A year of Church battles over sexuality

The year 2018 started with church mission initiatives receiving a boost with a £24.4 million investment from the Church of England’s Strategic Investment Board.

The Diocese of London received the biggest payout, including £4.80m to support Church growth learning communities and revitalising churches across the diocese, meanwhile Winchester diocese received £4.23m for piloting new approaches to rural mission; reinvigorating urban mission in Southampton and North Hampshire; investing in mission in new housing development areas, and revitalising student ministry.

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a personal response after a letter was sent to Lambeth Palace by a group of academics asking him to ‘repudiate’ his statement made after the publication of the Lord Carlile’s review of the case of Bishop George Bell.

The group, which included two biographers of former Archbishops of Canterbury, expressed their ‘profound dismay’ with the position they claim the Archbishop had taken.

Following summer’s General Synod decision in 2017 to call for new liturgies to mark a person’s gender transition, the House of Bishops said that rite Affirmation of Baptismal Faith could be used instead. However their decision sparked anger.

The Chair of LGBT Christian campaign group, OneBodyOneFaith, said the decision by the House of Bishops not to develop liturgies to mark a person’s gender transition, while clergy are already devising services for trans people, ‘could not be allowed to remain the Church’s official position’’.

General Synod backed the Blackburn diocesan synod motion for new liturgies to mark transgender transition, which was passed following a vote by houses and almost unanimous supported from the House of Bishops (30 for, two against and two abstentions).

However, a statement from the Church of England has said that ‘after prayerful consideration’, the House of Bishops has decided it will not develop a new nationally commended service to mark a gender transition.

Instead, the Bishops invited clergy to use the existing rite ‘Affirmation of Baptismal Faith’.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York launched ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ for the third year in a row. The ecumenical prayer initiative invites people to pray between Ascension and Pentecost.

According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke at the launch event at Lambeth Palace, the movement is not ‘about the Church telling you how to do things’ but inviting people to ‘to do what works, in your way, in your culture, wherever you are in the world’.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, called on the government to regulate gambling advertising, as exceptions to current regulations allow adverts for bingo and sports betting before the 9pm watershed.

A Populus survey questioned 1,025 14-18-year-olds and found that 76 per cent of all respondents agreed that gambling advertising on television has encouraged them to take up gambling.

Christian charities and academics urged a cross-departmental government-led Food and Poverty strategy to address the underlying causes of household food insecurity in the UK, after published data from Unicef found that 19 per cent of UK children under the age of 15 live with a respondent who is moderately or severely food insecure (have problems or anxiety about accessing adequate food).

A ‘reflection’ endorsed by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) said that splits in the Anglican Communion over same-sex relationships may require a degree of ‘visible differentiation’.

Despite their reference in the paper to the ‘divisive issues in the Church surrounding marriage and sex, and our society’s movement away from Christian teaching in this area’, the paper explained that the member churches do not want to focus on ‘contentious areas of disagreement’ with regards to human sexuality and marriage, but a ‘wider theological vision’.

After looking at options such as a Third Province, they pointed to the presence of Gafcon and suggested the term ‘visible differentiation’ instead.

They said that any ‘significant departure from apostolic teaching regrettably requires in response some degree of visible differentiation, in order to formally to acknowledge and mark this distance.’

During her speech at the conference of the Church of England Foundation for Education Leadership, HM Chief Inspector of Education, Amanda Spielman, praised Church of England schools, explaining that among these institutions in particular, the spiritual and moral dimension of young people’s education ‘tends to be exemplary’.

However she argued that on “the pretext of religious belief, religious institutions use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons.”

In response to a question she said that it should not be assumed ‘that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone — imagine if people thought the Christian Institute were the sole voice of Anglicanism’.

In February, the Church of England accepted all four of the recommendations of Sir Philip Mawer’s independent review into the nomination to the See of Sheffield.

The review was set up after the Bishop of Bolton accepted the nomination to the post but later withdrew after complaints about his opposition to the ministry of women.

In a joint statement, on behalf of the House of Bishops, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York affirmed the House of Bishops’ commitment to the principle of mutual flourishing even amid difference on questions on which Christians may ‘disagree Christianly’.

In March, a report, Minding the Gap, published by the Sophia Network, found 53 per cent of women in positions of leadership in church see sexism as their chief barrier.

Other issues raised were the lack of female mentoring and leaders (46 per cent); and a lack of theological understanding of women and men working in partnership for the gospel (42 per cent).

Churches were being urged to sign to the Network’s Minding the Gap Manifesto’ – eight commitments to making congregations places of gender equality.

