Questions about the Manchester ‘blessing’

methode-sundaytimes-prod-web-bin-5df104b2-5107-11e6-8351-466ee30171eePeter Ould writes: The Sunday Times yesterday highlighted a service that took place on Saturday at St Agnes’ Church in North Reddish, Manchester. This was a service of “blessing” (as described on the church website) for the same-sex marriage of the now former vicar, Clive Larsen, one of the trustees of Changing Attitude.

The piece in the Sunday Times had the following section.

[Larsen] celebrated his forthcoming marriage to his partner, known only as John, in a ceremony yesterday at St Agnes Church in North Reddish, Stockport, where until Friday he had been priest in charge. A notice on a church website, which was removed after the Sunday Time began making inquiries, read: “A ceremony of commitment and blessing … Clive will be resigning his post in the church from the day before.” The service included a blessing from a liturgy originally intended for civil partnerships, beginning: “God the giver of life, God the bearer of pain, God the maker of love, bless, preserve and keep you.” Larsen said he did not want to embarrass either the Church of England or David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, by discussing the details of his departure but he authorised the Reverend Colin Coward, who conducted yesterday’s ceremony, to speak on his behalf.

It is a fact that such services take place up and down the length of England in Church of England churches every year, but this service is significant because of the high profile people involved. Until very recently Colin Coward was the national director of Changing Attitude and the service was attended by other trustees. The current director of Changing Attitude, Jeremy Timms, resigned his position as a Reader in York Diocese when he entered a same-sex marriage. In the light of these facts, the service had a political dimension to it.

Since the Bishop of Manchester was fully aware of the service, a number of questions arise that need answering.

(i) Did the Bishop of Manchester ask for a copy of the liturgy for the service? If yes, can he share it? If he did not ask for one, why not?

(ii) Was the Bishop of Manchester aware of who was going to conduct the service before it happened?

(iii) If the Rev Clive Larsen had resigned prior to the service taking place, who, in the view of the Bishop of Manchester, had legal responsibility for St Agnes after the resignation (legally known as “the sequesters”)? The Churchwardens and the Area Dean, or someone else? Specifically, in the light of the resignation of the Rev Clive Larsen on Friday, who on Saturday had legal responsibility for the service in St Agnes?

Harry Farley reports in Christian Today that:

A spokesperson for the diocese of Manchester said: “Clive does not have permission to officiate as a priest in the diocese, nor has he sought to apply for it.”

This raises another two questions for the Bishop of Manchester.

(iv) Given that the Rev Colin Coward conducted a service in Manchester without holding a licence or permission to officiate, what action does the Bishop of Manchester intend to take against him?

(v) Given that the sequesters of St Agnes allowed the Rev Colin Coward to conduct a service without ensuring that he had a licence or permission to officiate, what action does the Bishop of Manchester intend to take in this regard towards the sequesters?

Questions should also be asked of Nick Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury.

(vi) Did the Bishop of Salisbury know, before the event, that the Rev Colin Coward was going to conduct this service in Manchester Diocese?

(vii) Does the Rev Colin Coward hold a licence or permission to officiate in Salisbury Diocese?

(viii) Now that the Bishop of Salisbury is aware of the apparently illegal service in Manchester Diocese that the Rev Colin Coward conducted without permission to officiate, what action does he intend to take against the Rev Colin Coward?

The particular political dynamics of this service mean that any failure by these two members of the House of Bishops to respond appropriately and in line with the official position of the Church of England and the pastoral guidance issued by the House of Bishops cannot be interpreted as anything but a deliberate decision to allow “facts on the ground” to over-rule due process and order. A failure by the Bishops of Manchester and Salisbury to deal robustly with this apparently illegal service, which was deliberately publicised by the participants as a challenge to the Bishops’ authority, would torpedo the good efforts of the Shared Conversations process in trying to build trust and confidence that the Church of England will handle this issue fairly as it moves forward in dealing with it.

new-peterIt is now over to the Bishops of Manchester and Salisbury. Like it or not, these questions cannot be swept under the carpet because a failure to answer them will indicate that they are willing to let such direct challenges to their authority and to the Doctrine of the Church of England go completely unchallenged and unimpeded.

Follow me on Twitter @psephizo

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

174 thoughts on “Questions about the Manchester ‘blessing’”

  1. Strictly speaking you don’t need PTO for a one-off service.

    Canon C 8 (2) (a) provides an important exception to the general rule that a minister
    may not minister without the bishop’s authorisation. It permits a minister to exercise
    ministry on an irregular basis at the specific invitation of the incumbent without
    seeking the bishop’s permission. The incumbent must be satisfied that the minister is
    “of good life and standing and otherwise qualified under this Canon.”

    • You’re absolutely right MIke, but my questions are designed to tease out the answers around that issue. If Clive Larsen resigned on Friday then either the Churchwardens or the Area Dean (or both) were responsible for the service on Saturday.

      Since the guidance around checking DBS status of irregular ministers was issued earlier this year, it is standard practice for the incumbent or their deputy to check that any irregular minister is approved of by the CoE in general. In practice this involves letting the Diocese know that Person X is coming to lead a service and getting the Diocese to check with Person X’s Diocese that (i) they have a licence or PTO and (ii) there are no child / vulnerable adult protection issues. If this process is not carried out then the incumbent (or their deputy) is not fulfilling their obligation and duty of care. I personally take this issue SO seriously that when I go and preach somewhere else I specifically tell the incumbent to check with their Diocese that I am “acceptable” and where I preach at a non CofE Church I normally contact the CofE incumbent of the parish to let them know I will be preaching in their parish on so and so a date and again to invite them to check with their Diocese if they have any concerns about my ministry. This may seem like box ticking for the sake of it, but it is about professional standards to protect everybody involved.

      Canon C8(2)a is in the context of legally permissible services. There is some doubt as to whether the service on Saturday was legally permissible.

      • Would you be making this level of fuss about the circumstances if the couple had been heterosexual? I doubt it. I took a wedding in the next door diocese and my credentials were not checked out. This happens on a regular basis, someone comes to take a one off service for a good reason, the priests agree that it’s okay and it goes ahead.

        • If you did what you say then the incumbent of the parish did not do their job properly.

          We have child / vulnerable adult protection policies in place for a reason. This kind of “I don’t need to obey the rules, of course it will be fine” attitude is what led to all the problems in Chichester and elsewhere.

    • Mike. As you wrote in Canon C 8 (2) (a)
      “…. It permits a minister to exercise ministry on an irregular basis at the specific invitation of the incumbent without seeking the bishop’s permission. …”

      So the incumbent has to give permission – but there wasn’t an incumbent because he had resigned! Therefore your comment doesn’t make any sense.

      • The incumbent’s responsibility in this matter delegates to the sequesters of the parish. Normally the church wardens and the Area Dean, but can be others. Hence the question to the Bishop on this very issue.

        **Someone** is responsible for permitting this service to go ahead. Let’s hear from the Diocese clearly who.

        • The wording of the canon is ‘at the specific invitation of the incumbent…’. No doubt when he invited Colin Coward, Clive Larsen was the legal incumbent. It seems to me that the person responsible is the person who invited Colin (ie, Clive Larsen). And I’m sure he’d be very happy to take that responsibility.

          The question about PTO & DBS is a separate issue. I note that some dioceses in their guidance exempt the requirement for a DBS where the event is truly one-off and unlikely to be repeated, and the safeguarding risks are minimal (eg, a retired minister who doesn’t hold a current DBS is invited back for a special occasion). Given that this is an event unlikely to be repeated at St Agnes, perhaps it falls under this category?

          • It’s a little bit more complicated though isn’t it? As soon as the sequesters know that the incumbent is leaving, they understand that their responsibility for the church will arise on that day. They therefore have a duty of care and responsibility for all services occurring after the resignation and such duty of care begins at the moment they are aware of the forthcoming departure of the incumbent. So passing the buck to Larsen won’t do – the Church Wardens were aware of this service for a number of weeks (months?) and they have known it was their legal responsibility. The same applies to the Area Dean. If the Area Dean did not know that such a controversial service was going to take place during an interregnum then again questions need to be asked of the Church Wardens and their decision to not disclose this service’s existence to the other sequesters.

            The PTO / DBS issue is one that the Diocese of Manchester needs to answer in a manner consistent with its normal pastoral and licensing authorisation practices in these circumstances.

          • On the PTO/DBS issue.

            First: PTO. The canon clearly allows a one-off event to be conducted without requiring a PTO. So this is a red-herring. No PTO was required. It therefore doesn’t matter whether or not Colin Coward had a PTO or licence in any diocese.

