Pastoral Letter – February 2023

This pastoral letter was issued on 18th February via email. The text is included in full below.

Dear sisters and brothers,

I write to update you on several matters at St Andrew’s as we prepare to enter the season of Lent.

Firstly, a reminder that Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, 22nd February. To mark the occasion there is a service of Holy Communion at 7pm which will include the imposition of ashes if you would like to receive them. Douglas de Lacey will be preaching and the service should be an excellent way to begin the season. (If any of you are unable to attend in the evening then you might consider going to the Ash Wednesday service in Madingley at 10am instead).

Questionnaire feedback

Towards the end of last year we invited the congregation’s feedback on their experience of St Andrew’s. The PCC are grateful to everyone who shared their views (and to Helen and Dugald Wilson who developed the questionnaire and collated the results). It is pleasing that so many of you clearly feel so warmly towards the church and we are grateful to hear that we are getting many things right. There are, as in any church, differences of opinion and perception and the PCC will be exploring how best to address these over the coming months.

One striking thing was that many people expressed an interest in more social events and articulated a willingness to organise / help in making these happen. There was a similar theme with respect to leading / being part of study groups etc. If you are willing and able to work on such things and have ideas for what to do then please do get in touch! The current ministry team is already quite stretched and with little capacity to take on doing much more; however, we are certainly very happy to lend support to others who are willing to take the lead.

If you have ideas for social events and are willing to put some work into making it happen, please get in touch. We’ll do our best to find people to work with you on it!

To lead a study group you don’t have to know the answers to everything or be especially holy and righteous. The central needs are a willingness to be hospitable and the desire to learn and grow. We can support you with suitable resources and ideas for running a group – training and ongoing advice are certainly available. Please get in touch if this speaks to you! Alternatively, if you can think of someone else who might fit the bill then perhaps you could mention it to them and offer to be the first person to join the group?

A summary of the questionnaire results is available here.

Living in Love and Faith – the Church of England’s response to matters of human identity and sexuality

Some of you have already spoken to me about what the Church of England’s General Synod discussed last week around the blessing of same-sex couples. I’d like to clarify what was agreed by the Synod and to comment on how it affects us at St Andrew’s.

Firstly, and in spite of how it has been reported in the media, the Church of England has not agreed to bless same-sex civil marriages. The Bishops brought forward some proposed “Prayers of Love and Faith” that clergy might (optionally) choose to use with same-sex couples (including those who have committed to a covenanted friendship). The proposed prayers would ask for God’s blessing on the people within a same-sex partnership, but do not ask God’s blessing on the partnership itself.

At the moment, the “Prayers of Love and Faith” are not commended for use and the Bishops will bring back a revised version to the next Synod in July and it is expected that these will make it clearer that such prayers are not to be construed as blessing same-sex relationships.

Of the 20+ amendments to the motion that went to Synod, the only one to be agreed was the motion to include the phrase: “[We] endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England”. It is therefore expected that some of the ambiguity in the proposed prayers will be clarified. There is no suggestion that the doctrine of marriage will be changed any time soon.

I am aware that for some people this direction of travel seems like a regrettable “thin end of the wedge” and the start of a slippery slope for changing the Church of England’s doctrine of marriage [which states that “marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better for worse, till death them do part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side” – Canon B30].

For others this change feels like a rejection that doesn’t go far enough in including same-sex attracted people in the life of the church.

Others might think this is a sensible compromise as we seek a way forward. Whatever your views (and I’m sure many simply don’t know and are confused about how to proceed!) it is my prayer that we can seek to live together in as much unity as possible and continue to extend a gracious welcome to people from all walks of life at St Andrew’s.

However, as this is very much a live topic of conversation I am exploring the idea of developing a discussion group (along the lines of the Living in Love and Faith process that the Church of England has been engaged in for the last 5 years). I must be clear that it won’t be a “debate” group, or a place to win an argument for either side. The idea is that it will be a place to listen to one another; to explore what the Bible has to say; to hear perspectives from others with whom we might disagree; and to think about our traditions and experiences. Hopefully we will all end up understanding different views more fully and be able to articulate our own views more clearly, even if we don’t all end up in the same place. To echo the Collect from last Sunday I hope God might answer our prayer to “teach us to discern your hand in all your works and your likeness in all your children”.

This would be a group for people who don’t know what they think, as well as those who have clear views. If we proceed (and it’s not definite that we’ll do this) then the group will probably meet after Easter. If you are interested in being part of such a group please could you fill in this form or email me?

With prayers as we enter a season of reflection and penitence,