Now, however, that we have reached this stage of the LLF process it is time for me to give you my view. When the Bishops meet to discuss the next steps they will not gather as people considering this matter for the first time. We will meet together as people who have been engaged in a very long process of reflection. We have as a Church been praying and thinking for many years, from the time of the Woolfenden Report which was published shortly after my first birthday – and with many, many reports since. The discernment, then, is not what Bishop A or Bishop B thinks individually but what we as a Church discern together, journeying forwards in faith and hope and love. I offer my thoughts humbly and as part of an ongoing conversation with my brother and sister Bishops and indeed the whole Church. I want to begin by saying clearly that I rejoice and give thanks for all God’s people in this wonderful Diocese regardless of their sexual orientation – therefore including all those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
The Vacancy-in-See Statement of Needs drawn up in 2010 after broad consultation described Southwark as “A Growing Diocese, An Open Diocese and A Global Diocese”, stating the
following: “Over the past generation the Diocese has become a place where the ministry of lesbian and gay clergy and laity can flourish in response to God’s call in accordance with the ethical teaching of the Church of England. We want to continue this tradition, and we need a Bishop who will lead us in further dialogue between people with differing perspectives on matters of human sexuality.” Fellow members of Diocesan Synod, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, this is our reality and I have sought to honour it as your Bishop, in particular in promoting a culture where we all speak well of each other.
As I have said before, I do not expect to see the marriage canons changed in my lifetime. I also said publicly before the Lambeth Conference that the Church of England has for a long time had a polity in which the Bishops in each and every Diocese encourage partnered gay and lesbian ordinands and clergy to consider civil partnership. We already respect the
dignity of same-sex unions in this regard and we are not being honest with ourselves if we say otherwise. The civil law of the United Kingdom – and of other countries – has moved to
legislate for same-sex marriage. Some have made the case for the Church to change the marriage canons. But I observe that it is theologically coherent to conceive of vocational
and covenanted relationships as a category that includes marriage as one constituent and same-sex unions as another. It is inaccurate to say that marriage is the only form of
covenanted relationship because it has long been the wisdom of the Church to bless those single people who see their life in terms of a covenant with God, whether they live that
covenant in community or not.
On this last point, I want to take the liberty of making a personal observation. The Word made Flesh lies at the heart of the Incarnation: Jesus was born into a human family and
remained single and unmarried through the whole of his earthly life. As a single bishop I am regularly asked the absurd question, “Do you have family?” I always answer in the
affirmative and say I give thanks to be part of a close loving family, knowing full well I have not answered the question in terms of what I was really being asked. I am strongly
committed to upholding family life and family values – the bedrock of society and our personal well-being – but please do not exclude single people like me through a too casual
use of language: we all have and belong to families, thank God. The Church needs to be more caring about the growing number of people remaining single – a task which lies beyond
the LLF process.
The Church’s polity concerning civil partnerships is the reality of our present situation, even if it is largely unacknowledged. I support a generous pastoral provision that respects freedom of conscience by the provision of a liturgy of affirmation and commitment for same-sex couples and a conscience clause that means no priest is required to officiate at such a service.
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