            Secondly: DBS. I have checked the current Diocese of Manchester guidelines on safeguarding, and policies where apparent on inviting other ministers. Nowhere in the current guidelines is there a requirement to check the DBS status of a visiting speaker. The only reference I can see to such an issue is a general part of the guidelines, which states that casual visitors, including invited speakers, should not have access to children. The current guidelines are interim guidelines which are to be reviewed at October’s Diocesan Synod (where perhaps revisions may be added about whether other dioceses need to be consulted when a minister visits).

            In other words, anyone from the parish (incumbent, safeguarding officer or sequestrator) who might have checked current guidance on how to handle Colin Coward’s visit would have found:
            a) no requirement to insist on PTO (one-off event).
            b) no requirement to inform the Bishop of Manchester or Salisbury (one-off event).
            c) no requirement to insist on a current DBS for a one-off visiting speaker (not mentioned in current guidelines).

            Safeguarding would be ensured through ensuring that any visiting speakers did not have access to children.

            Therefore there are no safeguarding or licensing issues raised in this case.

          • Jonathan – The DBS requirement is for “Vulnerable adults” and not just children. How are vulnerable adults to be protected ? – it cannot be just by excluding children!

      • I agree there may well be a question about whether appropriate permission was sought and given by those responsible. I was simply clarifying that PTO is not an absolute requirement to officiate, subject to an evaluation by the incumbent/area dean etc with regard to any safeguarding issues. Questions about the nature of the service are another matter, of course.

    • It’s an extraordinary day when the Provost of Glasgow and the Executive Director of Anglican Mainstream find themselves in agreement. But today is one of those days!

        • On a friend’s facebook post. He said this, r

          “I’ve a feeling that in this case, the phrase “generous Christian orthodoxy as Anglicans understand it” was not directed at issues of human sexuality but at activities involving shamans and crystals.

          I also don’t think that it is the case that “By all accounts he leaves a broad generous active engaged active parish” is an adequate way of describing the parish involved. I’ve read at least one conservative voice today questioning whether this is in fact a Christian church at all. Given what’s on its website, that doesn’t seem to me to be an unreasonable question to be honest.

          • I think Kelvin’s reservations were not about the orthodoxy of the church as such but that the service which attracted so much publicity took place in a context which could be regarded as flaky (my word, not his). His argument was that this might harm the ’cause’.
            I disagree strongly with this ‘Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion’ view. If we subscribe to this we are asking same-sex couples to be exemplary and representative in a way in which no heterosexual couple would be asked to be (not even the heir to the throne).

          • I do expect same-sex couples to be exemplary and representative in precisely the same way I expect heterosexual couples to be.

            Indeed, that is my position entirely.

            My comments about this particular matter at hand were entirely to do with the orthodoxy of the church. Penelope misinterprets my position completely.

        • I apologise Kelvin. I had no intention of misrepresenting your view on this and think that your expectation of exemplary behaviour is entirely in line with Chritian ethics. However, as as the case with women in the church, I believe that gay people are expected to exhibit a far greater degree of probity than their male or straight counterparts. That is not equality.

    • Sounds like they are exploring contemporary spirituality. I guess they are reaching a lot of people you are not and could never do so. They are committed to loving God and loving their neighbour – isn’t that a Jesus approach?

  2. It is not clear to me if this is a case of carelessness (the bishops didn’t see what was happening, but yet might, and may act on that), or wilful ignorance (they knew exactly what was happening and allowed it to happen regardless). In either case they are right to draw criticism.

    I get the impression you would assume the latter circumstances Peter? I am not so sure, but I don’t think either diocese is going to come oput of this feeling very comfortable.

    Thanks for the article.

      • You simply assert that he knew, which is not the same thing as proving it, “he must have known” is not “he knew”, but that’s just semantics and I’m in no doubt that you’ll be proved right in due course….

        But that’s my question: can you really, at this stage, say authoritatively he was ‘aware’ in any meaningful sense until we have evidence that he did not request the liturgy, the names of the person officiating (questions 1 and 2), or attempt to communicate with Salisbury Diocese at any point? Until we know with certainty the answers to many of the questions you ask, I think it’s premature to announce with such conviction “………cannot be interpreted as anything but a deliberate decision to allow “facts on the ground” to over-rule due process and order. as you do.

        Ultimately you speak as if you are passing judgement, rather than calling to account, and while I do not think you are wrong, I do not think it’s helpful to speak in this way.

        Perhaps I am being too soft?

        • He (the Bishop of Manchester) instructed an Archdeacon to investigate last week.

          I stand by what I wrote. The service had a particular political nature to it that similar services have not. It is because of that dynamic that transparency from the relevant leaders is of the highest importance.

  3. Do we know for sure that Colin Coward does not have a license or PTO in Manchester? The article you quote talks about Clive, not Colin.

  4. “A failure by the Bishops of Manchester and Salisbury to deal robustly with this apparently illegal service, which was deliberately publicised by the participants as a challenge to the Bishops’ authority, would torpedo the good efforts of the Shared Conversations process in trying to build trust and confidence that the Church of England will handle this issue fairly as it moves forward in dealing with it.”

    Good grief. Call off the dogs and gather some facts. It is far from clear that this was an ‘illegal service’ – in fact it isn’t even clear it was a service or what aspects of the pastoral guidelines you believe have been broken. You have absolutely no idea what discussions were had with the Bishops beforehand and it is clear from this comments thread that you don’t know the legal position, which is not at all straightforward. I recommend you find out what happened before lobbing allegations around and certainly before making this kind of moral blackmail directed at the bishops concerned.

    • ‘Mouse’, I am trying to work out why asking appropriate questions, on an area that is current one of controversy, should be characterised as ‘sending in the attack dogs’.

      Peter has pointed out some obvious anomalies and is asking for clarity. Why is that a problem?

      Please also note that I do not usually allow people to comment anonymously, so it would be great if you could post under your real name (or email me your details). Thanks.

      • Ian, it is clear that Peter has done a lot more than just ask some questions. The questions he asks beg answers, and he himself has said that’
        “A failure by the Bishops of Manchester and Salisbury to deal robustly with this apparently illegal service, which was deliberately publicised by the participants as a challenge to the Bishops’ authority, would torpedo the good efforts of the Shared Conversations process in trying to build trust and confidence that the Church of England will handle this issue fairly as it moves forward in dealing with it.”

        This is hardly open-ended questioning. The verdict of the Court of Peter Ould is fairly much in – and he wants robust action. Though even were the Bishop of Manchester to agree with Peter’s interpretation of events it is hard to see what he can do with a priest who does not have PTO in his diocese, and who has returned whence he came.

        My own question is, what would dealing with it robustly look like? Unlike the end of the 19C, we can’t really lock up priests who stray beyond the letter of the liturgical law. That was what a robust response looked like then, and as we know, it didn’t stop the changes that came in part through the pioneering work of East End ritualists etc. So getting agitated about this may not help Peter’s cause in the long run.

        • This is exactly the kind of hubris born of belief in progressive inevitability which deserves utter contempt.

          The CofE doesn’t have to prosecute priests who ‘stray [sic] beyond the letter of the law’.

          Instead, the Church can deny them preferment and any endorsement to provide religious care ‘in a manner authentic to the practices and beliefs of the community the chaplain represents.’

          Does that sound familiar?

          • David,

            My question was not an assumption of progressive inevitability but rather a practical one, which you have not answered.

            What possible “robust action” is possible against a priest who has resigned and then got married and has no interest in ministering in the Church of England, and another priest who it is believed has neither licence nor PTO and has been and gone and since departed following whatever it was that took place in this church. It seems to me that there is probably very little that can be done. Neither of them is seeking preferment – so your rather nasty little jibe is irrelevant.

            The more extreme end of things imaginable, depriving either or both of them of their orders, would make martyrs of them. Is that really a sensible idea?

          • Jeremy,

            You can save your rhetoric about ‘nasty little jibes’ for those who missed your own jibe about the ‘Court of Peter Ould’.

            What you’ve missed (or ignored) is the purpose of Peter’s own rhetoric about ‘robust action’ to call the whole Church’s attention to the kind of mentality which, in furtherance of their superior cause, is willing to connive at these breaches of trust, while requiring that those who oppose revision should adhere to due process, wringing their hands in abject fear of the ignominious homophobia label and ersatz martyrdom.

            And, on that last topic, we know that the very cause celebre which makes headlines for a few days is soon forgotten by the public.

            Your own case proves that.

          • While I am not comfortable with Peter’s seemingly over-presumptive judgement (as I said in a comment above, and so would agree with Jeremy here), I think you, Jeremy and David, plus ‘church mouse’ initially, are arguing about something no one actually said.

