Yesterday, 26 October, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Dame Caroline Spelman, answered oral questions in the House of Commons [links available from here].
In answer to a question from Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) on the vexed issue of the closure of the Heritage Lottery Fund strand for listed places of worship, she said that the Church still regretted the decision by the HLF to close the Grants for Places of Worship Scheme but that the Church Buildings Council was in close discussion with the HLF about a way forward. The Church had received assurances from the Chairman of the HLF that the amount of its funding for places of worship will, as a proportion, continue at comparable levels to the distribution in 2016.
Possibly of most interest to our readers, in answer to a question from Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab), “What recent discussions Church of England bishops have had on allowing parishes to hold ceremonies to celebrate same-sex marriages”, she replied:
“The Church’s doctrine, as set out in canon law and as explicitly recognised by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, is that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. As hon. Members will be aware, a resolution was passed over the weekend by the synod in Hereford. That motion will go to the General Synod and will be considered by its business committee for debate.”
She further noted that a pastoral advisory group had been set up – led by the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman – to work on the development of pastoral practice within the Church’s existing teaching and that a major teaching document was being produced on marriage and sexuality.
She also answered questions on income equality, on supporting Christians facing oppression and discrimination abroad and on targets for clergy vocations. And in the “you couldn’t make it up” category, in a supplementary to the question on the last of these, Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con), invited her to congratulate the new Archbishop of Wales on his appointment. Which she did – but perhaps Mr Davies hasn’t heard of the Welsh Church Act 1914.