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It is time to enter the Lion’s Den: A heartfelt plea to orthodox Anglicans after the HoB statement.

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The House of Bishops of the Church of England this week changed the rules of the game. There were multiple canonical routes that they could have chosen but instead the House of Bishops decided to work around them. The House of Bishops statement[2] refers to how the bishops considered and rejected the route of temporary approval under canon B5A with a final decision made by synod under canon B2. Instead, the Bishops will commend the new liturgical materials for immediate use without the authorisation of the Archbishops for their province or the Bishops for their Diocese. This is important because by acting outside of the norms of canon law they also act outside of the means of legal redress as it is only those who can authorise the use of liturgical resources i.e., Archbishops or Bishops, that can be challenged in the courts ecclesiastical. Many have mistakenly read the statement as saying these new liturgical materials will be brought to synod for approval under canon B2. No such thing is spoken of in the statement but rather it states that “The prayers and readings in Prayers of Love and Faith for use with same-sex couples”, which are found on pages 3-19 of Prayers of Love and Faith, “will be commended by the House of Bishops for use in public worship.” Whereas the “standalone services”, which are found on pages 20-29 of Prayers of Love and Faith and give a structure/order for how these materials should be used in a service, will “be brought to the General Synod to decide whether to authorise them under Canon B2”. To put this simply synod will not get to vote on the liturgical materials themselves, but only whether it approves of the order they are put in within the sample service structures. The only foreseeable reason for this separation between structure and content is so that if the structures fail to receive a 2/3rds majority in Synod in 2025 the content will still be able to be used. If the bishops had followed the B5A/B2 route, then the Prayers of Love and Faith (complete – structures and content) would have been subject to the decision of synod under canon B2 and so if they failed to receive a 2/3rds majority they would have explicitly become illicit in there use in the Church of England. In other words, the bishops have devised a plan whereby no matter what synod votes for these new liturgical resources will be able to be used. The bishops have chosen to bypass synod entirely.[3]

 

As the bishops have failed to use the canonical processes, there will be no legal protection for those who use the Prayers of Love and Faith, and they will be subject to challenge within the Courts Ecclesiastical. In other words, legally speaking the situation will go unchanged. That being said the sad reality is that for years now revisionist clergy and parishes have been conducting same-sex blessings without any legal challenge. This is because the only people who can make this legal challenge are a group of six members on the parish roll and as orthodox anglicans studiously avoid going to revisionist parishes in many of them there simply aren’t six orthodox anglicans on the parish roll let alone six who’d be prepared to be ostracised and vilified by their community by taking their vicar to the ecclesiastical court. The thing that orthodox anglicans need to grasp is for revisionists this was only ever in part to do with changing the canons and providing legal protection; revisionists always knew this would be difficult to achieve. The main aim of revisionists was instead to create a “new mood”. Their attitude is perfectly encapsulated by the words of Justin Welby in his book The Power of Reconciliation which he puts like this “if this does not work, but it’s failure had an impact, let’s try a new approach, building on the new mood”.[4] The revisionists will regard failure in 2025 as a success as they will still have an official church document produced and commended by the house of bishops which affirms their heretical position as within the bounds of the teaching of the Church of England. Revisionists will have moved the situation to one in which in the perception of many in the pews and the country there are two contrary positions which it is equally valid to hold as a member of the Church of England.

 

An Orthodox Response

It is absolutely vital for the future of the Church of England in this country that orthodox anglicans don’t simply accept what is happening and go quietly into the night. Instead, there needs to be a multi-pronged response whereby orthodox anglicans create a new mood.

 

I give thanks for the eleven dissenting bishops who have called on their colleagues to turn away from the path set out above; their statement can be found here[5]. It is to them I address my first heartfelt plea to intervene and to stop the illicit introduction of prayers of love and faith. You write that “bishops must have due regard to the obligations of good and proper governance” and so I ask you to fulfil the responsibility you have in relation to good governance under Canon B5. B5.4 states “If any question is raised concerning the observance of the provisions of this Canon it may be referred to the bishop in order that he may give such pastoral guidance, advice or directions as he may think fit”. Therefore, I call on each of you who is a diocesan bishop to send to your clergy a directive stating that it is your view that the Prayers of Love and Faith are indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England in an essential matter and so cannot licitly be used until and unless they receive approval under canon B2. It is you as Bishops under the canons who have responsibility for ensuring that exactly what is happening i.e., a flagrant undermining of the order of the church found in the canons does not happen. It is within your power to stop it and so I call on you to fulfil your responsibilities as you have called on your colleagues to fulfil theirs. I am aware and I am sure in seeking advice you will be made aware that this sets up a situation with conflicting judgements from two bodies/persons and so could be used as a basis for judicial review. In this event I believe that the canons of the Church of England are clear and that the House of Bishops would be judged to have acted beyond their powers in authorising the Prayers of Love and Faith. It is my hope and prayer that this does not come to that but rather that your colleagues will follow your example in doing things according to “the obligations of good and proper governance” and instead bring the prayers of love and faith, both the resources and service outlines, to synod for approval under canon B2. You were called for such a time as this and so I plead with you to fulfil your calling, fulfil your vows, and take your stand.

 

Orthodox anglican laity I call on you to view parishes whose teaching or practice is not orthodox as a mission field. It is incumbent upon us that we heed Jesus' call to ““Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” (Luke 10:3). For many years evangelical anglicans have been encouraged to go to bible believing churches so that they may be nourished, and although I am not as familiar with orthodox anglo-catholics I would imagine they too would tend to gravitate only to those churches which align with their churchmanship. The problem with this is it leaves those within churches where the vicar does not hold to orthodox Christianity without a Christian witness. It is time that orthodox anglicans got creative and where possible made full use of the canonical possibility to be part of two parishes, and on two parish rolls. If the clergy will not preach and teach the gospel the members of the church will starve for want of the good news. In these situations, lay people should intervene by catechising fellow members of their churches, by reflecting together on the 39 articles, the book of homilies, and the liturgies of the book of common prayer. Anglican churches from an orthodox background should train up and send their members into these unorthodox churches as workers in the harvest field even if this means adapting service times to enable members to go to two churches. Lay workers who are in these contexts should recognise the canonical limitations on their action and should make sure they cannot be perceived to have set up alternative services, or to have preached, but must restrict their actions to catechising their fellow congregants through reflecting on the formularies and sharing resources. We must aim for every church in the Church of England to be orthodox and every member of every parish to have a lively faith. No place in the Church of England should be off limits to those who carry the good news. It is time to enter the Lion’s Den and to trust that God will protect us.

 

May these words bring you comfort on the road ahead:

 

Psalm 23:4-6

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,

for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”



[1] This header image was designed by freepik: www.freepik.com

[3] For a more detailed analysis see Andrew Goddard, Prayers of love and faith: what has the house of Bishops done?, https://www.psephizo.com/sexuality-2/prayers-of-love-and-faith-what-has-the-house-of-bishops-done/  (retrieved 12/10/23)

[4] Justin Welby, The Power of Reconciliation, 2022 p230.

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