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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Homosexuality and the Church: a round up.

So, really, are we here again? The homosexual debate in the church rearing it's head again, largely thanks to the media. And I don’t mean that to sound derogatory to those fighting for gay-rights either within or outside of the church, but this latest statement is not news, as has been reported by many, except for the general media who think it is some kind of major step….
So, for the confused (including myself), here is a round up of where I think the church stands on the issue of homosexuality within the Clergy (Vicars & Deacons) and episcopate (Bishops).

(And if I’m wrong, please correct me…!)

So, some years ago the church issued a report entitled ‘Issues in Human Sexuality: a statement by the House of Bishops’ which covers various aspects of sexuality. Part of it, relating to Homosexuality can be seen here.  Or the full booklet can be ordered online hereThe report includes a detailed and thoughtful look at the issues surrounding homosexuality and whether it can be deemed acceptable within the Christian tradition as a whole.  The report basically says that as Christians we should love and embrace each other, whatever our sexual orientation and that people should not be defined alone by their sexual orientation. It states that God clearly uses people and gifts people who are homosexuals and we should value them equally with heterosexuals. However it also states that the church cannot accept a homosexual relationship on the same level as a heterosexual one, as God intended a man and woman to come together, according to the bible.

In terms of clergy (as a summing up) it says this:

We have therefore to say in our considered judgment the clergy cannot claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relations. Because of the distinctive nature of their calling, status and consecration, to allow such a claim on their part would be seen as placing their way of life in all respects on a par with heterosexual marriage as a reflection of Gods purposes in creation. The church cannot accept such a parity and remain faithful to the insights which God has given it through scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection on experience.

However it also says that we cannot assume that two people who chose to live together are therefore in an erotic relationship. And that it is the practice of the Church to trust its members and therefore it would not carry out intrusive interrogations. And that whilst the church would wish to avoid scandal so long as there is no occasion for scandal, people will be left alone. And on those in the clergy who do come out:
We call upon all clergy to live lives that respect the churches teaching and we shall do everything in our power to help them do so…
So there we are. You can be a homosexual within the church (practicing or not) and be embraced. You can be a homosexual in the clergy (not practicing, ie: celibate) and be embraced. But you are not allowed to be a practicing homosexual within the clergy. However you can live with another person of the same sex (including a partner) so long as you are not in an erotic relationship with them.
In 2005 with the invention of the Civil Partnership a further statement was made which can be seen here.  The Press Release includes this paragraph:
The ambiguity over the nature of a commitment in a Civil Partnership also informs the statements attitude to clergy. ‘The House of Bishops,’ it says, ‘does not regard entering into a civil partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.
And this:
What needs to be recognized,’ says the House of Bishops’ statement, ‘is that the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.

In July 2011 the House of Bishops announced that a review of the 2005 statement would be undertaken.
The review will include examination of whether priests in Civil Partnerships should be eligible for appointment as bishops....
Secondly, the House has committed itself to a wider look at the Church of England's approach to same-sex relationships more generally in the light of the listening process launched by the Lambeth Conference in 1998. The Bishops will produce a consultation document in 2013. The House's decision is motivated by a desire to help shape the continuing debate constructively and not by any view about what the outcome should be.

