Church Times : Stories of C. of E. Sex Talk Encounters

Will we split? Who gets hurt? Sex talks leave questions

In the West Midlands the C of E’s Shared Conversations on sexuality took place last month. Five participants speak toMadeleine Davies

ST BRIDE’S, LIVERPOOL

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All the colours: a slice of rainbow cake, served at the Open Table LGBT seventh-birthday service, at St Bride’s, Liverpool, on Sunday

© ASHLEIGH CADET 2015

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Shaun Ward

Shaun Ward, director of music at St Laurence’s, Ludlow

You could be completely open and honest in a very safe environment. I heard very deep and personal stories. For both sides there was clearly a great deal of pain and cost. I still can’t get away from this fact that actually we have, as a country, made a decision. Pastorally, for us on the ground, it is very difficult when someone says “Will you give me a blessing?” and we have to say we can’t do that.

If we are going to support gay people, we should be including them in the office of marriage, because it builds for common life and things that are good. One person compared this to allowing an immigrant to come in, but not giving them full citizenship. The Church is full of very hard-working gay people but we don’t give them full citizenship.

I found myself breaking into tears in the last session, because it was quite a journey to have gone on. It drew attention to just quite how damaged and ostracised we feel as people in the Church.

For me, my worry is that this continued navel-gazing will only lead to further decline and further separation from a nation whom we are supposed to serve. My great worry is that we become the Church in England rather than Church of England. I hope we embrace gay marriage.

 

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John Green

John Green, Archdeacon of Coventry

I get the feeling that, for some, these conversations are a chance to have the debate and “have it out”, which is very clearly what they are not. What this is about, really, is developing a gutsy understanding of what the roots of the disagreement are, and how it’s not just about people’s interpretation of scripture: it’s a lot deeper than that. If we think this process will give us an answer, it won’t.

I felt optimistic, in that I think encounters such as this may well help to glue the central body of the Church together and realise that some of the feelings that one side shares are also shared by the other. There is a degree of inevitability that there will be those who will feel compelled to leave. It is hard to see quite how a spectrum that wide can be accommodated in one Church.

 

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Nick Gowers

Nick Gowers, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Old Hill, Worcester

I did not feel we ought to be having the conversations. It is the Bishops’ place to be upholding the traditional position and not putting us through the process. But I also felt I would like my voice to be heard.

We need to make sure we have gracious, godly, pastorally sensitive Evangelical folk who can articulate where they are coming from. It was a conversation about our respective individual experiences, and so my question coming out of it is: when are we going to have a conversation about scripture, theology, church history, tradition and the wider Communion?

Everybody was trying very hard to listen to one another, and that was very precious and valuable. I think we tiptoe around the issue in the C of E. One of the most refreshing bits was the honesty when somebody said to me: “I think you are wrong; you think I am wrong. We need to work out if we can be in the same Church, and if so, how.”

The weakness of the process is that, for somebody from a conservative position, you inevitably sound slightly more harsh, because it is more restrictive. What you cannot communicate in that situation and what was never talked about was how would we deal with it pastorally. The caricature, potentially, is that you are going to be unwelcoming and turn people away, and we are going to be as loving and welcoming as possible.

I think I realised that the Church of England was further from the traditional position than I feared, in practice, on the ground. I hope we would call people to a traditional view of marriage or celibacy, but my fear is that those who hold an orthodox position will become a tolerated minority.

 

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Christopher Wilson

Christopher Wilson, Vicar of All Saints’, Leamington Priors, and Holy Trinity, Leamington Spa

I attended with relief and hope: relief that the C of E is getting people around the table, and hope that the process will help us to find a constructive way forward.

Naïvely, perhaps, I was taken aback by the high level of fear expressed that the Clergy Discipline Measure or the secular courts might be used to try to force or control issues of sexuality. That’s not a good place for the Church and its clergy to be. As anticipated, stories of rejection, shameful at times, were painful to listen to. I felt being welcoming and inclusive in church was wholly inadequate, and resolved to do much more to reach out to minorities.

The elephant in the room, so far as the Conversations are concerned, is not really to do with LGBTIQ issues at all. It’s about the way we read and interpret the Bible. Preparatory reading included two essays taking different hermeneutical approaches, but this was not enough.