            Peter was not calling for ‘Action’ against the one taking the service, but for action/investigation against the ones allowing it to happen at all. In the first instance that’s the Bishops, in the second its the Sequesters.

            While criticisms may be leveled at Clive Larson in the future, he holds none of the responsibility here.

            But, even being generous and giving those involved the benefit of the doubt at this stage (awaiting more information), much of the circumstance surrounding due process here is suspect at the least and it is right to call that into question, especially if Peter and Ian are right about Duty of Care.

            Surely you’d accept that at least?

    • Worth also noting that the question of legal standing of ministers (in relation to PTO or license) across boundaries is now absolutely crucial because of safeguarding issues. There cannot be exceptions to this allowed.

  5. Peter,

    In the current situation, the Church of England claims to ‘continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity.

    Yet, it’s the revisionist bishops who are making public pronouncements about the need for change, while other bishops counter with precious little in support of the Church’s current doctrine,

    Yeah, we could sit on our hands, waiting for the CofE to provide an official forum for debate these issues intelligently, as we do here.

    We could also twiddle our thumbs, awaiting the outcome of the ecclesiastical equivalent of the Chilcott enquiry to sift through the ‘evidence’ in this latest incursion, while the juggernaut of de facto revisionism rolls forward with further unilateral action that reduces the due process of synod to the level of a mere ‘walk-over’ formality in 2017!

    Alternatively (and for the better), we can challenge, as you’ve done, those who exercise oversight to explain themselves, which is exactly what you’ve done here…and that’s commendable.

  6. I’m not sure that this is quite the most straightforward situation. Clive seems to have been recently disciplined for something to do with activities taking place on church premises. His decision to leave and marry in church immediately following resignation seems to have some connection with this disciplinary matter. A look at the church website indicates a lot of New Age related activity taking place, so perhaps the dispute centred around this matter. I’m going out on a limb here but it may be that what has been going on here is about a whole set of matters relating to the use of the church for “heterodox” activities, with which the bishop has been trying to deal. Perhaps this marriage blessing has more to do with a last statement of a priest whose ministry no longer sits comfortably with the doctrine of the Church of England. I’d be far more concerned with what has been found to be going on relating to New Age stuff than the liturgy celebrating marriage, which (as a pastoral response) can be conducted lawfully entirely in keeping with the teaching of the House of Bishops. I wish Clive well in his spiritual search beyond priestly ministry but for the integrity of all, I am glad that there is a boundary to what Anglicans believe and practice. A liturgy for same sex marriage is entirely the least of the concerns.

    • This looks very much like the situation — much more going on than meets the eye, perhaps. As for one-off PTO’s for a regular service the situation is as Mike Pitman implies. Ian is right that safeguarding concerns mean these things matter more than at one time they did — including in the one or two Churches, Evangelical and otherwise, who play fast and loose with such matters.

  7. Ps: I’m not sure a PTO is required in this situation. If it is, then there are a lot of illegal preaching and worship leading going on in Evangelcal Anglican churches!

  8. I think Simon has the measure of it – and that there isn’t much more to be said. As far as I know Colin has no license or PTO anywhere. Clive has resigned and the parish moves on from whatever was happening there under his leadership.

          • Clive, I didn’t take Sue’s remark to be about sex, but about Peter’s, and others’, attitude towards the service and the person who conducted it 9these being our ‘neighbours’). Gosh, some of you lot are obsessed with sex.

          • Penelope – The service was a blessing of a same sex marriage and so your claim is very odd given the reality of what the service was about.

  9. reading this from Canada, I can only be deeply saddened when we have yet another example of what is supposed to be the living Body of Christ out-Pharisee-ing the Pharisees as the game of law.

    • Yeah, right!…Until the legalism involves either same-sex marriage partners or those who support SSM insisting on:

      1. Adherence to the letter of religious exemptions in the Equality Act
      2. Adherence to the letter of the Oath of Canonical Obedience with little regard to ecclesiastical jurisprudence
      3. Adherence to the letter of Article XXXIII – On the Marriage of Priests, despite the Scripture and the doctrine of the Church which informed it

      What’s sauce for the goose…

  10. All these little upsets (or shall we be honest and call them intentional violations) can be dissected ad infinitum, but to what avail? If our two Archbishops remain silent – they always do – this signifies consent, and we move ever closer to an irreversible change in CofE doctrine. And any protestations that this is not how our church works and that our Archbishops don’t have any authority over other bishops completely misunderstands the reality of how things happen in human institutions, irrespective of what the small print says. When people (particularly people in high positions) speak up with conviction others listen, and if the argument is rational and honest people will at least consider carefully what has been said.

    Why should our Archbishops in particular speak out? Because that is exactly what leaders are for; and if we even remotely believe that God has had a hand in placing them where they are can we really accept that He wishes them to remain silent on serious issues of doctrine and good order within our church? We are so far into the disagreement on the sexuality and SSM issue that an end game fast approaches; yet none of us has the first idea what our Archbishops believe or intend to happen. And that cannot be construed as a neutral position (even if ‘neutrality’ were an acceptable position to maintain); it suggests acquiescence to the way things are going. If that is not how they feel I would beg them to speak now.

    • Don – you clearly have no idea about the history of the Cof E and how it works. It always moves forward with difference and debate until such times as agreement is reached. It is a broad church which embraces culture rather than a narrow one that condemns culture. The issue of a single prayer book, contraception, women in ministry are all examples of this process working. The issue of human sexuality will be no different – we will wrestle with it we will debate it and when it is accepted as ‘the norm’ the church will finally say ‘this is what we now think

      • Des, your summary of ‘the history of the CofE and how it works’ possibly says more about you than the CofE but we’ll let that pass.

        My point was not about any of that. It was about the silence of our two Archbishops: ‘If our two Archbishops remain silent – they always do – this signifies consent, and we move ever closer to an irreversible change in CofE doctrine’. Every time a violation of discipline is allowed to pass unnoticed or unchallenged it moves the position a notch further in the direction of acceptance of a revisionist position which is directly at odds with CofE doctrine. This wearing down of the long accepted position by means of disciplinary violations (rather than careful and honest theology) is no way for Christians (in any organisation) to behave. I have no reservation in saying that it is disgraceful.

  11. As an area dean I think you are making too much of this situation. Ministry has to be practical. The service was a service of blessing – it was not a legal service. Are you going to be so picky if a kid comes in and wants someone to bless their goldfish? The service was set up presumably by the wardens and the incumbent. The fact that the incumbent resigns the day before the service is clearly done to save the church any embarrassment over the fact that the Church of England excludes gay married people. This seems very gracious to me of the incumbent. If the church seeks to be welcoming to all then this is a wonderful way to show such a welcome especially when the incumbent has resigned from post to save the Church of England’s embarrassment over its inability to accept gay marriage.

      • Yes of course Peter but you must know what des was saying – the couple were not getting legally married in church.

        Ian admitted on a previous thread that some canons can be ignored as they are less important – notably Canon B8 (concerning the wearing of robes). Clearly we all have our views on which canons are more important than others, and clearly the Canons about which ‘public’ services are of more ‘public’ than others might exercise our conversation. But the point is that it’s now all happened, and at your admission, happens quite a lot.

        As I posted elsewhere, I’m reminded of a scene in the amazing film ‘A Few Good men’, which explores the link between law and morality. A lawyer is asking a marine officer whether one of the troops can determine which orders are more important, or whether they should follow them all equally without discrimination.

        Kaffee: Lt. Kendrick, was Lance Corporal Dawson given a below average rating on this last report because you learned he had been sneaking food to Private Bell?

        Capt. Ross: Object!

        Judge Randolph: Not so fast. Lieutenant?

        Lt. Kendrick: Lance Corporal Dawson was given a below average rating because he had committed a crime.

        Kaffee: A crime? What crime did he commit? Lieutenant Kendrick, Dawson brought a hungry guy some food. What crime did he commit?

        Lt. Kendrick: He disobeyed an order.

        Kaffee: And because he did. Because he exercised his own set of values, because he made a decision about the welfare of a Marine that was in conflict with an order of yours, he was punished. Is that right?

        Lt. Kendrick: Lance Corporal Dawson disobeyed an order!

        Kaffee: Yeah, but it wasn’t a real order, was it? After all, it’s peace time. He wasn’t being asked to secure a hill or advance on a beachhead. I mean, surely a Marine of Dawson’s intelligence can be trusted to determine on his own which are the really important orders and which orders might, say, be morally questionable? Lieutenant Kendrick, can he? Can Dawson determine on his own which orders he’s going to follow?