So at this stage clergy are ‘allowed’ to be in civil partnerships but will not be eligible to be considered for the episcopate (Bishops) until the review has taken place but the report did say this:
The General Synod decided to amend the clergy pension scheme to improve the provision for the surviving civil partners of clergy who have died.
Which shows an official acceptance of clergy in civil partnerships if nothing else.
This latest statement (4th Jan) as far as I can see, just clarifies that the position laid out in the existing statements from the House of Bishops, is the same for those in the episcopate as the clergy.
The January 2013 statement can be seen here. The Press Release says this:
The House of Bishops' Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships issued in 2005 did not address specifically whether clergy who entered such partnerships should be considered for the episcopate. What the House has now done, following the work undertaken by the group chaired by the Bishop of Sodor and Man set up last year, is to look at the matter again last month...
The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships, and living in accordance with the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, can be considered as candidates for the episcopate. There had been a moratorium on such candidates for the past year and a half while the working party completed its task.
The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the Church's teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.
All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate's suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case.
So what does that actually mean? Well, actually it means that really nothing has changed since the 2005 statement ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’. Which states that if you are within the clergy or episcopate the church does not allow you to be in a practicing homosexual relationship. Of course there are clergy who are openly gay and in long term relationships who will undoubtedly continue to challenge the churches position and as the 2005 report states they are quite entitled to do so. (point 5.15 in 2005 statement) although it also says that they are not free to go against it in their own practice. However, to my limited knowledge I don’t think anyone has been removed from their post because they have gone against this – but feel free to correct me.
So there we are. Clear as mud?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Future...

So... just before Christmas I found out that I will not be able to study at the college I would like to go to next year. Technically, as I have chosen not to go to residential college because of family commitments, I only have one choice of college. This is the same for every Diocese as far as I am aware, for those who can’t move for family or work commitments they provide one alternative, which allows you to stay put for a while. And there is nothing wrong with my local choice but I would just love to go to St Mellitus in London, which offers a different sort of course and is generally more my sort of thing. For various reasons my Bishop has said no. This is frustrating but I do not wish to go into the whys and wherefores about this because whilst I do not agree with much of what my Bishop says, he is still my Bishop and therefore my line of authority in the church. I always said I would accept his decision and whilst I am mulling that over, I do accept his authority.

So now I feel a bit lost. I was accepted for training last May and much has happened since then. I chose to take a year break before studying, but now some 7 months later, having not spent much time thinking about my vocation (this may seem odd but the process you go through requires much emotional energy and it has been a joy not to have to continue in that vein for the entire 7 months) I seem to be thrown back into it again. I have been really knocked by the decision about my college. On top of that the vote against women Bishops has also affected me far more than I thought it would. It’s fair to say that my Diocese is not in favour of women Bishops: the Bishop voted against (and I know my Bishop is anti too), of the 6 clergy, 3 voted against and of the 8 laity, 6 voted against. What made it seem worse still is that all of the women who were able to vote, yes ALL of them, voted against. On top of that (whilst I don’t like labels it is useful here) I come from the more charismatic persuasion, which it’s fair to say is not exactly encouraged here. And this is the Diocese in which I will have to study and work, most likely, for the next 7 years at least.

It is so tempting to off load and rant about various things but I don’t feel that it would be fair or particularly appropriate and so I find myself rather out on a wing, needing some clarity and encouragement but also feeling lost and not sure which way to go. I could go back and re-do my discernment process on the Pioneer Ministry route, (which would probably allow me to go to St Mellitus but require more work and another delay), or I could just carry on regardless and go to my locally nominated college; or I could do something completely different...

I don’t doubt my calling at all, I know God called me to do this and at every step we have asked him to shut the door if it isn’t right, but it's still wide open, so I must be here for a reason. I guess what I do doubt is whether it is right to continue ahead at the moment and if so, on which path.

I should say that the process so far has been hugely eye opening and worthwhile, so even if I don’t go ahead I know it has been an amazing experience. There have been wonderful people I have met along the way who have been hugely encouraging, not least my DDO who is an absolute gem and I can’t thank him enough.

And strangely, I do love this church. Warts and all... I grew up in the Church of England and now I work within it. I can see how much influence it has and how much good it does, I know there are faults and issues, but as a whole The Church (well, it’s people) does such an amazing job in this nation and I want to be part of that, I want to help shape that, I want to see communities transformed and loved by their churches, I want to help The Church make a difference. But right now I feel that maybe my calling is taking me outside of that and that makes me a bit sad.

So here I am. Wondering what step to take. I know there’s only one person who can show me and in this busy season finding significant prayer time is not easy, so I hope over the coming weeks I will be able to sit down and really seek God for the road ahead....