Living in Love and Faith

First published 2nd February 2023

Living in Love and Faith:
Personal Reflections from Bishop Lee on the College of Bishops’ recommendations to General Synod.

I very much hope that you have had an opportunity to read Bishop Viv’s personal reflection on the Commendations which, after much thought and prayer as well as long discussion, the House of Bishops has prepared for consideration by General Synod.

In her thoughtful and temperate words our Diocesan Bishop, my friend and colleague, not only sets out her hope for this work, but also her conviction that in the course of time, the Church of England should offer not only prayers of Love and Faith to couples in same-sex unions, but marriage in a church service.

In her reflections, Bishop Viv also makes clear her recognition of the differences we have as followers of Jesus in what each of us may believe is in accordance with following Christ’s Way and the teachings of scripture. I am hugely grateful for her clarity and leadership among us.

What I would like to develop from what she has written is the emotional cost which our disagreements have had on so many of us in the Church, including bishops, and those looking to us from inside and outside the Church.
In the reflection I initially prepared to go out alongside Bishop Viv’s, it was the emotional impact and its costs which dominated my reflection, and the hurt the years of debate and disagreement has caused. For some, our decisions around issues of human sexuality have felt like a betrayal of what Christ has called us to be, particularly in some very different cultural contexts within the Anglican Communion. Others have felt misunderstood and rejected. “Church is not for people like me” is a phrase I heard a woman say in relation to divorce several years ago, which has haunted me. I have little doubt this has been the experience of many who are in same-sex relationships.

In the College of Bishops, as in the wider Church and indeed society, there has been a great deal of pain as we have wrestled to discern what might be right under God, as well as how it has been perceived, received and interpreted.

It has been the pain of this which I have felt as a priest and then as a bishop these past twenty years, and the hurt and perplexity it has caused for so many others.

In our deliberations as a College, we recognise this, and particularly want those who have sometimes felt themselves to be a problem to be solved – rather than those beloved of God – to hear our sorrow and apology for this.

As well as those who identify as LGBTQI+, and their friends and families, perhaps we also need to reflect on how this might be true for those with strong conservative views, as well as those with the most liberal convictions.
In commending a suite of ‘Prayers of Love and Faith’ to be offered in our churches, the House of Bishops is welcoming all those who long to have their relationship recognised and affirmed in the presence of God. This includes those in committed same-sex partnerships, as well as those in other stable, faithful, committed expressions of dedication to one another, such as civil marriage.

Although I want to hold with the understanding of holy matrimony as the Church has understood it and as the union between a man and a woman, I have come to the conclusion over these last days that the Church needs to offer an equivalent ceremony and church service which recognises and supports stable, faithful, committed, and long-term unions between people of the same sex. The suite of ‘Prayers of Love and Faith’ may be the way forward for this.

In a society – and indeed a world – where disagreements are often so bitter and fractious, I continue to pray that the Church of England might provide an example of humility and courage as we wrestle with what faithfulness to God and witness to the Gospel means for us two thousand years after the birth of Jesus changed everything.
May we be known for those whose disagreements, no matter how deep, refuse to allow the Body to be torn apart.

May we resolutely demonstrate our steadfast love for one another, as brothers and sisters in our journey together in and with Christ, including recognition of when we need to apologise to others and to each other. This will continue to involve good understanding and listening for the strengths in the views of others with whom we disagree.
Yours in the Triune God, source of all Love, Truth and Compassion
+Lee Swindon
Mark House
Thursday, 2 February 2023

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