        Lt. Kendrick: No, he cannot.

        It seems to me that you are really on the ‘No, he cannot’ side of things. I’m afraid that is just pharisaical and not going to win people for Christ.

        • ‘Ian admitted on a previous thread that some canons can be ignored as they are less important’. I said no such thing.

          I commented that not all canons are equally important as a question of conformance and clergy discipline.

          Please work harder at the old listening carefully thing.

        • Andrew,

          Do you really view the potential violation of a Diocese’s safeguarding procedures as morally equivalent to feeding a hungry person? What a bizarre ethical world you live in.

          • No Peter. I agree with Mary above that you wouldn’t be making this fuss at all if it was the blessing of a heterosexual marriage.

          • Actually Peter I’m interested in your theological reflection on the question of whether some of the ‘rules’ are morally questionable and so can be overlooked on some occasions – and that’s why I included the quotation from that film. But perhaps you haven’t ever seen it. I commend it to you.

          • Well I’m not sure it was worth making twice. But why is there no such thing as a private service?

          • Because they’re isn’t!!! All services in the CofE are public. You can’t forbid people from entering a church (unless they cause a disturbance) at a wedding or a funeral or any other service. We had some homeless people in our wedding in Oxford ten years ago.

            The concept of a “private” service doesn’t exist.

          • Because there isn’t, followed by a lot of exclamation marks is rather like saying ‘because I say so’ to a child. I was assuming that services are in some sense ‘public, because, although, there may be private services of baptism for children, these are recorded in church records. Would that be correct, do you think?

          • Dear Penelope, they’re are NOT private services for Baptism. Well to-do families chose baptism at times that were not the normal services to try to minimise the intrusion of the public – but “minimise” is really not the same as your incorrect assertion that it was private. It was not. It was never private.

          • Peter, you are wrong.

            Look at the BCP. There is a service of “Private Baptism”.

            It should not be used very often. But the principle that some Church of England services can be private is established.

          • Thank you Jeremy. That was precisely the question I was asking, bearing in mind the BPC service. But I have been ‘told, several times that you can’t. Mansplaining much?

          • Dear Jeremy,

            although you wrote “Look at the BCP. There is a service of “Private Baptism”.” … that’s not really true is it!

            Firstly baptism in Common Worship has no private service and yet this is based upon BCP (1662 and thereafter)

            The heart of the problem is that “Private” in BCP (i.e. 1662) doesn’t mean private as you would want it to!

            In the Baptism service in the BCP it says of “Private Baptism of Children” which it adds “In Houses” (so it does not refer to any private baptism in Church):

            “The Minister of every Parish shall warn the people, that without great cause and necessity they procure not their children to be be baptized at home in their houses. But when need shall compel them so to do, then Baptism shall be administered on this fashion.” [sic]

            So if a child is too ill to bring it out of the house then the baptism could take place at home. In the Church, even in BCP, there are no private baptisms. This is for the home “when need shall compel them so to do”.

            For any baptism in Church the 1662 BCP says “Due notice, normally of at least a week, shall be given before a child is brought to the church to be baptized.”
            It’s not very private if you publicly give notice of it and when members of the public can still enter the church.

          • Penelope: “Mansplaining much?” The word isn’t even in the Oxford English Dictionary double volume edition (quite why it is still called “shorter” when it is two large volumes – well who knows?). I suggest you read BCP instead of just Jeremy’s response

          • Oh, Clive, bless. You’ll find it in the on-line Oxford. And when it does reach the printed edition (if it hasn’t already, like yours my 2 vol. Shorter is somewhat out of date), your quote really should be added as an illustration of the definition.

        • Penelope, even marriages are PUBLIC events even though the couple would like to keep it all as private as they can. Contrary to MacCulloch’s statement on his BBC programme the earliest weddings were originally held in the porch of the Church precisely because they were public events at which both the bride and groom had to be seen (and so could not hide) from the public.

          • Clive, shouty caps make your arguments so much more convincing. I refer you to my response to Peter re the private baptism of children.

          • Clive, you and Peter don’t seem to understand that I don’t have an agenda here. I’m asking a question about whether a service in a CofE church might be deemed ‘private’, as the BCP seems to suggest. I had already suggested that it might not be because, as far as I understand, all such services have to be recorded (in black ink) in church records. So there is no need for me to ‘try again’. I’m not trying to prove a point

          • The BCP refers to The Ministration of Private Baptism of Children in houses‘, but warns that this should only be procured as a result of ‘great cause and necessity’ (typically, when it was thought that the child might not survive).

            As part of the statutory remedy in Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (which inter alia counteracted the problem of irregular and clandestine marriages), the public worship and authorised liturgy undergirded the historic role of the parish church and its priest in solemnising marriages.

            Although a blessing service is not a wedding, as Paul and Clive have said, services conducted in CofE churches are always public.

            The reasoning is explained by Richard Hooker:: ‘When we publicly make our prayers, it cannot be but that we do it with much more comfort than in private, for that the things we ask publicly are approved as needful and good in the judgement of all, we hear them sought for and desired with common consent.’

            In accordance with this Lex orandi, lex credendi (“the law of praying [is] the law of believing”) explains why liturgy defines Anglcan theology and should never be hijacked by pressure groups.

            As the HoB Pastoral Guidance notes of pastoral letter from the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Pentecost 2003: ‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’.

            Performing unauthorised liturgical rites (whether reservation or blessing homosexual relationships) is not the same as informal private prayers. It is a unilateral attempt of pressure groups to amend Anglican theology and with patent contempt for the Church’s due synodical process.

            Neither the movements for women in the priesthood and episcopacy, nor for the Church re-marriage of divorcees ever resorted to these contemptible tactics.

            It’s a new low for CofE churchmanship!

  12. The House of Bishops pastoral statement said:

    “Clergy who are approached by people asking for prayer in relation to entering into a civil partnership are reminded to respond pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances of each case, having regard to the teaching of the church on sexual morality, celibacy, and the positive value of committed friendships in the Christian tradition.”

    The blurry line between responding ‘pastorally and sensitively’ and ‘holding a service’ will continue to generate discussions like this. I don’t think that chasing up every incident like this does anyone any favours.

    • Mike, what it does do is raise the question as to whether practice can be changed by the constant slicing away, bit by bit, of line drawn in the pastoral statement that you quote.

      There is no doubt that services like this are deliberately set up to test the line as closely as possible. If there is no response, then the next service pushes the line even harder.

      We are then told, some way down the line, ‘Oh, the Church’s teaching on this is meaningless because it is so often neglected—so it has to change.’

      This is not a good way to proceed as a Church, and Peter’s questions helpfully put a mark against that.

      • Unless, of course, the matter concerns robes worn at services. Then we can ignore all the lines – neglect the canons – and then conclude it doesn’t really matter.

        I am listening carefully Ian – you are just not being very convincing I’m afraid.

      • Ian, the service was held in order that the congregation at St Agnes North Reddish could join with Clive and John to celebrate their forthcoming wedding. The congregation had been asking both of them for some years when they were going to get married. As a responsible clergy person and in deference to the House of Bishops Guidance he deferred getting married until he had decided to resign. Your comment that “There is no doubt that services like this are deliberately set up to test the line as closely as possible” has no foundation in reality and is completely wrong. None of the services I have been involved with had any such motive behind them. The reason for each service was the love of two people that they wished to have dedicated in the presence of God and celebrate with their family and friends and members of their Christian family. Reading Peter’s bog and your and other people’s comments, I wonder at the amount of speculation and paranoia that is revealed. All the time I am reminded of Theresa May’s warning to the Conservatives about their reputation as ‘the nasty party’. That’s certainly what many LGBTI Anglicans feel about the behaviour of a small minority of Anglicans.

        • Whatever the congregation at St. Agnes might have wished to celebrate doesn’t exempt it from all accountability to the wider Church, which has due synodical process for effecting change.

          Clive’s resignation may well have exempted him from clergy discipline, but did not set aside the part of the HoB Pastoral Guidance which restricted pastoral response to private prayers, given the purpose of public liturgy in expressing the settled belief of the Church.

          Also, as a member of the clergy, you were fully aware that your role in conducting the service of ‘blessing’ could be unofficially construed as representative approval of the Church. It also contemptuously bypasses the due synodical process for change to promote de facto revisionism.

          What part did you not understand of The same approach as commended in the 2005 statement should therefore apply to couples who enter same-sex marriage, on the assumption that any prayer will be accompanied by pastoral discussion of the church’s teaching and their reasons for departing from it. Services of blessing should not be provided. Clergy should respond pastorally and sensitively in other ways.

