Bishop quits Living in Love and Faith post after appointment of conservative theological adviser

A Pride flag flies at the Church of St Peter & St Pauls in Bromley, Kent.(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The Bishop of Newcastle has resigned from her role in the Church of England's Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process following the appointment of a conservative vicar as interim theological adviser to the House of Bishops. 

LLF is the Church of England's ongoing process of discernment around the issues of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage, which last year led to General Synod approving plans to introduce prayers of blessing for same-sex couples. 

Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley, an advocate for LGBT equality in the Church of England, was co-lead of the LLF alongside the Bishop of Leicester, Martyn Snow, who is to remain in post.

The Bishop of Newcastle said she was stepping down over concerns about the process that led to the appointment of Rev Dr Tom Woolford as interim theology adviser to the House of Bishops. 

"It has become clear to me in the last 48 hours that there are serious concerns relating to the recent process of appointing an Interim Theological Advisor to the House of Bishops. This was, and is not, an LLF appointment, and neither Bishop Martyn nor myself were involved in it," she said. 

"Whilst the remit of the theological advisor is broader than any matters relating to LLF, there is no doubt that LLF remains front and centre in the life of our Church at this time.

"What has transpired in the last 48 hours has had a critically negative impact on the work Bishop Martyn and I were seeking, in good faith, to do. My role as co-lead bishop for the LLF process is now undermining my capacity to fulfil my primary calling, to lead and care for the people and places of the Diocese of Newcastle."

She continued, "'I am fully committed to the vocation and life of the Church of England, its place in our diverse communities across this land, and in the wider Anglican Communion. Mindful of different views within my own diocese, I am also fully committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people. I do not believe these are mutually exclusive, and I am not naïve in saying this."

The Faith and Order Commission said that Dr Woolford, a vicar in the Diocese of Blackburn, had been appointed following "an open and competitive recruitment process". 

He will take over temporarily from Dr Isabelle Hamley, who is leaving at the end of February to become principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge.

A permanent successor is not expected to be in post until September. 

The Church of England said that Bishop Snow "is in discussions with the Archbishops of Canterbury and York about the future shape of the leadership team".

Following Hartley's resignation, Bishop Snow said that the co-lead bishops for LLF "must be involved in the appointment of future theological advisers.

"I took on the role of co-lead bishop for the Living in Love and Faith process out of a sense of calling to bridge-building and reconciliation – both for their own sake and as a core part of our Christian witness. Having reflected on my position over the past couple of days, this sense of calling remains," he said. 

"However, I recognise that confidence and trust in the Living in Love and Faith process is low, and that I cannot by myself rebuild that trust or command the confidence of the full breadth of the Church of England." 

He said that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will have to appoint a successor "who commands similar respect across the House of Bishops and General Synod".