Church of England may split over same-sex services, clergy warn

A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017.
A priest wears a rainbow ribbon during a vigil against Anglican Homophobia, outside the General Synod of the Church of England in London, Britain, February 15, 2017. | REUTERS/Hannah McKay

The Church of England is facing potential divisions as it approaches the General Synod which begins this week as factions are expressing deep concerns over the denomination's direction on same-sex blessings and church law.

Ahead of the Synod, three significant letters from the orthodox wing — comprising over 2,000 clergy members — signal a stark warning: the church may be on the brink of a split.

In 2023, the CofE marked a significant turning point by permitting priests to bless same-sex couples. However, these blessings are restricted to regular, publicly held services, not individual ceremonies like weddings.

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At this month's synod, a new proposal will be considered that seeks to introduce standalone blessing services for same-sex couples on an experimental basis. While these services would not be recognized as marriages, conservative members of the church argue that this move would still be an excessive deviation from traditional practices.

The first letter, authored by 11 orthodox bishops, calls for a "sufficient consensus" on doctrinal matters, warning that pushing forward without such consensus could cause "fundamental fragmentations" at multiple church levels.

They argue that current proposals lack the necessary two-thirds majority support in each House of the Synod, reflecting a deep-seated division within the church's governance.

"We therefore urge Synod to rethink the process at this time, and request the bishops to enable further doctrinal work, bringing back proposals that will properly be considered under the governance of the necessary canons," the letter reads. "We pray that, through prayer, wise counsel and good process, we may yet reach a consensus that is recognised as having legitimacy by all parts of the church and enables all to flourish in our shared mission to the nation and beyond."

In a more direct threat, a second letter from an orthodox group known as "The Alliance" threatens the establishment of a "parallel province" within the CofE if the blessings proceed. This letter, signed by over 25 church leaders, is addressed to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury.

This group, which includes leaders from notable networks like Holy Trinity Brompton, New Wine and Church Society, accuses the House of Bishops of straying from church doctrine and failing to follow proper legal processes.

The letter links their stance to a global context, noting their alignment with the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans Assembly, which has called for a "global reset" in leadership due to perceived failures by the CofE.

"We will encourage all church leaders who are in sympathy with The Alliance to join the parallel Province," the letter reads. "We will take action with immediate effect to open up a new pre-ordination stream for potential ordinands, in partnership with orthodox bishops, to reverse the decline caused in part by this unconstitutional and unorthodox process."

The third letter, posted to the website of the Society of St. Wilfred and St. Hilda — an Anglo-Catholic group within the CofE — adopts a less confrontational tone compared to the other two. While it also expresses concerns similar to those of the other letters, it seeks to draw attention to the personal and emotional toll the debates are taking on LGBT Christians within the community.

The letter demands thorough theological reflection by the Faith and Order Commission of the House of Bishops on these issues.

Meanwhile, some parishes, including Canterbury Cathedral, have begun offering same-sex blessings as part of regular worship services.

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