Newsletter for Sunday 29 January from our Team Rector, Peter Reiss:

There is an irony that in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Church of England has published the divisive proposals to allow prayers of blessing for same-sex couples wishing to mark their relationship – BUT not allowing such prayers or ceremonies to constitute,  support or even mention same-sex marriage. Some say too much, some say far too little! This has been an initiative from the House of Bishops who historically are the leaders of the Church, but who – in our more modern world – now also need to get the Synod’s approval (the elected representatives from lay and clergy as well as bishops) and the Synod meets in early February. Our diocesan bishop, David, has made very clear his personal view, that he would like to see marriage open equally to all couples, but he knows this is currently against Anglican Doctrine. It puts him in a strange place – a Bishop who has pledged to teach the faith as given, publicly calling for change. But the Church has changed its teaching over time, sometime in the light of scientific advances – contraception, IVF, nuclear weapons (all unknown to the early church); sometimes through economic pressure – (ending the prohibition on usury and lending); often from social and political shifts – slavery, children working long hours, capital punishment, the equality of women. Without some going ahead to push, these changes would not happen.

And there has been another ‘divisive’ statement from the Church, namely to put £100 million into a fund for reparations to those places devastated by slavery. This is not a one-off payment but the building up of a fund, whose interest will be used to “make a difference for the better in countries and communities where the legacy of slavery is still very present”. Some have said this is virtue-signalling, some have said it is illogical, some have said it is too little, and others have applauded the move and hope other major institutions will follow suit. Some say the money would be better spent in the poorest parts of this country, others that it is needed to shore up the local parishes.

The reasons that Western Europe, particularly the northern part is wealthier than the Global South are complex, and within these “wealthy” countries there is great difference between the wealthy elite and the many who struggle to make do. Arguments continue about the level of state aid, “Benefits” that should be provided.

Our local churches,  and our local communities will have people who hold differing views on each of these issues. Some may feel so strongly that they will make a stand or break from the rest, unless a particular view is upheld. Some will want the church to be a place where these things are NOT debated so it is a calm and safe place to come for a while. Some churches will become enclaves of the like-minded; they may feel they are guardians of the truth, modelling a distinctive and proper Christian life and teaching, but others will see them as narrow-minded.

There are no easy answers, because even if we think the answer is easy, others don’t or they think the answer is different. A community, like a church, needs to learn to live with difference while also holding to an integrity, and at times challenging what is corrosive or destructive or hateful.

At the heart of this is prayer; prayer for our leaders who carry the bigger responsibilities – it is relatively easy for us to criticise them from where we sit! prayer for our communities and churches that they can manage their differences without hurt, or at least alert to who is hurting for this is not pain-free; prayer for wisdom that we understand better; prayer for grace – that we treat others, even those with whom we disagree and even disapprove, with human respect and decency and care.

Maybe it was appropriate that these two challenges have emerged when we have been asked to pray for Christian Unity.

We also pray for Bishop Mark Ashcroft as he retires as Bishop of Bolton, thanking God for all he has done and given, and we pray for whoever will succeed him.