Churches' plan for new President falters because of equal marriage

By agency reporter
November 24, 2019

Plans to appoint a further President for Churches Together in England (CTE) have faltered because not all denominations in membership of CTE would accept a nominated President, who is a Quaker in a same-sex marriage.

The Churches have rejected the Quakers’ appointee Hannah Brock Womack, because she is married to a woman. An active Quaker, she is a young, radical peace activist, who campaigns against the arms trade and works in the voluntary sector.

The CTE Member Churches bring together a richness of traditions and understanding. Some Churches agree with Quakers’ strong stand for same-sex marriage.

CTE, which offers an ecumenical space for sharing between the Churches, on a range of religious issues, has a recognised process for appointing Presidents.

Generally, CTE has six Presidents, representing various church groupings. Each grouping appoints Presidents. The churches in the Fourth Presidency Group appoint a President every four years, in turn. Quaker Rowena Loverance served as a CTE President from 1998 to 2001. This time, Hannah Brock Womack was nominated by Quakers in Britain, to represent members of the Fourth Presidency Group which includes Lutheran Council of Great Britain, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, German-Speaking Lutheran, Reformed and United Congregations in Great Britain, Church of Scotland (Presbytery of England) and Quakers in Britain.

After the Fourth Presidency Group appointed Hannah Brock Womack, the Member Churches of CTE’s Enabling Group gave this further thought and came to “a clear mind, by a substantial majority”.  A statement said, “For the sake of our ecumenical unity at present, we request that the Fourth Presidency Group show restraint by not exercising the office of their Presidential appointment. We acknowledge the pain and sadness that this will provoke.”

Hannah Brock Womack remains the fourth President but will not be able to take her place alongside the other CTE Presidents when they gather. The fourth chair will be left empty as a symbol of the work still to be done to find unity.

Quakers are an active and accepted part of the church family. Quakers in Britain faithfully engage with the ecumenical instruments and continue to honour the commitments made to be full members of the ecumenical architecture.

Mark Lilley, Quaker representative to CTE Enabling Group and clerk of Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations (QCCIR) said, “The grief this situation is causing Friends (known as Quakers) cannot be underestimated by other churches.  Work must be done to heal the pain through creative conversations about our differences.  We are confident that the ecumenical movement will continue to serve as a model of cooperation and mutual understanding that recognises the unique gifts of each member.”

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said, “This is a deeply sad decision. Quakers in Britain value the fact that CTE seeks to encompass the wide diversity among Christians in England. It is important to us that the Quaker voice is heard in discussions between Churches.

“As Quakers, we are called to answer that of God in everyone. We recognise the inherent worth of each person. That leads us to welcome all committed same-sex relationships as equally as committed opposite-sex relationships. We value equally all people, regardless of sexuality or other defining characteristics. These characteristics are not the right way to decide if someone is right to serve as our CTE President.”

In statements, the Rev Dr Paul Goodliff, General Secretary of CTE and Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said they were committed to continuing in conversation together, “knowing that God will hold us together in gracious love”.

The Religious Society of Friends, as Quakers are known formally, is a member of three national bodies, namely ACTS: Action of Churches Together in Scotland, CTE: Churches Together in England and Cytûn: Eglywsi ynghyd yng Nghymru, Churches Together in Wales and of Churches Together in Britain & Ireland (CTBI).

In Quakers’ book of discipline and guidance, Quaker faith & practice 27.12 records Thomas Story writing in 1737: “The unity of Christians never did nor ever will or can stand in uniformity of thought and opinion, but in Christian love only.”

* Read the statement from Churches Together in England here

* Quakers in Britain https://www.quaker.org.uk/


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