          Apparently, the whole blinking lot!

  13. So, Colin travelled from Salisbury to pray with and bless the marriage of his friends Clive and John -as my theological college principal once said, ‘anybody’s granny can bless one’. Neither of the priests involved are licensed now. Both are exiles from a church that appears to be deeply unjust in its treatment of LGBTI people, which for me, at any rate, means that the call for fairness in relation to the Shared Conversations rings somewhat hollow. Then again, I’m a former Trustee of Changing Attitude, England so I would think that. I was invited on Saturday but was unable to attend. Had I been free I would have gladly travelled to Reddish to support Clive and John and to be led in prayer by Colin. These are fine, Christian people and the members of the St Agnes congregation are wonderfully prayerful and loving. It is extremely upsetting to see this event being attacked and dissected in this way. .

  14. There’s nothing illegal about blessing a same-sex marriage. The Bishop’s “Pastoral” Guidance has no more doctrinal status than the vindictive Pharisaical drivel above on which I just wasted twenty minutes or so of my life. Besides which, let’s use the word “Bishop’s” advisedly here, given that reports have since suggested less than half the Diocesan Sees even voted for it (not that it makes a difference, anyhow, because it’s not law or doctrine). Not long ago, the present Archbishop of York blessed TFI Friday on live TV, for goodness sake!

    All this can come down to is you lot getting worked up about Colin Coward leading prayers in Manchester when you don’t suppose he has the PTO/License to do so. Him and all the other people in the Diocese that week who (doubtless there as in all other dioceses) led services like Morning Prayer without a license to do so. Not recently attended a diocese or even CofE church yourselves where services of prayer have been lead by people without Bishops’ licences? Bit slim Jim. And this is a safeguarding risk? Per-lease spare us the hypocritical hand-wringing.

      • Peter Ould, an admittedly ‘former’ Gay man (now herosexually married) and Ian Paul make an excellent pair for the scriutinisation of the inner workings of the ‘gay’ mind – that acts as an informant to the Church of England on all matter of LGBTQI activity. They should be given some title to reflect their virulent opposition to the presence of ‘clandestine’ activity of the gender and sexuality issues presently troubling them both.

        • I suggest Father Ron Smith giving them the title “Christian” since most of these posts accuse them wrongly of things they haven’t done and simply ignore what they have said.

      • Well let’s just check this out. Are you saying Clive, Ian, Peter, et al that if all those involved in leading this service had received a DBS check specifically for this service then you would have then been content for it to go ahead?

        • Dear Andrew, I despair of your inability to engage properly with issues. Start with Peter Ould being accused of wanting to take clear action against people – something he actually never said (see his entry of Peter Ould July 26, 2016 at 8:21 am).

          The DBS (CRI as it was originally) is a tiny part of the bigger picture. It remains important (essential actually) because the CofE must get its child protection and vulnerable adult protection in order and so it cannot be ignored but it is just a tiny part of the bigger picture.

          In my admission and licencing procedure my oath required me to affirm Scripture as the SUPREME authority (actual words from my licencing). Instead on this thread “des” is apparently an area dean who supports exploring contemporary spirituality – which is way of saying that it is spirituality that is not always Christian but has more to do with the world.

          So please look at the bigger picture.

          We are Christians, including the head of the CofE (the Queen), who believe in Jesus Christ and believe in Scripture as Jesus did (which is actually hard).

        • I don’t see myself as being strongly on either side here..

          The fundamental questions being asked concern following a process: one that is meant to ensure a clear line of authority and responsibility for the professional conduct/practice of clergy conducting public services. Such a process clearly exists, and I don’t think anyone is claiming otherwise. Is it a ‘legal’ process about which ‘legal’ judgements can be made? I don’t know, but that’s not what’s being asked. Peter does not explicitly say “This action was illegal”.

          What’s being disputed is weather this process:

          A: Actually needed to be followed in this case at all, and
          B: If it did apply, yet wasn’t followed (for whatever reasons there might have been), what action that can or should be taken in light of that?

          To me,it looks careless and unprofessional at best from what is effectively a senior management structure. At worst its negligence or misconduct, and there are processes in the CofE for dealing with this sort of thing.

          Does it need to be investigated? If Peter is right, yes it does, and even if I disagreed with him I think he’s right to push the questions. The process and structure which are meant to be fair and hold people to account are more important than any individual or corporate agenda.

      • Of course I care about the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. My point is that services are taken as one-offs and prayers are led all the time by people who do not have a Bishop’s License/PTO to do so. I don’t see you lot publically setting yourselves up to put everyone responsible for this on trial. None of you are really concerned about safeguarding in this case – you’re just finding an excuse for hand-wringing. Start witch-hunting every single of the thousands and thousands of people in the church who are likely to be leading prayers without an official license to do so, and I’ll start to believe you’re not trivialising the very serious matter of safeguarding in order to make cheap shots.

  15. Mr Ould and Mr Paul. Two children, given a Dot to Dot colouring book, so slavishly endeavouring to join each dot in numerical order, that they never stop to look. They never see the beauty unfolding in front of their eyes. Sometimes the truest picture and the most fabulous creation is when we colour outside the lines and when we make new connections. You sit on the sidelines, in judgement of those who have the courage to colour outside the lines. Those who join the dots in new ways that more truly reflect the beauty of God’s creation – not the legalistic numbered dots of the human hand. Often times, people ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’. In the case you are so busy discussing, I ask myself, ‘Where would Jesus be?’ Would he be sitting in front of his desktop, tapping away at his keyboard, dissecting motives and actions and ‘legalities’? Criticising good people who are doing their best to do good and to follow Christ here on earth in the 21st century? No. I think he’d be at a wedding, celebrating love and commitment and hope. Best wishes.

    • Rosemary,

      It’s telling that your analogy of scripture to a colouring book so aptly encapsulates your own scant regard for Holy Writ.

      In scripture, Jesus describes John the Baptist as ‘a burning and a shiny light (John 5:35). Yet, we know that the prophet denounced as unlawful Herod’s marriage to Herodias, the ex-wife of his half-brother, Herod II.

      Why didn’t this great prophet, whom Christ called a ‘shining light’, abandon what you call ‘legalities’ and celebrate the happy couple’s new-found ‘love, commitment and hope’? Especially, since Herodias’ unhappy first marriage to her half-uncle had been arranged in her childhood by her horrible grand-father, Herod the Great, who had executed her father, Aristobulus IV.

      In fact, there’s another phrase for what you describe here as colour outside the lines which is ‘making it up as you go along’.

      As the Psalmist was inspired by God to write of such presumption: You sit and testify against your brother…When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. (Ps 50:20 – 21)

      Guess what? He’s not!

  16. The word “Pharisee” springs to mind here.

    Such a lot of effort and emotion (or fear?) to attack people coming together in love and mutual support.

    Surely there are other things in the world than love that should be persecuted?

  17. Clive, Peter Ould did call for action to be taken against Colin Coward. “Now that the Bishop of Salisbury is aware of the apparently illegal service in Manchester Diocese that the Rev Colin Coward conducted without permission to officiate, what action does he intend to take against the Rev Colin Coward?” as also he did against the churchwardens and Area Dean of the church in which this service took place.

    All of us who are ordained or licensed take Scripture seriously. That doesn’t mean we all understand it or interpret it the same way; nor that the way we understand, and the weight we give to certain passages won’t change over time, as our interpretation is informed by our experience and the findings of science, among other things. Neither does it mean that we have to ignore spiritual insights from other traditions. We subject our judgements to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, since Jesus never wrote anything himself, so how can we know how he believed in Scripture.

  18. Dear Anne Peat, if you read the article carefully you find that it is not Peter Ould who is requiring action to be taken but he is asking what the Bishop is going to do – a different person.

    Hence I wrote:
    “…Peter Ould being accused of wanting to take clear action against people…”

    It is not Peter Ould himself who wants to take clear action against people.

    • I think that is playing with words, Clive! Peter hasn’t the authority to take any action. He is demanding of the people in authority to know what action they are going to take against the priest and Area Dean and churchwardens involved in this service. Presumably he wouldn’t do that unless he thought such action should be taken.

      And reading back through the comments, I can’t find a place where Andrew or anyone else accused Peter of wanting to take action himself. Peter’s comment which you referenced concerned him ‘asking for action’ from other people.

  19. In what way is pointing out what Peter actually said by quoting his exact words ‘joining in an attack on him’?

    And if words matter, then it equally applies to you and accusing ‘Andrew’ of stating that Peter wanted to take action himself – which as I have pointed out, nobody called ‘Andrew’ or anything else actually did.

    • I think you are right Anne.

