Living in Love and Faith: a message from Bishop Rachel and Bishop Robert

Published: Monday November 9, 2020

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour (Romans 12: 9-10)

We wanted to write to you on this day when the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ book and resources have been launched:

We are deeply aware that there is a lot going on, and much was said in the letter to the diocese last week (Bulletin 3 November 2020).

In all that we are living there is the paradox of being called to prayerfully watch and wait whilst still being called to act. We are continually confronted with important issues which request our attention such as racial justice,  environmental issues or how we engage with the November 16 days of activism against gender violence. Today the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ resources are being added to that list yet all are in danger of becoming issues in separate boxes unless we increasingly see them as part of a greater integrated whole which is about us being  people created to live in relationship with God, neighbour and all of creation.

Ultimately it is all about what it means for us to be the Church as we shape the future, living the values of the Kingdom of God and sharing the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ so that people may know life in all its fullness (John 10:10). In local contexts and together as the diocese we are seeking to pay attention to what God is calling us to as we authentically live LIFE amid pain and joy, tears and laughter, and pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.

Following the publication in 2013 of the ‘Report of the House of Bishops Working group on Human Sexuality’ (the Pilling Report), there was a period of shared conversations at regional level as well as among the College of Bishops and among members of The General Synod. This was followed by discussion at our Diocesan Synod in February 2017, and resources were then made available to encourage people to enter into shared conversations at local or deanery level.

In the days after that Diocesan Synod in the light of the issues raised by the House of Bishops report to the General Synod, the Archbishops circulated a letter in which they underlined the principle that ‘no person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people called to redeemed humanity in Christ.’

The Archbishops went on to say that to find a way forward amid the real and profound disagreement between people who together belong to Christ ’we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.’

The letter also outlined two specific initiatives: Firstly, the formation of a Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG) and secondly the initiation of a process to produce a comprehensive document and resources on human sexuality. The Living in Love and Faith book and resources are the result of that comprehensive work and sit alongside the pastoral principles which were developed by PAG.

As bishops in this diocese we are acutely aware of the pain and struggles experienced by those who identify as LGBTI+ and we wish to acknowledge how the Church has failed and hurt brothers and sisters in Christ. We are committed to a diocesan culture of welcome and inclusion and hope that  all worshipping communities will continue to reflect ever more deeply on who is not at the table and why not. This time of Covid-19 has heightened our awareness of inclusion and exclusion, and the significance of being created as people of relationship who are too often socially distanced.

As we recognise the hurt which has been felt by individuals, families and friends when people have not felt able to reveal who they are, we are also clear that identity is not only about unique and precious individuals created in the image of God, but also about who we are together as the Body of Christ.  As bishops we are clear that no one should be excluded from receiving the Sacraments of Baptism or Holy Communion because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and neither should this be a reason for anyone being deemed as an unsuitable candidate for leadership in the Church.

We are also aware that across the Diocese people hold a range of views and theological convictions regarding human sexuality. Therefore, we all need to go deep in our commitment and ability to listen and relate well to one another in our places of disagreement, not least as the process of discernment and decision regarding doctrinal, liturgical and pastoral practice will not be concluded in the Church of England before 2022.

We recognise that these days of viral pandemic and lockdown may not be the time for you to initiate the use of these resources but we hope that in due course people will find opportunities to use them not only within worshipping communities and benefices but also across deaneries and the wider diocese as well as for personal reflection.

Some weeks ago these two podcasts were made with several people in this Diocese as we anticipated the launch of Living in Love and Faith. We invite you to listen in on the conversation.
Sexuality and gender identity are not easy things to talk about as we have to engage in our understanding of ourselves and our stories and what has shaped us, including our faith journeys and our approach to scripture. Furthermore, because of the history we have shared as a Church there is often fear and mistrust, the pain of past wounds, and people’s previous experiences of not being heard or understood. Yet, conversation together can bring freedom, healing and hope even in our places of disagreement and we hope that in time this book and resources will enable such discussion and reflection, not least among people whose starting places are very different. As we remain committed to being and sharing Christ’s good news, the manner in which we conduct our conversation and discussion will also be important.

As bishops we are committed to listening to and speaking with those who hold different views across the breadth of this debate. In conversation with people we commit to being open about our own views and what is shaping them whilst also respecting the views of other people and promoting that same respect across the diocese.

Over the coming months the Bishop’s Staff Team will be open to hearing what support and input you might like in using the resources as well as finding ways for General Synod representatives to engage with what emerges.

In all that lies before us in the coming months may we never lose sight of our common life as the Body of Christ and our commitment to be and share the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ in our places of both pain and joy:
“We are the body of Christ. In the one spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life…”

This comes with our thanks and prayers and our greetings of peace,

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