Living in Love and Faith
The Church of England has been looking at issues relating to gender, marriage, sexuality and relationships under the heading ‘Living in Love and Faith’ (LLF) over the past six years. We’ve been openly discussing our differences on these important subjects.
Now our bishops have proposed that same-sex couples can come to church and receive God’s blessing for their civil marriage or civil partnership. They’ve suggested that a suite of Prayers of Love and Faith such as these be available so ministers can dedicate, thank God or bless same-sex couples who are marking this significant milestone in their relationship. This is the fullest pastoral provision that can be provided without changing the Church’s doctrine that Holy Matrimony takes place between one man and one woman. Our General Synod voted to endorse the bishops' proposals in February 2023. You can read more about that here.
Our Diocesan Synod also considered the bishops' response to LLF at their meeting in June 2023. They heard some personal reflections from synod members and discussed the issues in small groups. You can read more about that meeting here.
Proposals then went to the General Synod in November 2023, which agreed that Prayers of Love and Faith could be used on a trial basis for standalone services. The bishops were already planning to commend them for use in regular worship services. The process of formal authorisation of these prayers in standalone services will involve consultation with all Diocesan Synods and would require a two-thirds majority at a future General Synod, probably in 2025. More details are here.
Bishop Jonathan gave his views on the LLF process in his Presidential Address at Diocesan Synod in November 2022. His column for our diocesan magazine was based on that address, and is reproduced below:
Preserve God's gift of unity
The Church of England’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ process has entered its discernment and decision phase. Do join me in praying for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance, as a possible way forward is framed by our bishops and debated at General Synod in February 2023.
There are, of course, diverse and conscientiously held perspectives among the bishops in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage; perhaps especially over the question of how to respond faithfully to same-sex relationships. Personally, I am arguing for positive change which would enable us, as a Church, to bless, recognise and encourage signs of God’s grace, presence and holiness in relationships between same-sex couples.
I am aware that many good and faithful Christians will not (or feel they cannot or must not) share my view, believing in all conscience that such a move represents an illegitimate development in the teaching of the Church. But that diversity of view is understandable in a community wrestling with human complexity, truth and the meaning of faithful witness today.
Common ground is emerging too, in the desire of the bishops to preserve the gift of unity in Christ’s Body, the Church. I would argue that Christ’s gift of unity runs deeper than any differences in theological, ethical or pastoral interpretation of these vital issues.
I’m drawn to the verse in John’s gospel: ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’. The Greek word for ‘dwelt’ suggests ‘tabernacled, set up tent’. It paints a beautiful picture of what God did by entering our human condition, taking flesh and enduring the Cross to draw humanity into fullness of life in Christ: God offers us, in Christ, a big tent to dwell within. Christ is our True Home.
To put it theologically, through the proclamation of the gospel, humanity is invited, through faith, baptism and the gift of the Spirit, into union with Christ’s incarnate, risen and ascended life. As St Paul writes of the early church: ‘our life is hid with Christ in God’.
Fortunately, we don’t get to choose who Jesus invites into the Tent of his Body or calls into ecclesia, the Church on earth. Christ’s Body is a big and hospitable tent: with space for every sinner who, by grace, hears and accepts his invitation to life.
It’s Christ who invites us, who invites you, into this Tent. No test of orthodoxy, class, learning or culture is required; rather, entry is by ‘yes’: our responsive ‘yes’ to Christ’s unmerited, gracious and prior ‘yes’ to us. Of course, navigating life within this Tent, brings untold riches, joys and a lifetime of difficulty – not least the infuriating presence of those also invited into the Tent on what may feel to us an indiscriminate, unsound basis.
You can make use of the national C of E resources at any time, to study these issues for yourselves. The main introduction to the Living and Love and Faith resources is here, and you can also link directly to:
- the Living in Love and Faith Learning Hub (which includes the five-session video-based course, podcasts, films, and a large online library of resources about the themes of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage);
- a chance to order or download a copy of the Living in Love and Faith book;
- some information about the purpose of providing these LLF resources;
- the latest details of what was agreed at the February 2023 and November 2023 meetings of General Synod.
Do also watch this video, which is the national C of E’s introductory video to Living in Love and Faith: