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WALES: House of Bishops Ponders Same Sex Relationships

WALES: House of Bishops Ponders Same Sex Relationships

Governing Body
May 1-2, 2019

The following is an update from the Bench on Same Sex Relationships

Statement

At the last meeting of the Governing Body, following debate members indicated, in a secret ballot, by a margin of 76 to 21 that they supported the bishops' view that it is pastorally unsustainable for the Church in Wales to make no formal provision for those in same-sex relationships.

This was not a binding vote of the Governing Body, and did not, in any respect, change the Church's teaching and practice on marriage. Rather the bishops received the vote as permission to undertake new work on the question of how the Church in Wales might make some kind of formal provision in this area.

Our first task as a Bench was to review, by way of a transcript, the contributions made during the discussion last September. In considering the range of views expressed in that debate, with some contributions made very strongly albeit still respectfully, our first conclusion was that, wherever God may lead us on this particular issue, we would want to ensure ultimately that all our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Church in Wales feel able to remain within our Christian family.

That does not necessarily mean finding a solution which fully satisfies everyone; having reviewed last September's discussion, we think such an outcome is unlikely. Rather, we need to find a way of talking -- and listening -- to each other openly and in love, so that we might be able to live with difference afterwards. We believe that it also means, as I emphasised in my presidential address, taking time to be still and listen for and to the voice of God.

At its March meeting, the Bench spent an extended period talking with two members of the Church of Scotland, both eminent and expert theologians, who have played a significant role in that church's journey continuing towards finding an appropriate settlement on same sex-marriage. We talked about both the theological thinking that was underpinning that work, and the legal issues that had arisen and which were in the process of being considered. The Church of Scotland has not yet reached the end of its journey, but it was, nevertheless, helpful for us to test our thinking in discussion with members of another church that perceives itself as a 'national church', albeit from a reformed tradition.

On the basis of all of this, I would now like to outline our next steps:

First, we pledge to keep listening, listening to everyone, listening for God. We have heard, at Governing Body meetings and in discussions with diocesan groups, the fears and concerns of those who do not and feel they cannot support any change in this area, and we have heard from those who long for change. We need to hear from LGBT Christians and others about what measures they might welcome from the Church to help support them more effectively.

Secondly, we are mindful that the concept of "equal marriage" remains highly controversial in the light of the church's traditional teaching about the nature of marriage. With this in mind, we will ask the Standing Doctrinal Commission to produce a theological statement which helps us reflect on same sex unions within a Christian understanding of marriage. It is our intention that this work will inform a further discussion about marriage in the Church in Wales in due course.

Thirdly, while that work is being undertaken, we would like to respond positively to the straw poll conducted last September by moving towards putting in place formal provision for those in committed, faithful, same sex relationships. We intend to invite the Standing Liturgical Advisory Commission to advise us on possible options for services of affirmation or blessing of such relationships. Looking forward, were any such services to be authorised by the Governing Body for use, we are clear that this authorisation would be permissive and not compulsory: no cleric would be obliged to use them. The Governing Body will hear more on this as developments are planned.

Finally, we commit ourselves as bishops to ensuring that Governing Body is kept informed of all developments on this important subject.

The Bench of Bishops
May 2019

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