      What Peter wants is for the bishops to seriously reflect on and perhaps acknowledge the legitimacy of his questions, ideally publicly, but I’m inferring that. This may or may not lead to action being taken, but that is not Peters decision to make, and he knows it.

      Does he strongly suggest that there should be action? Yes, of course he does, perhaps even too strongly, but that is within his rights. Peter doesn”t suggest the action, or try to enforce it himself, either in the original post or the comments.

        • Ok, then let me be clearer.

          The first point Anne raises is that while Peter Ould does not intend to take any action himself (a point on which all three of us agree and that your quote of him supports!), he does nonetheless expect and encourage action to be taken, and is reasonably forceful about saying so. Agree?

          The second point Anne made (and I hope Anne will correct me if I’m wrong) is that perhaps the language and tone with which Peter does this is over-judgemental or hypocritical, and this is concerning. I asked Peter broadly the same question already, above.

          This is the distinction I’m saying you’ve missed. Peter is trying to be both intentional and careful with his words, strongly calling for something he believes should happen, but recognizing that the responsibility for enforcing/enacting it is some else’s and not his.

          Anne and I (and others) are commenting on the second point, not the first.

          Would you say that’s fair?

          • “Peter is trying to be both intentional and careful with his words, strongly calling for something he believes should happen, but recognizing that the responsibility for enforcing/enacting it is some else’s and not his.”

            I continue to appreciate what you’re writing here Mat.

            Over on the CA Facebook page I’m getting huge amounts of love (or something dissimilar) and being described as someone constantly obsessed by the minutia of people’s sex lives. In actual matter of fact I couldn’t give a diddly squat about most people’s sex lives. Neither am I constantly criticising these kinds of services and calling for some kind of Episcopal action. The evidence to support such an assertion simply doesn’t exist – it is a fantasy constructed to demean.

            However, I will write about (and question) specific individual acts that are iconic of the debate we are currently having. The notion that this service in Reddish is *not* iconic is naive – it involves key political players in this debate, not just as participants and presidents in the service itself but also those who have ultimate legal responsibility for the people and locations involved. There is a particular web of influence, agenda and power here that makes this service more than it’s parts. If one is a revisionist and cannot see this then frankly you’re not up to the game

            Why the list of exact questions? Well anyone who has dealt with hierarchies can answer that – ask open ended non-precise questions and you get ambiguous and non-committal answers. Ask more precise questions, present binary outcomes and you can achieve a better understanding. There are clear legal issues involved here and they require exact exploration.

            As for the safe-guarding issue that is alluded to in my questions, it is a key concern. Like it or not, at the extremes, if someone without any form of authorisation from any CofE Diocese (and therefore someone who has not undertaken any form of official assessment as to their good standing on safeguarding issues) is allowed to take an official public service where the congregation numbers into their hundreds, that is an issue. Presiding at a service imbues someone with a degree of authority and trust and this authority and trust can be abused, especially is the president does not simply leave after the service but engages in a prolonged social interaction with the congregation. This is why as the CofE we are really tightening up on these issues and it is the reason why the standard practice is to formally inform the Diocese of any guest president / preacher so they can be verified and any known safe-guarding issues identified.

            Let me be very clear what I am and am not saying. I am **not** saying that there is any reason to suppose that the president of this service was in any manner a safeguarding risk and that the way that he was allowed to conduct this service **actually** exposed anyone to a risk of abuse. What I **am** saying is that the attitude of “Oh it was X and we know that X is alright and anyway it was just one service” is **precisely** the kind of thinking that has landed parishes in the Church of England in very serious trouble in the past. The fact that some in the revisionist camp cannot see this and instead view such criticisms as homophobic abuse of the president is beyond me. Again, it shows a political naivety that indicates a more general lack of strategic (and even tactical) thought.

            So yes, I am asking questions (and I may or may not have specific desires for outcomes). But frankly the questions are all valid and if those who object to them cannot answer them but instead dismiss them as merely homophobic criticism then they actually damage their position rather than strengthen it.

          • Thanks for the lengthy response.

            What frustrates me more than anything about debate such as this is not so much the intensity and vitriol of language that can so easily characterize them, but the inability to listen or understand what those with whom I disagree are actually saying.

            Simply, I do not want to embarrass myself by responding to a point no one has made or believes, nor do I want others to do the same, intentionally or otherwise.

      • Peter has answered you in detail now and he has reiterated once again that he has not asked for any action by himself, which remains also my understanding of what he wrote.

        You have given a fair summary, and I respect that, but I happen not to agree with you (or Anne) that Peter has proposed action himself. To me it is not just playing with words but it matters. At that remaining point it seems to be better that we simply agree to disagree.

        • OK, once more…

          ..I happen not to agree with you (or Anne) that Peter has proposed action himself….

          You do agree with us then Clive, as that is what both Anne and I said! Peter also understood that’s what I meant, as he responded in detail about his motives and expectations, for which I am appreciative.

          Peter is not proposing action himself, he is calling for someone else to take it. On this point, all 4 of us (myself, you, Anne and Peter) are in agreement!

          Where we were not in agreement is about ‘appropriate tone and style’, but both I and Peter, here and elsewhere have agreed to disagree on that.

          When I accused you of missing the point, it was about that. You had mistakenly interpreted us as saying something we didn’t: in doing so you have not acknowledged the point we were making.

          I don’t think I can be clearer than that Clive, I’m sorry.

          • Thanks, Mat, for trying to persevere with this. Anne pointed out to Clive earlier when he accused me of accusing Peter that I had never actually mentioned any such thing, but he appears to over look facts. Let’s hope your patience is rewarded.

          • Dear Andrew

            It was Anne Peat at July 27, 2016 at 12:00 pm who asserted that “Peter Ould did call for action to be taken against Colin Coward.” Yet Peter Ould asked what the Bishop was going to do which doesn’t necessarily require the Bishop to take action against Colin Coward at all. So it was Anne Peat who assumed … action … against … Colin Coward, I merely pointed out that words matter and Peter asked what the Bishop was going to do which may or may not involve any action “against” (Anne Peat’s words) Colin Coward.

            it was equally Anne Peat at July 27, 2016 at 9:55 pm who claimed that I had accused you “of stating that Peter wanted to take action himself” but if you or Anne looks back at the correspondence I don’t actually seem to have done that either. Your original comment seemingly just strangely singled out the DBS.

            So Andrew …. which bits of my response to Mat … of:
            “You have given a fair summary, and I respect that, but I happen not to agree with you (or Anne) that Peter has proposed action himself. To me it is not just playing with words but it matters. At that remaining point it seems to be better that we simply agree to disagree.” … don’t you understand?

            Mat has tried hard to be fair but has moved to shift the conversation away from Anne’s assertion of Peter wanting action against Colin Coward, but I simply don’t think that is quite what Peter originally wrote. I respect Mat’s being fair greatly and commend his effort. That’s it.

          • I think we could around in circles now, adding nothing new. I’ll just add a slight alteration to my previous comment, with the additions in bold.

            Peter is not proposing action himself, he is calling for someone else to take it, if indeed any action at all would be appropriate in this case, it may not be. On this point, all 4 of us (myself, you, Anne and Peter) are in agreement!

            I’ll leave it at that.

          • Dear Clive

            Let me, patiently, quote exactly what you said:

            “Dear Andrew, I despair of your inability to engage properly with issues. Start with Peter Ould being accused of wanting to take clear action against people – something he actually never said (see his entry of Peter Ould July 26, 2016 at 8:21 am).”

            Please tell me where I accused Peter of any such thing?

            I don’t think I can be clearer than that Clive, I’m sorry

          • Andrew

            Why don’t you actually begin by realistically and truthfully reading what you actually wrote. Instead your usual technique of moving the goalposts, start instead with your actual entry of July 27, 2016 at 7:04 am in which you actually said:
            “Well let’s just check this out. Are you saying Clive, Ian, Peter, et al that if all those involved in leading this service had received a DBS check specifically for this service then you would have then been content for it to go ahead?”

          • AH Clive – I’m so sorry. I just didn’t realise it was Professor Plum in the library with the lead piping. How stupid of me.

  20. Wow! This has been the most unedifying and frankly nasty thread I have ever seen on Psephizo. Whatever temporary political truce might have been achieved by the Shared Conversations has now been abandoned. Having listened, we have now all gone back into our corners to resume the fight, without gloves. Maybe time to review your policy on guest bloggers Ian?

    • Anthony, thanks for your comments—but I find that a curious interpretation of some of the discussion.

      Could you help me by pointing out some of the ‘nasty’ comments?