Christian leaders paid tribute to evangelist Billy Graham, who died at the age of 99.

The Church of England Newspaper grew from a vital contribution of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association following the close of its publication The Christian.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that Dr Billy Graham ‘stood as an exemplar to generation upon generation of modern Christians’.

Also that month, the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, was among signatories of a letter claiming that ‘certain public leaders appear to be being attacked by insinuation without due process’ in a defence for Lord Carey.

The Bishop of St Albans voiced concern that the Gambling Commission recommendation to limit the stake on Fixed Odd Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to £30 ‘does not go far enough’, and the Archbishop of Canterbury told the IICSA hearing that an estimate of £7 million will be spent on safeguarding in 2018.

Members of the End Child Poverty coalition, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Church of England criticised government policy saying that ‘if you set out to design a policy that was targeted to increase child poverty, then you could not do much better than the two-child limit’.

They authored a report claiming that by 2021/22, more than half of children in families with three or more children are forecast to be in poverty.

They point out that this is nearly twice the rate for families with two children. The report marked the first anniversary of the new policy and claimed that the projected rise in poverty among larger families ‘is a direct result of the two-child limit and other policies that disproportionately impact on families with more children’.

Also, Church leaders gave their backing to calls for justice for the Windrush generation.

They signed a petition to grant amnesty for anyone who was a minor that arrived in Britain between 1948 to 1971. The generation, who arrived on a ship called Empire Windrush that brought workers from the West Indies to Britain in 1948, received the support of a series of bishops including the new Bishop of London Sarah Mullally and the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Christopher Chessun.

The Episcopal Church in America (TEC) was warned its place in global Anglicanism will be at risk if it approves gender-neutral marriage rites.

The Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, told the Church that the way aspects of TEC’s practice of their trial marriage rites are implemented will have ‘implications’ on the relationship between the two Churches.

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev Nicholas Holtam, the Church’s lead bishop on the environment said the proposed Government environment initiatives to end the sale of single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds was a ‘great week’ for environmental policy in the UK.

A new House of Lords report was published saying that faith schools should commit themselves to British values. They were responding a Government Green Paper on integrating communities which states that while evidence suggested that a majority of faith schools are adhering to British values, ‘there are nevertheless a small number of schools where there has been a serious failure to act in accordance with Shared British Values’.

The letter from the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council warning the US Church about gender-neutral marriage sparked a backlash.

An online letter signed by a bishop, 30 members of General Synod and hundreds of lay people suggested that ‘Mr Nye has mistakenly sent the wrong letter’.

The letter said that that because the majority of Anglicans were in support, he should have written ‘Thank you for leading the way on this important issue’. They cited research surveys on attitudes to same-sex marriage amongst English Anglicans that show most are now in favour.

The Church of England Pensions Board helped stimulate the ‘largest shareholder revolt’ on the issue in corporate history. The resolution, co-filed by the Church of England Pensions Board, called for more transparency over climate change at Rio Tinto.

The Education Secretary announced new support for faith schools, where there is demand for good school places. A Government announcement said that ‘there are many good or outstanding faith schools and more want to open’.

The government said it will retain the 50 per cent cap on faith admissions for free schools but will develop a scheme to help create new voluntary-aided (VA) schools for faith and other providers to meet local demand, supported by capital funding.

The VA route already allows for schools to apply to open with up to 100 per cent faith based admissions. The department said they will work with local authorities to create these schools where they are needed, subject to a 10 per cent contribution from the provider to the capital costs (more on that later).

In May, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith, welcomed Government plans to drop the limit of the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2.

A letter was sent to clergy in Lichfield calling on the diocese to assert that ‘all people are welcome in God’s Church’.

Commenting on the letter, Tracey Byrne, Chief Executive of the organisation that advocates equality in churches among LGBT and heterosexual people, explained that the organisation heard from a gay couple in another part of the country whose vicar told them they can’t serve on any church committee.

She said that they also know of couples whose vicar has refused to baptise their children.

The four bishops in the Diocese explained that the letter sets out “radical Christian inclusion founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it”.

However the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Rev Rod Thomas, responded saying that their letter raised a number of ‘concerns’.

“This issue comes into focus when considering the question of participation in the Sacraments.”

He stressed: “As part of the national Church, I would fully agree that we want to encourage everyone to participate in the life of the church to the maximum extent possible. However, I wonder whether the reference to ‘a place at the table’ for all might be taken by some to imply encouragement for all to participate in Holy Communion.”

In June, Withington in Manchester declared itself the first ‘Inclusive’ deanery.

