Seeking a Way Through LLF/PLF: Seeing the Forest Not Just the Trees

Andrew Goddard writes: In dealing with complex questions and decisions it is always important to keep in mind both the big picture of “the forest” and the detailed specifics of “the trees”. Arguably the whole Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process to date has not been particularly good at ensuring this happens.

Three new groups (whose membership has recently been announced) are now setting to work on “the trees” (of standalone services for Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF), the new Pastoral Guidance to replace Issues in Human Sexuality, and the complexities of pastoral reassurance) under the oversight of a new Programme Board chaired by the Archbishop of York. There is the real danger that these will (like their predecessors a year ago and the whole PLF process through 2023) lack the time to step back and discern how all these have to be fitted together. Even doing that is, however, not sufficient. There also needs to be a sense of the much bigger picture of the task and challenges that the Church of England is addressing in relation to these three areas.

This is what the original work on the LLF resources sought to help the church to do. Their concern was to consider the big “forest” questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. They refused to focus in simply on “the trees” of specific decisions about same-sex relationships and the possible pathways for the church in relation to these. Though this approach was in many ways admirable and necessary, in retrospect, that stage of the LLF process (in giving a guide to the “forest”) was too reticent about addressing what we all knew were the specific major political questions and decisions ahead. Then, when addressing those questions from September 2022 onwards, the bishops jumped to answering the liturgical question without addressing (either adequately or at all) the questions relating to doctrine, pastoral guidance or ecclesiology. In addition, they have rarely if ever explicitly drawn on the work of LLF to explain their approach.

If we return to the fruit of the earlier work on LLF it highlights (at least) two major theological features of “the forest” that must not be ignored or forgotten in the determination now to “reset” the process and broker some sort of “settlement”. Neither of these have been prominent in the discussions thus far but making them more central may help clarify the deeper issues and problems we face and the options between which we have to make a choice. They relate, on the one hand, to questions of ethics and doctrine and, on the other hand, to questions of ecclesiology and development.  What follows looks at each in turn and argues that seeking to resolve specific questions (about standalone services, expectations concerning clergy patterns of life, and structural provision) can only be adequately and coherently achieved if these more “big picture” questions are considered first, aided by the earlier work of LLF and lessons from the wider church.

Commending Prayers of Love and Faith—more questions than answers

Andrew Goddard writes: Following General Synod, the House of Bishops has to decide (perhaps this Tuesday, 12th December) on two key matters relating to Prayers of Love and Faith (PLF): whether and when to commend the Suite of Prayers for use in regular services under Canon B5 and how to proceed with the “standalone services” that … Continue Reading

Are the Prayers of Love and Faith legal?

Andrew Goddard writes: Yesterday’s debate at Synod on LLF/PLF raises some important and potential serious issues. These include: The bishops’ refusal to give Synod advice from the Legal Office breaks with precedents The Bishop of London’s statement suggested members had the foundation of the theological and legal basis in GS 2328 but there is a … Continue Reading

LLF: Will it all now end in tears?

Andrew Goddard writes: As people have responded to the latest proposals from the bishops (which I discussed here and here) it looks horribly like the whole LLF process in its current form is going to “all end in tears”. Summary This article seeks to explore why that is the case and why now nobody seems … Continue Reading