[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The bishops of the Church of England have begun a process of “episcopal discernment” on issues of sexuality. The process began this week at a meeting of the College of Bishops – all diocesan and suffragan bishops in the Province – and will continue through to next year at meetings of the House of Bishops – all diocesan and a selection of elected suffragans – in November and December; and the next College of Bishops meeting in January.
The announcement comes at the end of the first meeting of Church of England bishops since the conclusion of a process of Shared Conversations on the issue. Under the Shared Conversations, facilitated discussions took place in each of the dioceses over the course of two years. That came to an end with a private series of Shared Conversations for members of the General Synod at the conclusion of their meeting in July.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and York have established a Bishops’ Reflection Group, chaired by the Bishop of Norwich Graham James, “to take forward work on sexuality” and to “assist the episcopal discernment process.” They say that the bishops will not be making public statements about the discernment process until its conclusion.
“Whilst the process of episcopal discernment is in the public domain the Bishops agreed that the contents of their discussion should not be shared in public during the process so as to enable those discussions to be conducted freely and in a spirit of full collegiality,” the Church of England said in a statement. “Consequently the contents of the conversations will remain private and participants have agreed not to comment on the contents of the discussions beyond their own views.”
Within the Church of England, some campaign groups are seeking to change the Church’s traditional teaching on sexuality in line with changes in culture and society; while others are campaigning to maintain the Church’s historic doctrine.
Before this week’s discussion on sexuality, the Church of England bishops met with their colleagues from the Church in Wales, the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church as part of their triennial pattern of meetings.
In addition to sexuality, the bishops’ discussions took in a range of other issues, including safeguarding, the C of E’s Renewal and Reform programme, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, clergywomen in leadership, clergy wellbeing.