Anglicans face deeper rift after General Synod steps closer to backing standalone blessing services for same-sex couples

By Chris Eyte |
A widening split could affect the Church of England (C of E) following opposition by evangelicals to the General Synod approving the prospect of trialing a standalone blessing service for homosexual couples.   On Monday, the General Synod, the governing b
General Synod members at the afternoon meeting on July 8 | General Synod YouTube channel

A widening split could affect the Church of England (C of E) following opposition by evangelicals to the General Synod approving the prospect of trialing a standalone blessing service for homosexual couples. 

On Monday, the General Synod, the governing body for Anglican churches, met in the city of York, England, to debate progress made since February on the “Living in Love and Faith” initiative by the Bishop of Leicrester, the Rt Rev. Martyn Snow.

Clergy are currently allowed to bless gay couple’s marriages in regular C of E services. Yet a motion at the debate passed to remove restrictions on using “Prayers of Love and Faith” at standalone services for same-sex couples. The initiative also caters for “pastoral reassurance” to support clergy not wanting to take part in such services.

Proposals for the initiative, narrowly approved by both the House of Clergy and House of Laity, also include enabling “further conversations on whether to remove current restrictions on clergy being in same-sex marriages for decision by the House of Bishops in early Jan. 2025 and to be presented at the Feb. 2025 General Synod.”

At the moment, the proposals are “in outline form and will require constructive and wide engagement as they are developed in detail.” A paper for the initiative opined the overall aim as being to “articulate how we can remain in unity despite our differences.”

However, an influential group of evangelical clergy known as ‘The Alliance’, including the Rev. John Coles, from the New Wine church network, the Rev. Nicky Gumbel, leader of the Alpha course, the Rev. Archie Coates, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, and Ade Adebajo, chair of Lambeth partners, wrote to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the College of Bishops, to vocalize their concerns. 

In a letter dated June 26, The Alliance said a “Parallel Province” faithful to biblical teaching on relationships would be set up if the General Synod went ahead with blessing the same-sex standalone services. 

The signatories believed “it is a matter of deep regret” that the General Synod had allegedly reneged on following correct legal processes requiring a two-third majority votes in both houses “for a change of liturgy.”

“If the further departure from the church’s doctrine suggested by the Synod papers does go ahead, we will have no choice but rapidly to establish what would in effect be a new de facto ‘parallel Province’ within the Church of England and to seek pastoral oversight from bishops who remain faithful to orthodox teaching on marriage and sexuality,” said The Alliance, in the letter.

“We will encourage all church leaders who are in sympathy with The Alliance to join the parallel Province,” added the evangelical leaders.

The Alliance expressed concern about the proposals evoking “Western elitism” by ignoring the “views of the Global south” and “unlawfulness” by failing to “follow the canons of the Church of England which are designed to preserve unity.”

Signatories vowed to take action “with immediate effect” to open up a new channel of ordination for trainee priests, overseen by Orthodox bishops, “to reverse the decline caused in part by this unconstitutional and unorthodox process.” However, The Alliance insisted that its supporters were not leaving the Church of England or Anglican Communion. 

“We wish to stay loyal to the one holy catholic and apostolic church throughout the world rather than be part of a schismatic move which departs from the teaching received and upheld not only by the vast majority of the Anglican Communion (representing around 75% of the Anglican Communion’s 80 million members), the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches but also the vast majority of other churches around the world.

“The new Province will seek to cooperate with the other orthodox Provinces within the Anglican Communion.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. Justin Welby, spoke at the General Synod meeting, which he said “is about salvation.” He also said he “cannot imagine” the Church of England without the members listed in the Alliance Network. “Under God, I owe that tradition my salvation,” he added, referring to his own conversion at Holy Trinity Brompton in London. 

Welby then said “as the years went by” he found churches “drawing people to salvation by engaging with unjust structures and practicing reconciliation.”

“That is one reason, one of many, why I cannot imagine the Church of England without the Together network, members and friends as well as the Alliance. They all deepened my love for God. That they all flourish is indispensable to the gospel in this land.”

The Together network is a group of C of E churches prioritizing diversity and social action.

Welby said a final decision on same-sex blessings was “nowhere near” and the next step in the process was “detailed work, to bring different traditions and views and theological and doctrinal understanding to a place so that all may flourish.”