesty, openness, prayer and study of the scriptures.  I myself warmly welcome the proposals being set out, which include asking the House of Bishops to commend a suite of prayers to enable the affirmation and celebration of faithful same sex relationships. Prayers of Love and Faith are intended as “a sign of joy and thanksgiving for couples who have entered a civil partnership or marriage, a new stage in their relationship, or wish to form a covenanted friendship. They will be a celebration of God’s faithfulness and of the gift of human love”.
 
The draft Prayers of Love and Faith are now available to read and in February the mind of CofE General Synod will be sought on these drafts before going back to the House of Bishops for any further refinement. They include a range of resources enabling prayers of thanksgiving, dedication, and, or prayers for God’s blessing to be chosen flexibly for use within a public celebration in church. It is important to stress that these are available to be used according to conscience and theological conviction.  
 
The bishops appreciate this does not go far enough for some who will be disappointed that there is not a consensus about changing the doctrine of Holy Matrimony as the church has traditionally received it as being between a man and a woman. We also understand that for others the provision goes too far. Expressed in the Bishops letter is the desire to hold and respect the diversity of views to be found in the church about same-sex relationships. I urge you to read the full published Bishops Letter of response which reflects the positive view of the overwhelming majority of bishops about the current offering, understood as a significant milestone on the journey, where there is more work to do. 
 
I am united with my fellow bishops in our desire that all LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters should know themselves fully welcomed and valued in the life of the church. The Bishops letter contains an apology for “the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love …. the occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches….We have not loved you as God Loves you, and that is profoundly wrong”.  
 
The document “Issues in Human Sexuality” (pub.1991) has been rescinded and the provision of new pastoral guidance is to be made, with a Pastoral Consultative Group to be quickly established.  There is also an acknowledgement of areas we will need to attend to and develop which have been key themes through the Living in Love and Faith process. 
 
I am fully aware of the diversity of views held with integrity here within the Church of England Birmingham. We have always been a diverse church in a diverse region, that is a joyful part of who we are. I thank all who have invested in the Living in Love and Faith resources and commend to you further exploration of this now internationally recognised resource, as well as continued reflection upon the Pastoral Principles, to aid our further journey together. Where that diversity is honoured and valued within the Body of Christ, we show to each other Christ’s welcome of us all. I want to express my strong desire and prayer that we will continue to journey together in our difference, and to express my commitment to valuing of all our parishes and worshiping communities, and respect for the different views held.
 
As the letter from the bishops concludes …. “our conversations, learning and prayer continue. We have reached a milestone, but there is further to go as we seek God’s coming kingdom together

This comes as ever with my grateful thanks for our partnership in the Gospel.
 

‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.’

1 John 4.16
 


The Rt. Revd Anne Hollinghurst
Bishop of Aston, Acting Bishop of Birmingham


 

 

The Bishops Letter and the draft resources, Prayers of Love and Faith, published ahead of the February meeting of General Synod, can be found with an accompanying article on the CofE Website,
https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/living-love-and-faith/bishops-response-living-love-and-faith