Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, at ‘secret’ gay ceremony

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Days of Lot

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”
—Jude 1:7

The Falling Away

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;”
— 2Thessalonians 2:3

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, presided at a “secret” Eucharist yesterday for lesbian and gay clergy in the Church of England.

At the service, in London, he gave a talk on “present realities and future possibilities for lesbians and gay men in the Church”. Conservative church members condemned the Archbishop, claiming that the service would make him the “focus of division”.

The venue, originally scheduled to be St Peter’s, Eaton Square, Belgravia, was changed to avoid media attention after news of the meeting emerged on the Church Society website this year. The meeting was organised by the Clergy Consultation, a support group for gay clergy, ordinands and Anglican monks and nuns. Secrecy was so tight that a list of names attending was sent to Lambeth Palace with orders that it be shredded as soon as Dr Williams had read it.

The consultation, which has between 250 and 450 members at any one time, was set up in 1976 by three Anglican priests, Malcolm Johnson, Peter Ellers and Douglas Rhymes. Many members are married and faithful to their partners. The organisation intends to help them to cope with staying faithful to what they regard as a Christian lifestyle while dealing with their sexuality.

A spokeswoman said: “The Archbishop of Canterbury is committed to the listening process which was agreed at the Lambeth Conference [in 1998] as part of the discussions on human sexuality. That means listening to and engaging with gay and lesbian clergy in a pastorally sensitive setting.”

Dr Williams was criticised by evangelicals, who believe that his actions will be interpreted as an endorsement of the Church’s liberal wing. The Rev David Phillips, general secretary of the Church Society, said: “This is not something that should be happening. There is serious doubt in our mind about some of the people present and their standing because of being in homosexual relationships. We came to the conclusion a long time ago that [Dr Williams] was not really fit to be Archbishop.”

In a joint statement Dr Richard Turnbull, chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council, and Dr Philip Giddings, convener of the evangelical group Anglican Mainstream, said: “Every occasion for listening pastorally to people is to be welcomed. However, the Holy Communion is a fundamental symbol of fellowship and an expression of our unity in Christ.” To offer this to those in gay relationships was contrary to biblical teaching and to the teaching by the bishops themselves in their document Issues in Human Sexuality, they said.

No one from the Clergy Consultation was available for comment, but the Rev Martin Reynolds, spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, who was not at the meeting, said: “The Clergy Consultation has been of great assistance to many, many people over the years. Most gay clergy are married and have children. The consultation has given them great support and love in lives devoted to their families.”

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