Rationale and context

Foreword by the Bishop of Oxford

In October 2018 the four bishops of the Diocese of Oxford issued Clothe yourselves with Love: a pastoral letter on the inclusion of and care for LGBTI+ people within the Diocese. In this letter, we committed ourselves to explore the creation of a new chaplaincy team for LGBTI+ people and their families.

We are grateful to a small group, chaired by the Archdeacon of Buckingham, who have taken this concept forward in the context of both national and local developments. We are committed to the LGBTI+ Chaplaincy Service providing the best possible care across the whole church in the best traditions of the ministry of chaplaincy.

This page outlines the rationale for the project, drawn up by the group and endorsed by the bishops. Click the [+] button below to expand each section.

We ask for the prayers of the Diocese as this provision takes further shape and develops, overseen on our behalf by the Archdeacon of Buckingham’s small group.

The Pastoral Advisory Group (PAG) has produced some important and theologically profound principles of pastoral practice for ‘how the Church can live well together within the parameters of its current position on marriage and the different deeply held convictions that individuals and churches hold.’

These principles, which have been accepted by the General Synod, seek to encourage churches to:

  • offer a welcome that is Christ-centred,
  • see difference as a gift rather than a problem,
  • build trust and model generosity.

The principles

Because of our understanding that all are made in the image of God, we will receive our differences as a gift, valuing all people, and seek to see Christ in all our neighbours. To help us to do this, we will acknowledge and address our prejudices.

Because of our understanding of the Church as the Body of Christ, we seek to be a place of welcome, acceptance, challenge and hospitality.

Because of our understanding that the Bible and the Church of England’s foundational documents are our authority, we will ensure that our theological discussions are conducted with respect for our inheritance and for each other.

Because of our understanding that pastoral practice in the Church of England entails the Church being there for all, we will consciously demonstrate and live out what it means for perfect love to cast out all fear.

Because of our understanding that all are valued and loved on the basis of Christ’s redeeming love, life, death and resurrection, we will be communities marked by attentive listening, courtesy, kindness and the absolute belief that nobody is outside the love of God.

Because of our understanding that Christ calls us in humility to regard others as better than ourselves, we refuse to exploit any perceived or real power over others. We will encourage our communities to be places where all seek to serve one another in the Spirit of Christ and to respond joyfully to his call to mutual submission.

The debates and developments in the Church of England continue to run their course in the process of national discernment on these issues. However, having received many requests for guidance and support from those offering pastoral and spiritual care to LGBTI+ people, their families and friends, the bishops in the Diocese of Oxford have become convinced that silence on these issues does not serve the Church well.

In line with the principles laid out by the PAG, the bishops are keen to encourage, above all, an attitude of inclusion and respect for LGBTI+ people across the Diocese of Oxford. At the end of October 2018, they wrote a joint pastoral letter to clergy and licensed lay ministers setting out their expectations in this regard.

Underpinning this letter is the foundational principle that all people are welcome in God’s Church; everyone has a place at the table. The bishops’ letter quotes the 2017 pastoral letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which advocated ‘radical inclusion’ and was clear that:

In these discussions, no person is a problem or an issue. People are made in
the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ.
There are no ‘problems’. There are simply people called to redeemed humanity
in Christ.

The pastoral letter also recognises that if this agenda of radical inclusion is to take root, debates and exchanges, which have often been hurtful and damaging in the way that they are conducted, should not only be grounded in Scripture coupled with reason and tradition, in deep prayer and the common life of worship… but must also attend to people’s experiences in a spirit of love, mutual care and respect.

The establishment of the LGBTI+ Chaplaincy Service is situated within the theological framework of the PAG’s six principles and the Diocesan commitment to foster an attitude of inclusion and respect. This chaplaincy is to be rooted in the call to serve God’s mission in the world, seeking ways to discern and participate in God’s creative and redemptive purposes for the whole of creation.

The role of chaplains in the LGBTI+ Chaplaincy Service will be to listen, to offer support and to advise local clergy and congregations and ourselves in our welcome and support of LGBTI+ people and their families, and to learn from the insights of LGBTI+ people about being church together.

In all of this we ourselves and the chaplaincy team will continue to work within existing Bishops’ Guidelines on human sexuality in this next stage of the national process.

The role of the chaplaincy service is twofold. Chaplains will offer a listening ear, support and advice to those who seek it, and will also help the Diocese to learn from the insights they are gaining through this process. These insights will be reflected on in supervision and fed back into their personal development, the development of best practice in the institution through the LGBTI+ Oversight Group and the Bishop’s Staff Meeting.

It is further hoped that the creation of a chaplaincy team with appropriate recognition, coordination, structure and support will indicate affirmation of those who are already involved in this work inside the church but whose work is unrecognised.

The conditions under which the LGBTI+ Chaplaincy Service has been developed.

The Bishop of Oxford’s Staff Meeting has endorsed these principles:

  • Chaplains will work within House of Bishops guidelines, embracing a non-judgemental attitude toward persons in regard of their sexuality, welcoming and valuing every person as equal in the eyes of God
  • Chaplains will aim to listen unconditionally to the lived experience of any person who seeks the support of a chaplain
  • Every person has ethical decisions to make about how to live out their God-given sexuality. These questions are common to each one of us, whatever our sexuality or gender identity; chaplains are called to walk alongside people in this discernment
  • The Diocese takes a team/network approach, aiming for a group of chaplains with a range of experiences, identities (LGBTI+ and straight), and theological backgrounds
  • The team will be visible in the Diocese as a resource for those with questions, concerns and pastoral/relational issues
  • Members of the team will go through a selection process and will be in receipt of training, ongoing supervision and support to enhance and develop their knowledge and skills. Clear lines of accountability will be established to enable best practice to be developed and sustained.
  • The team will feed insights and observations into the Bishop’s Staff Meeting via the Oversight Group (chaired by the Archdeacon of Buckingham)