The English don't celebrate Thanksgiving today, but they have given us something to be thankful for.
The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, better known as the Pilling Report after Sir Joseph Pilling who chaired the group that produced it, makes 18 recommendations, many of which are discussed in a media release from Lambeth Palace:
The recommendations do not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct. They do propose, however, that clergy - with the agreement of their Church Council - should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship.
The group does not propose an authorised liturgy for this purpose, but understands the proposed provision to be a pastoral accommodation which does not entail any change to what the church teaches. No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services. It could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.
The report notes that the church’s teaching on sexuality is in tension with contemporary social attitudes, not only for gay and lesbian Christians, but for straight Christians too.
In relation to candidates for ministry, it recommends that whether someone is married, single or in a civil partnership should have no bearing on the assurances sought from them that they intend to order their lives consistently with the teaching of the Church on sexual conduct.
In a joint statement (found further down the page that bears the media release), Archbishops Justin Welby of Canterbury and John Sentamu of York emphasized the preliminary nature of the document, writing "The document offers findings and recommendations to form part of that process of facilitated conversations. It is not a new policy statement from the Church of England. Be that as it may, if you remember Archbishop Sentamu scurrying around the 2006 General Convention in Columbus trying to maneuver the Episcopal Church into accepting an open-ended moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops, and if you remember that collective failure of nerve that led the General Convention to pass resolution B033, then hearing Sentamu join in an expression of "sincere appreciation and gratitude to the members of the group, its advisers and to the staff who supported it, for the investment of time, intellect and emotion that they have made in order to produce such a wide ranging and searching document" serves as an indication of how much the Church of England has changed within a few years. And that makes for a Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
Pilling and other members of the task force gave a press conference (of about 25 minutes) today. It is here:
At about 15:45, Pilling begins to make a distinction between "pastoral accommodation" and actual approval of same-sex relationships. He draws attention to paragraph 274.
The Church Times' report, headlined "Pilling opens door to gay blessings in church" includes this:
On the subject of permitting gay blessings, Sir Joseph said on Thursday: "If a priest and a priest's PCC [parish council] agree together that a couple in a permanent, faithful, stable relationship, typically a civil partnership, come forward and say they would like their relationship to be marked in an act of public worship, that should be possible."
The report is not unanimous. It contains a dissenting appendix from the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, a conservative Evangelical, in which he warns that "the trajectory in the report will undermine the discipleship and pastoral care of many faithful Christians and, by leading the Church into the kind of cultural captivity which much of the prophetic writings warn against, weaken our commitment to God's mission." There follows a second appendix, written by the Revd David Runcorn, which states the more liberal view of "Including Evangelicals".
Bishop Alan Wilson says he is grateful for the report, and offers a few resources to inform the church's conversation.
It would be premature to speculate on how the conversations in the Church of England will unfold, but it seems safe to say that the days of worrying about whether the Episcopal Church will be thrown out of the Anglican Communion for moving toward the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians are over.