College of Bishops to discuss the Pilling Report

An additional meeting of the College of Bishops is being held on 27 January to discuss the report Pilling Report, the outcome of a working party of the House of Bishops appointed 18 months ago.

The College of Bishops consists of all diocesan and suffragan bishops in the Church of England. The House of Bishops comprises the 44 Diocesan bishops and 9 elected suffragans. The College of Bishops meets once a year in September; the House of Bishops meets twice a year.

Changing Attitude learnt about the special meeting of the College of Bishops by chance in conversation with a diocesan bishop. A later conversation with a suffragan bishop revealed when the College of Bishops had been informed about the meeting – 13 May 2013.

The Director and Trustees of Changing Attitude subsequently reflected on the question – is the fact that a meeting of the College of Bishops is being held specifically to talk about the work of the Pilling Group relevant to and of significant interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans?

We are clear – the answer is yes. We think that any event or process which will discuss us and may affect our future in the Church is something we should appropriately know about.

It’s curious. We have met 10 diocesan bishops in the context of conversations about pastoral responses to LGB&T people. Inevitably, the conversations have extended beyond a pastoral because both the bishops and we have wanted to talk about the changes which may result from the work of Pilling. None of the bishops until the tenth thought of telling us about the extra College of Bishops meeting.

I wondered whether the meeting had been formally announced, though none of us were aware of it. I asked Paul Handley and staff at Church Times whether they knew about the meeting – they didn’t.

It will be obvious to many reading this blog that an important question is raised. Is the Church of England an exclusive club for diocesan and suffragan bishops or is it for the whole people of God? Is transparency and good communication important for an organisation which is built on foundations of truth and love?

Organisations and governments in Western societies recognise that open government and good communication of policy and action is important (even if they then go to inordinate lengths, sometimes, to hide things). The Church of England hasn’t yet learnt to communicate openly and transparently. There are many people, both pro and anti-gay, for whom the meeting on 27 January is highly significant and important.

There’s another dimension of Church practice which is unsatisfactory. Martin Reynolds, a priest in the Church of Wales, highlights the matter in a letter in this week’s Church Times. Martin thinks it is amazing that gay people and organisations have been willing to work with Sir Joseph Pilling bearing in mind that his group has no known gay representation. Gay people are thus still viewed as “them” and not as “us”, objects to be questioned and examined, as indeed we were.

In our private conversations with bishops, we have begun to explore how the Pilling Report might be dealt with. Will further work be undertaken by a group which is exclusively male? We know there are gay members of the College and House of Bishops, but not one of them is ‘out” in the House or College. Indeed, for some, there is still acute anxiety about their sexuality.

It seems likely that when the College of Bishops meets on 27 January 2014, no lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender voices will contribute personal, lived experience to the discussion. Conservatives may well think this to be a good thing. Why should gay people be privileged? Why indeed, and why women or black people? Why on earth should the College or House of Bishops change its practice to ensure proper representation of groups with a special interest in aspects of Church life, teaching and practice. Except we do have a black Archbishop and there will be 8 elected senior women and there are 14 gay bishops. But unlike black people and women they can remain invisible and pass as straight.

The Archbishop of Canterbury knows that radical change is needed. Changing Attitude proposes that if (as we hope) a group is formed to propose action as a result of the Pilling Report, the group will include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Any outcome that affects us needs to be arrived at with our direct involvement.


  1. says

    I believe that Changing Attitude might now review it’s position with regard to Pilling.
    The makeup of the Pilling Group should not be tolerated. No reasonable person would accept the findings of a group considering black matters when the panel were white, nor would women now accept the report of a male only group discussing their lives.
    I believe people were sucked into this process without really considering what was being done and even though theiy may have had good intent, they have unwittingly colluded in the calumny that we are supplicants seeking a place at the table.
    It is important to remind people that both Parliament and Supreme Court recognise gay people as a protected class, we have nothing to prove.
    Any engagement with the Church should be on this basis, we come not as supplicants but as those crying out for justice and pointing to the blood of martyrs on their hands. We come to help them accept their crimes and to point them to redemption and of course, we come with love, grace and forgiveness.
    The revolution has happened.
    An evangelical friend was acknowledging to me recently that at some time in the future he would look back and see the failure of the Church to include gays on a panel as both ridiculous and outrageous ……..
    I say, Colin, that time has already come.

    • Colin Coward says

      Martin, I entirely agree with you – the time has already come. Yesterday’s comments by Justin Welby recognise dramatically the change that has occurred, which to me, overrode his continued opposition to equal marriage.

      What to do about Pilling, though? At least a first draft of the report has been written. The work of the group has effectively finished. The College of Bishops meets in a couple of weeks and will, I imagine, talk about Welby’s remarks. One gay bishop became so terrified at the thought of meeting myself and some CA trustees that he cancelled the meeting we had in the diary. There will be up to 14 gay bishops at the College meeting but not one of them is likely to talk personally. The same will be true at the House of Bishops meeting in December.

      Changing Attitude’s narrative will become more direct. We will expect open LGB&T people to be included in the next stage of the process, which there now has to be, since the Archbishop has thrown down the gauntlet.

      • says

        I am sure there are well meaning people on Pilling.
        Perhaps one or more might be encouraged to question the makeup of their group. Or perhaps to resign and rupudiate the composition of the group.
        The second reading debate of the Equal Marriage Bill in the Lords was an extraordinary manifestation of how far we have catapulted forward in a matter of a couple of years. It’s hard for us to catch up, but we must!
        To allow the Church to think it can step back or drag us back to an earlier point would be futile. The ground has been covered we cannot go back.

        It might be that CA should distance itself now from the process. Or to see it as flawed and essentially unhealthy. To view it for what it is, a left over from a bygone age, the silent film when talkies had arrived or a black and white analogue telly. Belonging wholly to yesterday. Discredited.

  2. Revd Canon Dr Michael Blyth says

    How many times must gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians go through these hidden and patronising procedures? Over and over again the dominant forces in the Church of England appear to be the white heterosexual patriarchy whose sense of entitlement over the lives of other Christians who serve differently remains implacable. The war of attrition is far from over. Unfortunately every time trust is extended to those in authority it appears to be misplaced. There is a lack of transparency and a specious approximation to empathy for LGBT issues in the church. Since ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ still remains the proof text for the C of E (30 plus years old) do not expect too much of Pilling. Secret meetings are always good ways of stitching people up. However it may well backfire on the mission of the church. The western world will look on and conclude we are Neanderthals – they will be right. What use can we possibly be to bullied teenagers uncertain of their sexuality? The House of Bishops will simply continue to make pious noises about the evils of homophobia.
    Tribalism, even at episcopal level (who pays attention to them these days?) never looks attractive. One looks for the spirit of Christ in vain.
    The church needs to decide once and for all whether God makes a big mistake calling gay people into ministry – which includes the whole person with the same potential as heterosexuals for relationships. Scripturally it seems quite a big deal to charge the Holy Spirit with getting God wrong – so where does that leave our opponents? Continue to watch this space – however long it takes.

    • Changing Attitude says

      I wholeheartedly agree with all you have written, Michael. Last week I was still feeling despondent about the outcome of Pilling. There is a void at the centre of the Church, in the House and College of Bishops, at Lambeth Palace and at Church House. There is a terrible lack of truth and transparency.

      I feel better following Justin’s comments yesterday. I think he has given us permission to argue forcefully for a radical outcome to Pilling and he is making it clear that he understands this and wants change to happen now.

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