In November 2020 the Church of England published a landmark set of resources drawing together the Bible, theology, science and history with powerful real-life stories as it embarked on a new process of discernment and decision-making on questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.
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Pastoral Letters from Bishop Rose
16 February 2023
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Many of you will have watched the debates and discussions of General Synod last week concerning identity, sexuality and what kind of welcome the Church may be able to offer LGBTI+ people. As a diocese, we are deeply indebted to our Synod representatives, who engaged tirelessly and positively with these discussions - I would like to record my thanks to each and every one of them. If you missed the debates, or would like an opportunity to hear some of this discussion, you can watch all of the Synod's sessions on the Church of England Youtube channel.
After many hours of debate, Synod voted in favour of the following motion:
That this Synod, recognising the commitment to learning and deep listening to God and to each other of the Living in Love and Faith process, and desiring with God’s help to journey together while acknowledging the different deeply held convictions within the Church:
(a) lament and repent of the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church; (b) recommit to our shared witness to God’s love for and acceptance of every person by continuing to embed the Pastoral Principles in our life together locally and nationally;
(c) commend the continued learning together enabled by the Living in Love and Faith process and resources in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage;
(d) welcome the decision of the House of Bishops to replace Issues in Human Sexuality with new pastoral guidance;
(e) welcome the response from the College of Bishops and look forward to the House of Bishops further refining, commending and issuing the Prayers of Love and Faith described in GS 2289 and its Annexes;
(f) invite the House of Bishops to monitor the Church’s use of and response to the Prayers of Love and Faith, once they have been commended and published, and to report back to Synod in five years’ time;
(g) endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.
I include this in full so that all may know exactly what Synod has agreed - you can read more about the outcomes here.
The next step on this journey will see the bishops considering all that they have heard and learned from Synod and others. We will use that learning in our development of the Prayers for Love and Faith, as well our new guidance, which will replace Issues in Human Sexuality. We hope that these new documents will be drafted in time for Synod's consideration this Summer. After that, we hope that they will be commended for use in our parishes and dioceses where needed.
I will be heartily encouraging the use of the prayers by all those who would like to respond to pastoral needs as presented to them. Contrary to some of the rumours that you may have heard, no one will be required to offer them: all may, none must. There has been - and continues to be - much pain around this discussion. I am especially mindful of the suffering of LGBTI+ people, some of which the Church has caused or been complicit in. I am sorry where we have failed to recognise God's image in you, our brothers and sisters. I recognise that, for many of you, these latest moves will not go far enough. Thank you for continuing to journey with us.
I am also aware of the pain of those who feel that these measures go too far. The doctrine of the Church has not changed, and no one will be compelled to act against their conscience. It is also my hope that this shift in our common life may enable a greater honesty between us, where differences are named and respected - leading to a greater unity, despite our diversity of views, experiences and convictions. I am confident that the love of God is big enough to hold our church family together - if we seek to bear with one another in love.
As ever, friends, let us keep our eyes on Jesus, always striving for his kingdom, always listening for his voice, always seeking his path.
Yours in the service of Christ,
The Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover
20 January 2023
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I'm in no doubt that you will all have seen some of the news (and some of the 'noise') that has emerged from the meeting of the College of Bishops earlier this week and their recommendations for a way forward for the Church on questions of human identity, sexuality and marriage. The Church of England's press release on this matter is available here and the full report containing the detail of the Bishops' proposals is available here.
Much has already been said on this. Emotions are understandably running high. As Archbishop Justin has already said, for some these proposals appear to go too far - for others, it is not far enough. There is much frustration and pain around these issues, which we must acknowledge.
Into all this noise, I want to say a few brief things. Firstly, I want to affirm with my fellow Bishops, ministers and those across our churches that LGBT+ people are made in the image of God, are loved by God and should have our care and respect. The Bishops have issued an apology to LGBT+ people for the pain they have endured over many years at the hands of the Church. It is crucial to recognise this - and to acknowledge that these recent proposals will continue to be a source of pain for many. I want to express my deepest gratitude to our LGBT+ sisters and brothers for their courage in sharing their stories, in making themselves vulnerable in this process - even though it has often not felt safe to do so. Thank you for bearing with us. Please make use of our LGBT+ chaplaincy network. I look forward to meeting with some of you at June's Open Table event.
Secondly, I want to acknowledge that this is a very difficult time for all our Church family. We hold many different views - on sexuality as well as on many other areas of life and faith. We have a rich diversity of culture, knowledge and experience. At the best of times, our diversity is one of our great strengths, enabling us to more fully to reflect the beauty and complexity of our world and our Creator. However challenging we may find life together, it is unChristlike for us to use our diversity as an excuse for separation and withdrawal from one another. Our Lord’s command is to love and serve one another. As your Bishop, I will always seek to follow that command and I ask the same of you.
We are all children of God, who created each of us in his image, and we are the followers of Jesus Christ, who reaches out and draws all people to himself. In him our hope is found. In him, our messy offerings may become a blessing to one another and to our world. Let us never lose sight of the one who leads us. Let us never fail to sing with joy for what he has done for us. Let us never fail to share the good news that gladdens our heart, even though the challenges of this world surround us. Let’s do this all with kindness and care, for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
Yours in the service of Christ,
The Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover
Living in Love & Faith Resources
The product of three years’ work by more than 40 people, led by the Bishop of Coventry, Living in Love and Faith includes a 480-page book, a series of films and podcasts, a course and an online library of other publications, in what is thought to be the most extensive work in this area by any faith group in the world.
It comes as the House of Bishops issues an appeal to the whole Church of England to participate in learning together, using the resources for open, honest and gracious discussion, listening and learning. A group of bishops, chaired by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, will lead the process of discernment and decision-making about a way forward for the church in relation to human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. It is anticipated that the period of church-wide learning and engagement would take place during 2021. The House of Bishops would then bring the discernment and decision-making to a timely conclusion in 2022 which would then be put before Synod.
We will be planning to create some specific opportunities for focused conversations on these materials early in 2021 and will share details of that in due course. In the meantime, please explore, read, reflect and pray with the resources - alone or with others.
If you find that engaging with these issues brings up stuff that you'd like to discuss or pray with someone about, you can get in touch with a range of organisations here, or contact someone at the Living Well, who can offer listening and prayer - and, of course, our Safeguarding Team is also available to you.