In December 2023, the House of Bishops commended the suite of prayers for the blessing of same sex couples, as part of Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF). This watershed moment marked a departure from the biblical, historic and apostolic teaching of the Church of England on the place for sexual intimacy, the abandonment of the authority of Scripture in its teaching about relationships and the embrace of today’s culture on marriage.
The result is a divided Church at every level – from the House of Bishops to General Synod, to the local parish. There are a lot of people who are angry, sad, shocked and disappointed by this – on both sides of the debate, because it either goes too far or does not go far enough. This decision has put the Church of England in a very vulnerable place, where in every local parish church there is now likely to be a difficult, a charged, an emotional discussion about these issues. This is not good news for the Church of England, for its future, for its witness or its relationships locally.
A number of clergy and/or PCCs now feel in impaired fellowship with their bishops as a result of their bishop’s support for the Prayers of Love and Faith.
While they recognise the ongoing formal and legal role of their bishops, the reality is that an increasing number (both lay and clergy) are feeling isolated and are desperate for support and spiritual oversight from people continuing to hold the biblical and Anglican view of relationships, sexual intimacy and marriage.
CEEC has facilitated the provision of temporary and informal alternative non-episcopal spiritual oversight and support in order to help clergy and parishes remain in the Church of England.
A group of Honorary Assistant bishops has agreed to initiate this ministry and because of the level of demand we will be discerning whom God might be calling to help make this provision as non-episcopal overseers. I am chairing a diverse panel of experienced leaders from across the evangelical constituency (spanning charismatics and conservatives, egalitarians and complementarians) to discern and appoint these overseers. We are inviting suggestions of people who might be called to this overseer ministry and holding interviews in February. For more information on this click here.
In practice, it could be that one of the overseers comes on an annual visit to preach and to spend some time with the clergy member and /or the PCC. They will be in contact with the clergy member throughout the year, which will provide opportunities to check in and ensure that they are being prayed for, supported and cared for.
Of course, clergy and/or parishes, seeking alternative spiritual oversight, must continue to be accountable for safeguarding and legal matters to their diocesan bishop, safeguarding officers and registrars.
Fundamentally, this is a temporary provision, which will support evangelicals until a permanent settlement, based on some form of structural provision, is made available. We know that for the next two or three years the CEEC needs to be pursuing ‘structural differentiation’ with the House of Bishops, if they continue to move away from our Anglican inheritance. Some form of differentiation will need to be created within the life and structures of the Church of England so that orthodoxy and biblical Christianity is secured going forward on a permanent basis. We think that evangelicals and others holding to an orthodox and Anglican view on these matters should stay in, work with us, and pray with us, to do all we can to pass on our Gospel and biblical inheritance to future generations in the Church of England.