For many in the Church of England a line was crossed this week that we prayed and hoped would not happen.
On Wednesday afternoon, the General Synod expressed its support by a tiny majority of just a few votes for the continued implementation of the House of Bishops proposals to change the position and practice of the Church of England with regards to sexual ethics and marriage.
In practice we now expect the bishops to commend prayers of blessing for same sex couples by mid-December (and provide dedicated services soon after), to prepare guidance which will make it possible for clergy to marry their same sex partners, and that future ordinands will not to be asked to indicate whether their lifestyle and personal relationships are in keeping with the doctrine of the Church of England.
We believe these proposals are being pursued without adequate provision and protection for those holding to the biblical, historic and global majority Anglican view on marriage and sexual intimacy. This underlines the failure of leadership by the archbishops and divided House and College of Bishops.
CEEC is saddened that the House of Bishops appears to have acted regardless of legal and theological advice – and in such a way that has dramatically undermined the confidence that worshippers have in the leadership of the majority of our bishops. We thank God for the courage of those bishops who spoke and voted against the motion at General Synod.
CEEC regrets that these changes will cause deep division in PCCs and parishes, deaneries and dioceses the length and breadth of the country, in the same way that the Bishops and General Synod are divided.
CEEC is concerned for the consciences of evangelicals (lay and ordained) across England who now feel their membership of the Church of England in some way to be compromised.
CEEC is not yet able to be confident that the future discussions signposted by the House of Bishops in the Synod papers will produce a permanent settlement that will secure orthodox life and witness going forward.
Therefore, CEEC is compelled to stand with those who now find their consciences deeply troubled – and to make temporary provisions that enable them – at least for now – to remain a part of the Church of England whilst more formal and official provision is pursued.
Today we are announcing two provisions that will be available to evangelicals across dioceses in need of such support – with more to come as the situation develops.
These provisions are not a permanent arrangement – and we remain convinced that a permanent structural settlement is needed to address the tectonic divide that now exists within the Church of England and which will continue to be destructively present until and unless it is addressed. CEEC is committed to working towards this settlement.
First, CEEC will respond to requests for spiritual oversight from those who now feel themselves to be in impaired fellowship with their diocesan bishop(s). Obviously, any clergy person or PCC will still look to their diocesan bishop for legal and formal oversight – though we recognise that any structural rearrangement needed to address the deep division in the Church of England would be likely to impact this.
Clergy and/or parishes, seeking alternative spiritual oversight, must continue to be accountable for safeguarding to their diocesan bishop and safeguarding officers.
We are pleased that a group of Honorary Assistant bishops have agreed to provide this spiritual support for clergy and congregations and some serving bishops may choose to join their number. We are also intending to commission ‘overseers’ to create more capacity to provide this support and accountability around the country. We have appointed a diverse panel of experienced leaders from across the evangelical constituency spanning charismatics and conservatives, egalitarians and complementarians, to discern whom God might be calling to such an overseer role. This panel will be chaired by CEEC President Julian Henderson (the previous Bishop of Blackburn) and includes two other Honorary Assistant bishops.
This provision is both informal and temporary and will serve as a stepping-stone to the formal and permanent provision which we hope and pray will be agreed as part of a new structural arrangement and settlement.
Securing evangelical stewardship
Second, CEEC is launching on Monday 20 November a new national Fund called the Ephesian Fund. The Ephesian Fund will enable people in churches across the dioceses to continue to support orthodox Anglican ministry when in good conscience they might otherwise withdraw or reduce their giving to their parish church as a result of their bishop’s support for the Prayers of Love and Faith initiative.
PCCs will also be able to pay part or all of their voluntary parish share (also known as ‘quota’) via the Fund – thus enabling their share to be used to support only local churches who stand with them in the historic Anglican and biblical position on sexual ethics.
The details of the Ephesian Fund are available on the CEEC website and via social media.
Contending for provision
We will also be introducing initiatives to support orthodox ordinands, parochial clergy and senior leaders, as well as supporting lay ministers, chaplains, patrons, archdeacons and other groupings in the Church of England whose commitment to orthodoxy might be challenged as the Prayers of Love and Faith initiative moves forward.
Our hope and prayer is that these temporary provisions will enable orthodox evangelicals to remain in the Church of England whilst we seek a permanent and structural settlement to secure orthodox life and witness going forward.
CEEC is committed to working with the House of Bishops to seek a settlement that is acceptable to all.
We continue to believe that the doctrines of the Church of England as expressed in the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal are thoroughly biblical, trustworthy and ‘fit for purpose’ in the 21st century.
We stand united with people across the dioceses of the Church or England who wish to pray and work for the securing of orthodoxy through a form of structural provision.
Our hearts remain deeply committed to contending for the faith as have received it and we thank God for the support and prayers of Anglicans around the Communion.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.