Thursday, 6 June 2013

A new bishop for Manchester & a C of E beginning to accept equal marriage.

It is a measure of how out of the loop I am about Manchester Diocesan life that when I woke yesterday I had no idea our new bishop was about to be announced. Frankly, when I found out the announcement was imminent, I developed mild palpitations and a sweat. For a new bishop can be decisive for the feel of a diocese, especially if one feels one is part of a marginal or minority group. I greeted the news of the announcement of David Walker as our new bishop with real pleasure and, frankly, a bit of relief. (Though for a moment I did a double-take: the Dave Walker I am most familiar with is the Cartoon Church cartoonist. I had visions of Dave producing gentle satires of Manchester life whilst blessing inanimate objects and wearing a pointy hat.)

Bishop David Walker, however, has a record on social concern and interest in the needs of the vulnerable and marginalised beyond peradventure. He has stood up for the neediest and, as someone with family in the Midlands, I’ve heard good things about his pastoral sense. I sense that, at a time when the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are being treated with less and less respect, Bishop David will prove to be a potent ally for those in greatest need and will also be an advocate for a generous Anglicanism. I anticipate he will also seek to build on the deeply impressive work of Bishop Nigel with LGB&T communities in Greater Manchester. Indeed, the Pink News has reported that Bishop David would not, had he been in the Lords, voted against the equal marriage bill had he been one of the Lords Spiritual. I sense that our new bishop, a Mancunian himself, will be greeted very warmly when he and his family return back north.

Running alongside that particular piece of good news, The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Church of England bishops have decided to drop opposition to the Equal Marriage Bill, acknowledging the overwhelming will of both Houses of Parliament for an extension of equality to queer people.  Rather, the Lords Spiritual will seek to ensure that the legislation is 'tidied up.' It is yet to be emerge quite what this will ultimately entail, but it looks essentially like a defensive move to ensure that churches, clergy and laity will not be required to step outside their conscience and fundamental beliefs on marriage.

However, I, for one, very much he that this doesn't simply have the character of seeking to lock the C of E completely outside the exciting extension of respect and equality the Equal Marriage Bill proposes. Some clergy, including me, would actively rejoice should we be able to celebrate marriage unions for gay folk as well as straight; equally, it seems increasingly a social imperative for the church to find ways of offering blessing to civilly married gay couples. I do not see how we can seriously continue to be a National Church if we do not do so. I understand that in conscience some clergy would not wish to offer marriage in church for gay folk, just as they do not wish to solemnize the marriages of divorcees in church. But I do not see why there should be a lock out for all clergy.

For some of us this is no mere paper exercise in inclusion. This is simply about seeking to grow into the likeness of Christ and make his glory ever more available. It is about being faithful to God's grace as we've experienced it and wanting to rejoice with friends and family in love and relationship. Many clergy and laity may think, ‘Well LGBT people are nothing to do with me except as people to be called to repentance.’ For many of us, however, especially in places like Manchester, this matter is simply about loving our neighbours and friends and rejoicing in the ordinary and every day; it is about rejoicing in the fact that gay and straight folk are all bearers of the image of God and our faithful, loving unions can reflect her glory.


  1. It does seem unjust that while the CofE seeks protection for those who wish to remain able to follow their conscience in not supporting gay marriage, they then impose a blanket ban on those clergy whose consciences urge them to fully support LGBT people in their aspirations.

  2. Lovely comment Tess. Thank you