All 12 Anglican parishes in the deanery designated themselves Inclusive Churches, thought to be a first in the Church of England.

The Archbishop of Canterbury backed a new initiative by homeless charity Crisis that could see the end of homelessness in Great Britain.

The Bishop of Dover called on the UK Government to ‘fix Universal Credit’.

He highlighted the latest figures by the Trussell Trust, an NGO that co-ordinates the only nationwide network of food banks in the country, which revealed that the number of people receiving emergency food in East Kent was up by 23 per cent since last year.

He encouraged churches to collect signatures and sign a petition brought by the End Hunger UK campaign calling for increased flexibility for claimants.

Later that year, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, along with 27 Bishops from the Northern Province and 12 mission teams visited 12 deaneries to take part in a range of mission activities in Northumberland, Newcastle, North Tyneside, and parts of Cumbria.

The ‘Pathways Mission’ was organised as part of ‘growing church bringing hope’, Newcastle’s diocesan vision launched in 2017.

Also, a new Commission chaired by the Dean of Westminster proposed a major overhaul of Religious Education (RE). The report said that in too many schools RE ‘is not good enough to prepare pupils adequately for the religious and belief diversity they will encounter’.

The Archbishop of York announced that he will retire on 7 June 2020, Trinity Sunday, three days prior to his 71st birthday.

Also that month, the Church of England said it would undertake a major ‘conversation’ on the health and well-being of its clergy. A debate at General Synod heard about the stress, isolation and loneliness clergy experience.

The Church of England launched a strategy to renew its commitment to urban estates.

Speaking at the launch, the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Rev Philip North said that ‘for a time it seemed that the Church of England was complicit’ with making estate dwellers feel ‘marginalised and overlooked’.

“Over the past 20 years we have been guilty of closing down estates churches and withdrawing clergy,” he said.

Bishop North pointed to new church plants such as Freedom Church on Mereside, Oldhams Church in Bolton and the St Cuthman’s on the Whitehawk estate in Brighton.

Also, The Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment called on the UK Government to commit to a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

This came following the publication of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.

Church of England bishops urged that action needs to be taken to provide more support for people applying for Universal Credit amid evidence of an increase in demand at food banks in areas where the benefit has been introduced.

More than 30 bishops backed a petition brought by the End Hunger UK campaign calling for the Government to ‘fix’ Universal Credit, including providing more help and a more flexible system for claimants applying and for those already receiving the benefit.

Senior evangelical bishops warned leaders to consider ‘the practical consequences of sincerely held differences’, in the ongoing sexuality debate.

The bishops wrote a letter to Bishop Christopher Cocksworth to share their own responses to the ongoing Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project for which he is Chair. They invited him to share the views with the wider co-ordinating group.

Following the February 2017 Group of Sessions, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York outlined their proposals for continuing to address questions concerning human sexuality.

The Archbishops committed themselves and the House of Bishops to two new strands of work: the creation of a Pastoral Advisory Group and the development of a substantial Teaching Document on the subject, Living in Love and Faith: Christian Teaching and Learning about Human Identity, Sexuality and Marriage.

However, the evangelical bishops said that they cannot ‘abandon’ traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality ‘in order to appear relevant’.

Figures published by the Church of England showed that the numbers of people who attended services in Cathedrals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in 2017 was the highest since records began. Overall 135,000 people attended the festive services in 2017, up three per cent from the year before.

Meanwhile midweek attendance had shown a significant rise and was now on a par with Sundays.

In the year 2000, when the data started to be collected, 7,000 people went to Cathedrals midweek. By 2017 that figure had grown to 18,000.

A new report released by the Church of England found that ordinands reported low financial wellbeing.

The Living Ministry research followed cohorts of 85 ordinands and clergy through their ministry over a decade.

According to the report, non-residential ordinands who started training in retirement, maintaining their pension drawings or those who retain an adequate salary even after a reduction in working hours to fit in training, report the best financial wellbeing.

In November, the Chancellor’s Budget got a mixed reaction from Christian groups.

Bishops said they regretted that the Government had not reconsidered its two-child limit policy. They also said they were disappointed by the delay in implementing the reduction in minimum stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, said he was ‘shocked’ that the Chancellor has delayed the £2 FOBT stake by six months.

“In so handing the bookmakers £900m he gives the impression of valuing them and the tax-take more than vulnerable problem gamblers at risk from FOBTs,” he said.

Following the announcement, Christian leaders backed Cabinet Minister Tracey Crouch following her resignation on the issue.

