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‘Nothing has changed’: should the bishops ‘commend’ the Prayers of Love and Faith?

Andrew Goddard writes: The process of commendation of liturgy does not give any legal status to what is commended, and in the debates about the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) it has been claimed that law and doctrine are not being changed. To commend the Prayers of Love and Faith is thus to claim that it has always been legal in a public service to pray for God’s blessing on two people of the same sex who are in a sexual relationship and/or a civil same-sex marriage.

This article argues that:

This claim that “nothing has changed” with PLF is neither plausible nor cogent.
It does not fit with previous published legal advice concerning public prayer for those in non-marital sexual relationships or same-sex civil marriages.
The options open to individual bishops who share this scepticism in response to PLF’s commendation by the House are also set out.
Honesty and the need for clergy to be able to make their own informed judgments about the legality of PLF (as those who risk facing legal challenge for using the prayers) means that the House of Bishops has to acknowledge that previously published legal advice is not obviously being followed.
They should therefore make available the changing written legal advice which they have received throughout this process, particularly for their 9th October meeting, and a clear explanation as to how what they are now proposing in PLF is, and indeed always has been, legal and how this judgment relates to the content of past legal advice which they have published that would suggest otherwise.
Only then can we assess whether indeed “nothing has changed” either legally or doctrinally in the position of the Church of England when the prayers are commended.

Following the long debate and narrow vote at General Synod on 14th and 15th November it seems likely that the House of Bishops will (either this Wednesday or in early December) proceed formally to commend the Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF) Suite of Prayers. This will implement the in principle decision they took on 9th October from which 12 bishops present dissented in part because of “legal and theological advice the House has received”. It is therefore important to consider exactly what is and what is not being done should the bishops take this decision and the plausibility, coherence, and significance of this step. 

In effect, such a decision amounts to a statement by the House of Bishops that it is of the view that it has always been legally permissible within the Church of England for clergy, in a public service, to pray using the prayers found in PLF, including for God’s blessing on two people of the same sex who are in a sexual relationship and/or a civil same-sex marriage. Commendation means that the prayers have been legal for nearly 50 years (since the 1974 Worship and Doctrine Measure came into force) and could have been commended by bishops at any point since then. All that the bishops are doing in now commending the suite of prayers is clarifying that this has always been the legal situation despite the fact that in the past they, and legal advice they have published, have suggested otherwise.


The ‘coming’ of Jesus in Mark 13 video discussion

With the turn of the lectionary year, this Sunday we are in the first Sunday of Advent in Year B, and our gospel reading of Mark 13.24–37 plunges us straight into the questions around the anticipation of Jesus’ return at The End.

Our passage comprises the two closing sections of Mark 13, which is parallel to the first part of Matt 24 and is known as either the Olivet Discourse (since it is set on the Mount of Olives) or the Little Apocalypse, because there are connections in structure and language with parts of the Book of Revelation.

But is it all about the end of the world? And how does it affect our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Com and join Ian and James as discuss the meaning of this passage, its implications, and how we should preach on it.

Jesus was not born in a stable—and it really matters!

What do you find most irritating about this time of year? The drawing in of dark and cold nights? The hideous adoption of that consumerist import ‘Black Friday’? People putting up Christmas trees when we have only just started Advent? Being urged to spend more money by means of schmaltzy human interest mini-dramas?

For me, it is the repeated but ill-founded claim that Jesus was born in a stable, alone and isolated, with his family ostracised by the community—despite the complete lack of evidence for this reconstruction. It will be repeated in pulpits, real and virtual, up and down the land, so I do not apologise for reposting once more this annual feature.

Besides, my reposting this article has now become part of our annual celebrations…!

Picture Jesus’ nativity. Bethlehem town sits still beneath the moonlight, totally unaware that the son of God has been born in one of its poor and lowly outbuildings. In an anonymous backstreet, tucked away out of sight, we find a draughty stable. Inside, warm with the heat of the animals, a family sits quietly. Lit by a warm glow, a donkey, cow and an ox lie serene at the side of the scene. The cow breathes out a gentle moo and the baby in the straw filled manger stirs. Kneeling close by Mary, Joseph and a small lamb sit in silent adoration of the child. All is calm, all is not quite right.

I am sorry to spoil the scene, but Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, and, curiously, the New Testament hardly even hints that this might have been the case. This might shatter the Christmas card scenes and cut out a few characters from the children’s nativity line-up, but it’s worth paying attention to.

This long-held idea demonstrates just how much we read Scripture through the lens of our own assumptions, culture, and traditions, and how hard it can be to read well-known texts carefully, attending to what they actually say. It also highlights the power of traditions, and how resistant they are to change. And, specifically, the belief that Jesus was lonely and dejected, cast out amongst the animals and side-lined at his birth, loses sight of the way in which Jesus and his birth are a powerfully disruptive force, bursting in on the middle of ordinary life and offering the possibility of its transformation.