      It is also worth noting, in relation to ‘temporary truce’, that the timing of this was determined by those who participated in the service. If the timing here has caused a problem, do you think they bear any responsibility?

      • “Mr Ould and Mr Paul. Two children, given a Dot to Dot colouring book, so slavishly endeavouring to join each dot in numerical order, that they never stop to look. They never see the beauty unfolding in front of their eyes.”

        You are called childish and blind by Rosemary.

        The word “attack” is used in the sense of a “personal attack” on someone quite a number of times; the language of violence is used here more than in any other comment thread I’ve read on Psephizo. It is not justified, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t said.

        Father Ron Smith is incredibly sarcastic, caustic even in a most unhelpful way.

        Penelope smugly ‘toasts’ a point made by someone else, which feels triumphant and unnecessary, seeking to turn the comment thread into a competition of some kind.

        And, as you yourself comment on Ian, Church Mouse (whose whole comment is incendiary) uses the phrase “sending in the attack dogs”, but also uses the term “moral blackmail” to describe the debate being had.

        I don’t think it’s too bad, and I’m sure Peter and Ian know when something is going to be controversial and, but I do agree with Anthony, there is an atmosphere of tension and sarcasm here that at best is leaving tension and making everyone unusually defensive and at worst is actively promoting division.

        • Thanks Mat. I agree that our interlocutors here have been unusually unpleasant.

          But I inferred from Anthony’s point the opposite: that he thought Peter was being unpleasant, and that I should not have posted the entry as a result.

          We will have to wait for Anthony to clarify.

          • Yes, as you say, I assumed that Antony was talking about the comment ‘thread’ as distinct from the article.

        • If you feel that there is an atmosphere of tension and sarcasm, then that is because many of the people who have responded feel angry that this blog was posted at all. It is not like Ian’s reflections on the Shared Conversations which also generated some heat, and it would be better if the words had never been written and published. However, they have been and some commentators are clearly upset by the tone and content. David Beadle, Fr Ron et al are entitled to give their own view as robustly as Peter, Clive and others. And I am entitled to agree with David when he has made a very good point, even if smugly. The glass of prosecco is a private joke.

          • Yes, sorry if you felt like I was singling you out Penelope.

            My complaint is not that you (or others) have no right or platform for expressing your opinion, you do and I welcome it! The open comments section is what makes this blog so good. The list of examples I chose are not necessarily ones that I would deem “nasty”, but ones that contribute to an atmosphere that all of us would want to avoid.

            Simply, we are all capable of being better than this, and what a casual observer or reader of this thread would perceive edifies none of us.

          • Mat and Penelope,

            Nobody has said for one moment that you can’t make a point robustly …. but expect a clear (which could be interpretted as robust) response if you do so. Such a response is respectful but clear.

        • Mat, I much prefer to see harsh but honest engagement rather than insincere peace-making – and it is perfectly possible to be well mannered in the former and very divisive in the latter. And we all know that hastily written words tend to amplify the impression either of unyielding harshness or of the most sickly sensitivity; that’s just how it is, and I don’t think Christians should beat themselves up over it! The more so when we are at least united in caring deeply about a particular issue, albeit from opposing viewpoints.

          I personally don’t keep a score of who has said what on blog comments, preferring to consider each point as it is made on its own merits. Truth and rationality are what I look for, and they can come at you from unexpected directions and it is a considerable joy when they do. Of course it is always better to play the ball rather than the man, though the temptation is sometimes too delicious to resist! I also think that when we try to dress up truth so that it is more palatable it can easily become less truthful; we Christians perhaps need to be more aware of this.

          But I have to say that the way this whole issue has been handled by the CofE leadership is lamentable and that is, in large part, the reason for the present unpleasantness of discourse.

          • I much prefer to see harsh but honest engagement rather than insincere peace-making

            We posted at the exact same time but yes, well said, I’m in complete agreement.

        • Mat, sorry. To quote Jane Austen: ‘I do not like my situation; this place is too hot for me….this is a cross evening, – everybody is cross and teasing – but do not let us mind them’.

  21. Our church staff and wardens went to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit last year. One member made a really interesting observation afterwards – to the effect “Why do all these people leading big churches start their own churches, rather than engage with existing church denominations.”. I think this article and some of the comments answer this question. In order to be able to be sufficiently free to do, with integrity, what God wants them to do, they cannot be shackled by the existing hierarchies of church denominations.
    In reading this, I was very saddened by what seemed to be inviting a form witch hunt, or Spanish Inquisition.
    In this day and age, “nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”, but yet the questioning here sounds so much like “Now, Bishop of Manchester/Sequesters — you are accused of heresy on three counts — heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed, and heresy by action — *four* counts.”

    I realise I will be flamed to the n’th degree for this comment, but so be it.

    • That’s interesting Clint. But I would be surprised is anyone at Willow Creek is seeking the freedom to be a ‘shamanistic vicar’…!

      Rather the opposite…

    • I too am saddened that the truce established by the Shared Conversations thread has been so quickly abandoned. Ian of course may allow whoever he likes as blogger or commentator: it’s his blog. I have found the tone of this post deeply unpleasant and unedifying. I find when I read this blog that I move from being informed and enlightened to finding it both alien and alienating. I see I’m back on the pendulum.

  22. It is up to you Ian how you use Psephizo (which as you know I used to support financially) and whether or not you invite guest bloggers, generally a positive thing. I don’t think the Revd Peter Ould set out to be gratuitously unpleasant per se, but I do think that when you invite a guest blogger you are clearly identified with what is being blogged about and in this case have you have allowed it to be seen as a proxy for your own views which, as an elected member of Archbishops’ Council, I am surprised you hold. It is so easy to slag off bishops and as a number of interlocutors have said we don’t have the facts. Much of this is surmise and conjecture and to use Psephizo as a loudhailer in the expectation that the Bishops of Manchester and Salisbury will come running and bow down is naive in the extreme. As Mat Sheffield and Daniel Lamony have said, the ad hominem comments on this thread have been pretty torrid, but that sadly is the nature of the debate that we are now having, post the Shared Conversations.

    • With the greatest of respect, I haven’t “slagged off” any Bishops in this post and thread. If you think asking questions is “slagging off” then we clearly have a language interpretation issue between the two of us.

    • Anthony, thanks for the clarification. A couple of things about the post, and about being on AC.

      First, as Mat has noted, most of the unpleasant comments have come from one side of the debate. I am not sure why you haven’t made comment on that. I have permitted them to show the nature of the debate, but might now go back and delete some. Peter appears to me to have engaged fairly and objectively in most of his comments.

      Second, no, of course these are not my words; if they were, I would have posted them. By allowing a guest post, I am not co-authoring the words, but I am giving space to questions or issues which I think deserve some air time. I think these questions do.

      In relation to that, I have several times invited contributions from people with whom I disagree; the recent example of Simon Oliver is a case in point. This blog is not simply about me airing my views; it is about creating space for respectful debate.

      • First, as Mat has noted, most of the unpleasant comments have come from one side of the debate.

        I just want to say two things in response to this if I may;

        The first is that I wasn’t picking and choosing my quotes deliberately, and wasn’t making the point I did above to draw contrast between the sides. That contrast is fair I think, with hindsight, but I wasn’t making it explicitly and just chose the first couple of comments that jumped out at me from scrolling up the comments. 🙂

        The second point I didn’t think needed to be said. The reason people have responded this way is because they felt provoked by, if not the content, at least the tone of Peter’s article. What’s more, I can see why. I do not personally think the content is objectionable but I do feel the force with which he makes his points immediately puts those he disagree with on the defensive.

        It is not excuse for mud-slinging, but I am surprised that you seem surprised at this response?

        • Mat, thanks. The fact that the unpleasant comments tend to come from one side is interesting.

          I am not sure I am surprised; I don’t put things the way Peter does, perhaps in part for this reason; Peter needs to respond on his own behalf; I still think there are some important questions here, and even though I might not have asked them in the way he does, I still think it was worth giving space for the questions to be asked.

          • Ian, this post, regardless of any wider issues, is a public interrogation of two Bishops and a church’s sequesters, launched in response to a blessing of a marriage, which has come at the cost of the permanent exclusion of one of them from ministry. Regardless, of any wider issues, do you seriously not expect their friends, aquaintances and people who sympathise with them to get rather angry about the post?

            Given that the post is asking publically asking questions of people’s integrity, professionalism and attitude towards safeguarding while not in possession of many of the relevant facts (and given that this blog often calls for people to be disciplined), it really is a bit rich to try and take the moral highground over angry responses. Of course it’s better that people use temperate language, but a few angry messages on your comment thread hardly equate to calls for the trouncing of people’s livelihoods and the exercise of their vocations, questions concerning people’s integrity and (as has happened to me on this blog) insistance that I should not be in my church and have broken the vows of my Baptism.

