The Archbishop of Canterbury received a petition signed by 8,500 individuals from the new Inclusivechurch network of Anglicans on the steps of Church House in London on February 10, during the meeting of the Church of England's governing body, the General Synod.
The handing over of the petition marks the first milestone in the life of a grassroots organization that began in August 2003 in response to the overturning of the appointment of Jeffrey John, a celibate gay priest, as Bishop of Reading in the diocese of Oxford. "We are an organization set up to campaign for an open, honest and generous spirited Anglicanism that has always been the very heart and soul of the Church of England," explained the Rev. Giles Fraser, chair.
Fraser said Inclusivechurch began as a group of friends from Southwark, London and Oxford who, prompted by the Jeffrey John debacle, were increasingly worried about the future direction of the Church of England. They organized an open meeting in the church of St. Mary's Putney in London, site of the 1647 Putney Debates, taken by many historians as the birthplace of modern democracy. Others similarly concerned asked if they could join, including individuals from the evangelical wing of the Church of England. It snowballed very quickly to the 8,500 who have now registered their support on the website, .
Fraser said the group's main concern is that the Elizabethan Settlement-the classical Anglican compromise based upon tolerance for diverse points of view-is being called into question and that broad church Anglicans are being forced out of the Church of England. As the Rev. Nick Holtam, Vicar of St. Martin in the Fields in Central London, put it, "I am fighting against being made illegitimate in the church."
"It is excellent that so many people have supported the petition in such a short time, and with such little promotion," Fraser continued. "Liberals are bad campaigners. We're also a bit gutless. But what those of us who are very angry need most of all is a call for action. It is clear that the people of our country will not tolerate a homophobic church at the centre of our spiritual life, nor will they be edified by a theology born of ecclesiastical expediency rather than theological principle."
The vast majority of Inclusivechurch's signatories belong to the Church of England. In addition to individual Anglicans who have signed the petition, more than 100 parishes have signed up too, each having passed motions of support through their Parochial Church Councils, the English equivalent of the vestry in ECUSA. Signatories also come from parishes belonging to conservative organizations like Reform, and Inclusivechurch reports receiving emails from individuals keen to protest against their own churches, notably from places like Pittsburgh in the US, because they fear gay people are not made welcome there.
"People want an inclusive church," says Ann Kiem, a laywoman from All Saints Church, Fulham in London, and a signatory of the petition. "I do not want to belong to an organization that excludes people on any grounds. This is what, I believe, the vast majority of people in the Church of England think too."
The interesting thing about this "diverse middle" of the church, as Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold of ECUSA has put it, is not that they are pro-gay, and for that reason horrified at the treatment of Jeffrey John, said Fraser. It is their sense of common decency that is affronted.
"Grassroots members of the Church of England are now speaking loud and clear to Anglican leaders," says April Alexander, the lay chair of Southwark Diocesan Synod, another signatory. "We believe that it is appalling that some parts of our Church are threatening schism over issues like homosexuality. When secondary issues come to dominate over the church's core beliefs about the loving-kindness of God, something very serious has gone wrong."
After handing in the petition, Inclusivechurch held a Eucharist at St. Matthew's Church, Westminster. The preacher was the newly appointed American priest, the Rev. Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University and Canon of Oxford Cathedral. "We who regard gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians, not as the latest problems on the sexuality syllabus, but as spiritual treasures for the whole community, cannot afford to equivocate or temporise," Adams said. "We must support them in their life in Christ, and bear wide and public witness to how we have experienced their partnerships as sacraments of God's love in a broken and divided world. The Body of Christ is pregnant with holy opportunity. We shouldn't want to abort it."