A huge step forward, but at the same time only a tiny step forward

A disclaimer: I am one person. I am writing here having attended the General Synod on the 8th and 9th February as an observer on behalf of SCM. However, that is not to say this the content of this blog represents the whole views of SCM. You may read this blog and feel differently, and that’s okay. Please get in touch with us. We would love to hear your stories and perspectives!

The Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project was initiated six years ago to consider questions about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. Since then, many shared conversations have been had and resources released to think about how the church can move forward in these areas despite huge disagreement. At SCM, we hosted a book club to read the 400+ page LLF book and wrote a detailed response back to the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally. You can read our open letter to the LLF Next Steps group here and our personal reflections here.

On 18th January this year, the College of Bishops announced the next steps after LLF in a press release: “For the first time, under historic plans outlined today, same-sex couples will be able to come to church to give thanks for their civil marriage or civil partnership and receive God’s blessing”. In a press conference later that week (which I would highly recommend watching!) the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, and the Bishop of London made a formal apology to the LGBTQ+ community. They also introduced the new prayers of thanksgiving, dedication and for God’s blessing for same-sex couples, whilst also stating that these do not change the Church of England’s current teaching that marriage should be between one man and one woman. The response was hugely mixed, with some feeling that the apology was heartfelt and others feeling that it was empty given the ongoing discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. You can read SCM’s official response here.

The Bishops then took a proposal to the General Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, to be debated and voted on. Because the apology to the LGBQT+ community and the prayers of blessings constituted no change to church doctrine, the proposal didn’t actually need the Synod’s sign-off. However, had the Synod overwhelmingly voted against the proposal it may have been reconsidered. Tensions were high.  

It is not the first time that I have attended Synod. From 2018 – 2021 I was a member of the Synod, elected to represent the Church of England Youth Council. I was involved in the LLF process from the beginning, so couldn’t miss the opportunity to attend as an observer as it ended. It was lovely to see so many familiar faces, as well as new members whom I know from Twitter and through SCM! 

On the Monday of Synod the Bishop of London gave a presentation, introducing the proposal and acknowledging the pain and discrimination experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. You can read the full presentation here.

On the Tuesday, members of the Synod participated in group work to discuss the LLF journey. 

Finally, on Wednesday, the debate arrived. The Synod was debating and voting on the motion proposed by the Bishop of London on behalf of the College of Bishops 











The motion received 26 proposed amendments, meaning that we had a long road ahead. The official debate was due to take place over five hours on Wednesday afternoon, but was extended by another three hours on Thursday morning.

After the Bishop of London opened, the debate started. You can watch the full debate on YouTube. We heard from many LGBQTI+ people and allies as they relayed their stories of discrimination in the church. We also heard from some more conservative voices on the unity of the Church of England and Anglican Communion, and their fears of moving too quickly. The Synod also discussed the Issues in Human Sexuality document, which the motion proposed to scrap. The document provides guidance for members of clergy, and is criticised for being incredibly outdated and offensive to LGBQTI+ people. It was great to see the Synod so diverse and with lots of different voices being represented. The tone of the debate was generally positive.

Only one of the 26 amendments passed. This amendment added a paragraph to the main motion that re-affirms the Church of England’s current teaching that marriage should be between one man and one woman.

This didn’t feel like too much of a loss, given that Bishop Sarah had already re-affirmed this in the original press conference. Some of the amendments proposed a timescale for when the Synod would revisit equal marriage in the Church of England but, regrettably, these were rejected. It is clear that the Synod is not ready for a debate on equal marriage in the Church of England.

After closing speeches by the Bishop of London, the only thing left to do was vote. The tension in the room felt tangible. After a moment of prayer and silence, the results were read: 

Bishops: For 36; Against 4; Abstentions 2 

Clergy: For 111; Against 85; Abstentions 3 

Laity: For 103; Against 92; Abstentions 5 

As amended, the motion had passed in all three houses. The Synod had officially said that it laments and repents of the harm done to LGBTQ+ people and welcomed the affirmations that the bishops offered. It had also endorsed the scrapping of the Issues in Human Sexuality document and said that it looks forward to the bishops bringing forward refined prayers of blessing and commitment as well as new pastoral guidance.   

A huge step forward in many ways, but at the same time only a tiny step forward. There is still so much to be done for the full inclusion of LGBQTI+ people in the Church of England. There are still many questions to be answered: What will replace the Issues in Human Sexuality document? When will we be ready for a conversation about equal marriage? Yet at the same time, at that moment in the chamber, justice prevailed. The last 24 hours had been intense and emotional, but it all ended with tears of joy.  

SCM is committed to the full inclusion of LGBQTI+ people in the church. We will continue to campaign for greater equality, whilst at the same time urging all churches to be honest about their welcome of LGBQTI+ people so as to limit the harm done in the meantime. You can find out more about the Honest Church campaign on our website.