Dear Archbishops Justin and Sentamu,
Bishop of Maidstone’s letter about the Lichfield Ad Clerum
Bishop Rod Thomas has written to the Bishop of Lichfield and the Lichfield college of bishops about their Ad Clerum on ‘Welcoming and honouring LGBT+ People’ in the Diocese.
Bishop Rod outlines concerns arising from the Ad Clerum. He refers to Canon B30 and the 1987 General Synod motion which speaks of the need for all sexual relationships outside marriage to be met with a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion. It is repentance that most concerns him.
He focuses on the question of participation in the Sacraments. The Lichfield letter mentions the need to let all people know that there is a place at the table for them. Bishop Rod wonders whether the reference to ‘a place at the table’ for all might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion, creating a tension with the BCP Article 25 distinction between ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ participation. Many churches draw attention to this distinction leaving it up to the individual members of the congregation to decide on their participation. He hopes this is an approach which avoids inappropriate ‘exclusion’ or intrusive questioning, indicating that there can be circumstances in which exclusion or intrusive question can be appropriate. This might lead to a decision not to participate in Holy Communion for the time being. He also refers to potential enthusiasm for further discipleship development as has often been the case in his own experience with heterosexual couples enquiring about the baptism of their children. He introduces the possibility that same-sex couples might need to be questioned about their eligibility in bringing a child to be baptised.
In coded language and nuanced phrases Bishop Rod is subtly outlining a practice that is in direct contravention of the House of Bishops Guidance on Same Sex Marriage issued in February 2014. . Sections 15 to 18 outline the guidance relating to access to the sacraments and pastoral care for people in same sex marriages.
Paragraph 15 refers to Issues in Human Sexuality in which the House affirmed that the Church of England should not exclude from its fellowship those lay people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and who, instead, chose to enter into a faithful, committed sexually active relationship. Paragraph 16 develops this guidance and says that lay people who had registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and holy communion. It makes no distinction between ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ participation. Paragraph 17 notes that the clergy could not lawfully refuse to baptize children on account of the family structure or lifestyle of those caring for them, so long as they and the godparents were willing to make the requisite baptismal promises following a period of instruction. Paragraph 18 says that same sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle. Neither they nor any children they care for should be denied access to the sacraments.
In his letter to the Bishop of Lichfield, the Bishop of Maidstone is outlining advice to his clergy that directly contravenes the teaching agreed by the House of Bishops and outlined in the Guidance on Same Sex Marriage.
Lesbian and gay couples, whether married or in a civil partnership, are unlikely to be aware of the House of Bishops Guidance. Responsibility for ensuring that the House of Bishops Guidance is followed by every bishop lies with you, the Archbishops, and with the members of the House of Bishops. I would like to know what action you will take to ensure that the Bishop of Maidstone is made fully aware of the contents of the House of Bishops Guidance and will in his practice of episcopal ministry ensure that the Guidance is followed.
Many LGBTI people continue to experience rejection when they are treated with anything less than an unconditional welcome by the Church in the name of God whose unconditional love for creation was exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus the Christ.
With very best wishes,
Reverend Colin Coward MBE