One of the most wide-ranging surveys of Anglican clergy in more than a decade has found three quarters don’t believe Britain can still be considered a Christian country. The Times polled over 1200 serving Anglican clergy – around 6% of the total. It also found less than half strongly believe churches will still be holding a regular Sunday service in ten years’ time. On the subject of same-sex marriage, over 50% said they support a change in law to allow priests to marry gay couples. The Bishop of Manchester Rt Rev David Walker said about the findings: “Not a single thing that I’ve read in it so far surprised me. I think it bears out what I hear from clergy on a day-to-day basis as a bishop of a large diocese. So, there’s nothing in it that shocks me. It’s a good snapshot of where we’re at.” 53 per cent of those questioned said they would support a change in the law to allow priests to marry gay couples, suggesting more than 10,600 of the church’s 20,000 priests would be in favour.
Bishop David says the Church of England has been working on the process called ‘Living in Love and Faith’ for some years with widely differing views on the issue: “I think this really illustrates where the centre of gravity is among the serving clergy in the Church of England. But that doesn’t pretend that’s the case for everybody, so what’s going to be really important as the process goes forward, is ensuring that we have a church where people with differing views around same sex marriages can still feel that this is their church. “Same sex marriage is not on the agenda at the moment. The current agenda is about having prayers and blessings that can be used by a minister in a local church, if that minister and the local church are happy to do that. We’re not thinking about same sex marriages – that would be a change in the doctrine of marriage. And we’ve said very clearly, we’re not going to change the doctrine of marriage.”
Over 80% of clergy surveyed said they would support the appointment of a female Archbishop of Canterbury in the future. Bishop David says the appointment will only be based on ability and not on gender: “It will depend on who the best candidates are at the time. It won’t be based on gender. But this survey makes clear that there’s very little weight in the Church of England clergy for limiting the next holder of the post to being a man. So, there’ll be no barriers to that.” Responding to the news that only a quarter of those who responded to the survey said Britain could be described as a Christian country Bishop David said: “In my time in Manchester, I’ve seen more congregations start than I’ve seen close. So yes, we may no longer be a Christian country, but that doesn’t mean we’re in a country that’s given up on God. We’re still a country where faith has a very important role to play, and evangelism is an important part of setting out why we believe that Jesus is the way to God.”
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