          • David, thanks for the comment, and again, this was written by Peter and not me.

            But I don’t think I accept your characterisation of the issue. This was someone (whom it turns out I trained with), who left his wife and children when he came out. His recent ministry appears to be a long way from what is acceptable even in the breadth of the C of E—and it is people with very different views from me who have pointed that out.

            It appears he has pushed the boundaries to breaking point, and appears to have been living for some time well beyond the terms of his ordination—though still drawing a stipend.

            So I wonder where the pastoral concern comes for the people he abandoned, and those who give at some cost to the Church who might reasonably expect some integrity.

            But there are more details in today’s Church Times which I am about to read.

          • No David.

            When you wrote:
            “…Ian, this post, regardless of any wider issues, is a public interrogation of two Bishops and a church’s sequesters, launched in response to a blessing of a marriage, which has come at the cost of the permanent exclusion of one of them from ministry. …” you seriously overlook the fact that he CHOSE to resign – there is no report of anyone forcing his resignation, and so your response is wrong, because it is not at the cost of the permanent exclusion of one of them from ministry.

          • David, the basis of your complaint against this post is without foundation. The marriage which you appear to defend may have legal validity because the law of the land has been altered to call such a relationship a “marriage” but the Church of England’s doctrine has not been altered and clergy are not allowed to enter into a same sex marriage. Nor has any dispensation has been granted to allow blessings. This is beyond dispute and there is no certainty that a change in this situation will ever happen, and if it were to happen it would have huge implications for a viable future of the CofE.

            So when something such as the Manchester ‘blessing’ happens at a CofE parish church it is perfectly reasonable to ask the questions which Peter asks in this guest post. If people can show calmly and clearly that what has happened is perfectly legal according to church law and in accordance with church doctrine then that is the way to comment on the post. If they cannot, then it is both unpleasant and unreasonable to become angry with the person who has the guts publicly to ask the awkward questions; it suggests an attempt to warn people off from daring to do so in any future case. If that is what is happening it is utterly wrong.

          • I think some of you might be reading a bit too much into what I’m saying. I actually wasn’t trying to comment on the rights and wrongs of the case (e.g. note, I said the blessing of marriage has come at the cost of the permanent exclusion of one of the couple from ministry – that’s a simple statement of the fact that he will not be able to minister in the CofE again). My point is that if people are attacking someone’s blessing of marriage and ministry, and interrogating people more on hypothetical subjective points such as their attitudes to safeguarding, you’re hardly in a position to take umbrage if people respond angrily to that.

    • In relation to being on Archbishops’ Council, what are my expectations? I think they are these:

      1. The when a controversial subject comes up that makes the national press, the relevant bishop would normally make a clear statement on the issues.

      2. As Simon and Kevin have helpfully pointed out, there have been deeper problems at this Church over a long time. As a member of AC, I would hope that diocesan bishops address these issues much more effectively than appears to be happening. This is not unrelated to the risk register that AC oversees.

      3. I think I would also hope that dioceses don’t became places in which evangelicals feel they are not welcome, which is becoming the case.

      4. I would expect bishops not to make extraordinary arrangements with bishops from other regions which appear to be provocative in relation to an issue which is currently contested.

      5. I would expect that, around all the discussion, we had a coherent PR policy, and that there was an episcopal spokesman who was available to answer questions on this.

      6. I would hope that bishops would be willing to talk openly about their agreed position, uphold it and teach it in their dioceses.

      7. I would hope that all members of AC are themselves living within the teaching of the Church, not just on this but on all matters.

      Do you think any of these expectations are unreasonable or unAnglican?

      • Ian: thanks for this. A few questions and comments for clarification if I may. They are in relation to your points above, so numbered accordingly.

        1. What if the relevant bishop made a statement that you didn’t agree with?

        2. How do you know that deeper issues that relate to this church are not being addressed?

        3. Please could you name any dioceses in which evangelicals are not welcome and provide some hard evidence for that?

        4. Please could you evidence any ‘extraordinary arrangements’ between bishops?

        5. There was a clear communication after the shared conversations. Have you asked the relevant communications office in this case?

        6. It has been well know for many years that the bishops don’t agree about this issue. Hence there were open letters for groups of bishops after the appointment of Jeffrey John that argued quite differently to each other. It is well known that some suffragans have disagreed with their diocesans – I can think of one case where this was publicly acknowledged and was not seen to be a problem.

        7. The teaching of the church on this matter is that lay people may, if informed by their conscience, be part of an ‘active’ same sex partnership. Some members of AC are lay people. Will you accept that it is reasonable that some members of the AC may, therefore, be actively gay and lesbian people?

          • Ian: that’s fine but I would still like answers to my questions please. I can’t say whether your expectations are reasonable until I have them.

          • Well, I am not too worried, as I was asking Anthony, not you. I’d like to wait for his response to my question first, if you don’t mind.

          • Ian that’s fine, of course. It just rather looks like you haven’t quite thought this one through.

      • Sadly it seems that point 7 is intended to point fingers and I would hope that others can see that approach.

          • Having integrity means recognising that some people were different to you Ian, and some in conscience order their lives differently to you. Some have even had the courage to say that openly.

          • I recognise that very well. It also involves recognising that ordination vows commit us to a particular lifestyle, and that we cannot ignore that with impunity.

      • Andrew, in answer to some of your concerns, they find their place within the wider remit of the Council. This includes:

        The objects of the Council under the National Institutions Measure 1998 are to ‘co-ordinate, promote, aid and further the work and mission of the Church of England’. The Council seeks to do this by:

        • giving a clear strategic sense of direction to the national work of the Church of England, within an overall vision set by the House of Bishops and informed by an understanding of the Church’s opportunities, needs and resources;
        • encouraging and resourcing the Church in parishes and dioceses;
        • promoting close collaborative working between the Church’s national bodies, including through the management of a number of common services (Communications, Human Resources, IT etc);
        • supporting the Archbishops with their diverse ministries and responsibilities; and
        • engaging confidently with Government and other bodies.

        according to the Objects.

        The Work includes:

        • the promotion of the Church’s mission and evangelism to all parts of society;
        • the monitoring of Government policy where proposed legislative and other changes may bear directly on the Church of England;
        • the expression of a Church of England view on social and ethical issues of importance to the nation, such as marriage and family life, penal policy or the needs of urban and rural priority areas;

        So in answer to Anthony’s comments, I would still be interested to know from him whether he thinks my expectations are reasonable.

        • Thanks Ian. I am aware of all of that from the objects of the AC. None of that answers my questions to you above, however.

  23. I think as much as anything it’s about tone and common courtesy. There is not much charity shown here, either in the original blog or from many of the interlocutors. Maybe the problem is that I do nuance. Certainly most of the comments are made ‘with edge’ and/or innuendo. As to your last post, for which many thanks:

    1. I think on some issues bishops are wisely not living in greenhouses and issuing real time announcements on issues, precisely because it is not their controversial nature which makes them important, They know full well that in some cases whatever they communicate will fuel the alleged controversy.

    2. I have no knowledge.

    3. I don’t know what you are getting at here. Are you fearful of something?

    4. There is no evidence that any ‘extraordinary arrangements’ were made. You will next be suggesting that taking a service in another diocese amounts to a cross-border incursion!

    5. The NCIs and all dioceses have PR capability. What you mean is that you want that PR capability to respond as you think it should. Maybe some disagree.

    6. This maybe the elephant in the room on the issue of homosexuality. We will see.

    7. I don’t know what you are driving at. They are all baptised believers, or at least should be.

    As to the Revd Peter Ould, I apologise for using the word ‘slagging’ with its unfortunate sexual connotation. However, its less colloquial meaning is to criticize someone in a rude or unpleasant way and I think he came pretty close. He wasn’t just asking a series of questions.

    • Anthony, thanks for taking the time to respond—but I wasn’t really asking you to respond to my points. My question was: is this a reasonable set of expectations?

      There is a quite widespread sense of silence on difficult issues, which most other public organisations would not put up with, and the vacuum created is often filled with views from the extremities, which of course suits media outlets very well. I am not convinced that is helpful.

      Yes, dioceses have a PR capacity, but I have repeatedly been told ‘No-one is available’ locally and nationally. The question is whether my expectation is reasonable.

      On ‘extraordinary’ arrangements, please see the additional note here:

      Again, I am not asking you for answers to these; am I explaining my expectations and asking whether you think these are inappropriate?


Leave a comment