The Queen has called for unity among Christians and reminded bishops of their “weighty responsibilities” as she opened the Church of England’s national assembly.
The Queen’s address to the General Synod comes at a difficult time for the Church, which faces a wrangle over reforms even after the Synod approved women bishops last year.
Speaking at Westminster’s Church House to church dignitaries and bishops, including some of the first female bishops, Libby Lane and Alison White, the Queen said: “The last Synod will be particularly remembered for the way in which, after prolonged reflection and conversation, even in the midst of disagreements, it was able to approve the legislation to enable women to be consecrated as bishops.
“This new Synod too will have to grapple with the difficult issues confronting our Church and world. On some of these there will be different views.”
On the Synod’s agenda is Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s Reform and Renewal programme.
A showdown is expected between modernisers who advocate a redistribution of funding away from failing rural churches and reactionaries who oppose reform.
The Queen, who is head of the Church of England, sat alongside the Duke of Edinburgh as she addressed the round hall.
Her audience included priests of other denominations, such as Father Raniero Cantalamessa, a Catholic who is Preacher to the Papal Household.
She said: “The presence among us today of the Preacher to the Papal Household would not have been possible but for the notable advances since 1970 in co-operation across the great Christian traditions.”
Citing instances of inclusivity between different churches, she said: “Each of these serves as a reminder both of the progress already made and of the journey that still lies ahead in the pursuit of Christian unity.”
The monarch added: “Your Graces, each new Synod inherits from its predecessor the same weighty responsibilities. Collectively, you must continue to draw deeply on your faith, judgment and life experiences, as well as that precious Anglican tradition of unity in fellowship, to discern the future path of the Church of England.”
Her speech at Church House followed a Eucharist service at Westminster Abbey, from which the Queen, clad in dark grey, led the procession to the Synod.
Mr Welby presided at the service and Father Cantalamessa gave the sermon.
Delivering the sermon at the service preceding the Synod, Father Cantalamessa told Church of England bishops that sexuality should not have divided Christians.
Speaking before the congregation moved to Church House, Father Cantalamessa called for unity between the different denominations.
He said: “We should never have allowed issues like sexuality to divide us more than faith unites us.
“Nothing is more important than to seek Christ’s heartfelt desire for unity.”
He told a packed Westminster Abbey that “the majority live and die around us as if he (Jesus) had not existed”.
The Church’s efforts to be inclusive towards other denominations was marked by the Synod’s attendance by Father Cantalamessa as well as priests of other Christian groups.
They will watch bishops debate Mr Welby’s Reform and Renewal programme. Mr Welby wants to fast-track talented clergy and focus funding on churches in built-up areas rather than country congregations with dwindling attendance.
The opening of the Synod comes days after an advertisement for the Church featuring the Lord’s Prayer was banned by cinema chains on the grounds that they do not broadcast political or religious advertisements.