An overview of the different ways Christians have used the Bible throughout history and around the world would have helped. There was little scope to explore the interplay between scripture, tradition, and reason, or to tease out how and why previous convictions and assumptions on topics as diverse as usury, slavery, and the role of women had come to be re-examined.

A fundamental issue is whether there can be more than one authentic expression and understanding of Christianity: whether we can recognise diversity in the Church as legitimate and God-given. The great concern I’m left with is for the unity of the Church. Anglicans have always been diverse; it’s a strength, however frustrating it can be.

 

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West Midlands participant

I was surprised to be asked to go. I would not have said I was doing anything that suggested I had a particular personal interest.

Overall, the atmosphere was conducive to being honest, and the people I engaged with were committed to listening and to respect.

When we met up afterwards, as part of the Bishop’s follow-up, we picked up on a thread that has given us all pause for thought, which is disagreeing with grace. Where I believe that something is wrong and should change, do I carry the pain of not changing, or do I assert change and inflict pain on others?

You cannot reconcile that at all comfortably, and I have been thinking about that more seriously: who really gets hurt here?

ST BRIDE’S, LIVERPOOL

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Gift: Yvonne Bell’s Urban Mission was given by the Bishop of Liverpool, when he visited the Open Table LGBT service at St Bride’s, Toxteth, on Sunday

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Thanks to the Church Times for this instructive set of interviews by journalist Madeleine Davies with people who actually attended the recent ‘Conversations on Sexuality and The Church’ organised by the Church of England, which took place in the West Midlands.

The general tenor of the reported responses to this experience, where different perspectives were invited from a broad selection of participants, with a trained facilitator to manage the process, seems to have been generally positive.

Especially, from my point of view – as a supporter of the LGBT community in the Churches of the Anglican Communion – the response would appear to have reflected a very positive situation, where participants were surprised at the willingness of people from different perspectives to listen to, and discuss without rancour, the various views expressed.

Particularly, of the people interviewed, I was impressed by the response of   Shaun Ward, director of music at St Laurence’s, Ludlow, who included this statement in his view of the intent and purpose for holding these Church-sponsored meetings:

“Pastorally, for us on the ground, it is very difficult when someone says “Will you give me a blessing?” and we have to say we can’t do that.

If we are going to support gay people, we should be including them in the office of marriage, because it builds for common life and things that are good. One person compared this to allowing an immigrant to come in, but not giving them full citizenship. The Church is full of very hard-working gay people but we don’t give them full citizenship.”

Contrast this statement with that of one of the conservative Evangelical participants at the meetings, whose obvious contention was that gay sexuality is condemned by the Bible and should therefore not be discussed by the Church as a viable way of living for people who want the Church to bless their same-sex monogamous relationships. He says here:

“I did not feel we ought to be having the conversations. It is the Bishops’ place to be upholding the traditional position and not putting us through the process. But I also felt I would like my voice to be heard.” (Nick Gowers)

On the other hand, Father Christopher Wilson, Vicar of All Saints, Leamington Spa, pointed to the basic difficulty of trying to resolve 2 very different points of view on the relative merits of Scripture, Tradition and Reason; which tries to reconcile past teaching with present reality which demands a new outlook on gender and sexuality issues in the Church. Drawing attention to this problem, Fr. Christopher had this to say:

“As anticipated, stories of rejection, shameful at times, were painful to listen to. I felt being welcoming and inclusive in church was wholly inadequate, and resolved to do much more to reach out to minorities. The elephant in the room, so far as the Conversations are concerned, is not really to do with LGBTIQ issues at all. It’s about the way we read and interpret the Bible. Preparatory reading included two essays taking different hermeneutical approaches, but this was not enough.” (Fr. Christopher Wilson)

Clearly, from these few experiences of the ‘Conversations on Sexuality’ in the Church, the way ahead for resolutions of the issues – to the point where LGBT people are fully welcomed into the Church, with their monogamous same-sex relationships being accepted by the Church – would seem a long way off.

However, at least the Church is now talking openly about the divergence of opinion on the matter. And if some people are disposed to continue in their opposition to the Church’s acceptance of LGBT people as fellow members of the Body of Christ and worthy of respect, then; regrettable as this might be, they should feel free to exercise their private conscience, by dint of their departure from the Church – without recrimination by those of us who want to open up the Church to everyone, regardless of their gender or sexual-orientation.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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