The Sport and Civil Society minister resigned after Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in the budget that implementing the crackdown on maximum stakes for fixed odds betting machines from £100 to £2 will be delayed until October 2019.

The Church of England published figures showing that Church of England parishes are supporting 60 per cent of foodbanks in the UK. A survey of nearly 13,000 churches found that they are responsible for 33,000 social action projects.

The survey found that in 2017 churches were running around 13,000 social action projects, hosting almost 4,000, in partnership with almost 6,000 and supporting close to 11,000 projects. Altogether, 80 per cent of congregations were involved in one or more forms of social action.

Also, faith leaders called for a ‘real’ Living Wage.

Church of England, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish leaders wrote an open letter saying that ‘the harm caused by poverty in our country should be a source of national shame’.

The 65 interfaith leaders explained that ‘there are now millions of people who work every day but are unable to afford even the basics’.

In 2016 the Government adopted a ‘national living wage,’ however the Living Wage Foundation maintains that this is not ‘real’ because it is based on a target to reach 60 per cent of median earnings by 2020.

The Bishops of Oxford issued a pastoral letter calling for greater inclusion for LGBTI+ worshippers.

Their letter, sent to all clergy and licensed lay ministers in the Diocese of Oxford, set expectations of inclusion and respect towards all and affirms LGBTI+ people called to roles of leadership and service in the church.

The bishops said they had received many requests for guidance and ‘are convinced that remaining silent on these issues is not serving the Church well’.

The Diocese of Salisbury was granted Eco Diocese status, the first accolade of its kind in the Church of England.

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, Nigel Genders said that proposals in the Government’s consultation on draft guidance for Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education risk ‘ghettoising faith perspectives’.

The Church of England responded to the Government consultation on Relationships and Sex Education saying they are concerned that while the guidance is clear that schools of a faith character may teach faith perspectives within RSE, it seems to indicate that other schools would only cover this within the subject area of RE.

Later that year, politicians were urged to ‘find fair and sustainable solutions for the future coexistence of the UK and the EU’.

The call came in a joint statement from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Bishop Heinrich Bedford Strohm, Council Chair of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD).

Also that month, the Accord Coalition for Inclusive Education urged local authorities to reject proposals from the Department for Education for proposers bidding for capital funding from the department to support the establishment of new primary, secondary or all-through voluntary aided schools.

The campaign coalition, made up of religious groups, humanists, teachers, trade unionists, educationalists and civil rights activists, called the new proposals ‘religiously discriminatory’.

They argued that under new proposals schools can operate a fully religiously selective pupil admissions policy and that the Government’s move ‘is designed to exploit a loophole around its own policy requiring new academy faith schools to not select more than half of their pupils on religious grounds’.

In December, the Archbishop of York gave his backing to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

Archbishop Sentamu, who voted Remain in the Referendum, said that the first concern must be ‘maintaining respect for democratic law-making institutions’. He said that re-running referenda, ‘whatever proximate political goods may be in view, subverts agreed decision-making procedures after the event, and that undermines trust’.

“The further draining away of trust from an already discredited political class will be of very great danger to the future government of Britain. Permanent loss of confidence in governmental institutions always results in civil unrest and violence,” he said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that any Brexit deal ‘must reflect a genuinely hopeful vision for our nation and its place.

His comments came during the House of Lords debate on the motion to take note of the Government’s EU Withdrawal Agreement, alongside an Opposition ‘motion to regret’.

Meanwhile, the Bishop of Oxford warned against ‘self-interest and personal ambition’, which he said had undermined trust in politics.

He also urged legislators to put national interests ahead of party affiliation, while calling on them not ‘to imagine that we can reverse one referendum by another’.

The Church of England issued new pastoral guidance to use with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith for a person who has undergone a gender transition.

The guidance is set to be incorporated into Common Worship.

The document approved by the House of Bishops, came following the motion adopted at General Synod in July 2017 recognising the need for transgender people to be ‘welcomed and affirmed’ in churches.

The guidance explains that ‘the Affirmation gives priority to the original and authentic baptism of the individual as the sacramental beginning of the Christian life, allowing someone who has undergone a serious and lasting change to re-dedicate their life and identity to Christ’.

However, the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) said that the pastoral guidance raised a number of ‘serious’ questions and concerns.

They explained that while up to now there has been a refusal to authorise or commend a service to mark or recognise a person’s gender transition, the House of Bishops have now produced an authorised rite ‘as the central feature of a service’ to recognise liturgically a person’s gender transition.

They questioned whether there is the right for Church of England ministers to conscientiously refuse to conduct such a service or allow it in their church.