by Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester
I’ve not quite got my bags packed for General Synod as I write this, but it won’t be long. I wonder how much of a minority I am in, being someone who is actually looking forward to the two days of Shared Conversations. I say that, not because I am imagining that every part of the process will be enjoyable, but because it will be deeply enriching. I expect to be brought to tears and to be challenged in both my assumptions and my long held opinions. I expect to witness the tears and fears of others and to have to lay their stories alongside mine. By the end of forty-eight hours, I’m guessing that I’ll be pretty exhausted.
My literal bags may yet lie empty on my bedroom floor, but I’m already well on the way to packing my metaphorical ones. Here are a few things that have gone in so far. A listening ear, to really grasp and grapple with the words of others, whether we are working in groups of three or larger gatherings. A generous heart, determined to love and affirm those around me, especially when they are very different from me. Sealed lips, so that my fellow participants can be confident that I will be rigorous in respecting the confidential protocol of the occasion, no matter how shocking or revelatory I might find someone’s contribution to be. A well-thumbed bible, one that can be trusted not to fall open at the same few verses every time. An attentive spirit, expecting to hear the still small voice of God speaking into the situation. Foot plasters, for when I’ve walked that extra mile in someone else’s shoes.
Yet as always when travelling, it’s as important to work out what to leave behind as it is to decide what to put in the suitcase. So here are a few discards. Gut reactions, including my squeamishness in the face of some aspects of sex. Unshakable convictions, those that I won’t even allow God to challenge. Political positions, this really is not the occasion for them. Party loyalties, my commitment must be to God and the process, knowing it will be surrounded and held up in the prayers of so many.
Above all, though, there is one thing I need to take with me to York, that must not be packed at all, but be constantly held in my hands. I must carry a sensitivity that what I could treat as an important theological and ecclesiological issue, is for some, and they fall on both sides of the substantive argument, much more. This is a matter that touches their deepest sense of personhood. For them, these days will be especially demanding. My job includes holding them especially before God.
Bishop David Walker’s thoughtful reflection about the task ahead for all participants in this weekend’s Church of England General Synod meeting is a welcome antidote to those who – according to an article by Ruth Gledhill in ‘Christian today’, accessed below – are striving to prevent any change in policy that would allow Church of England clergy to perform a Blessing of a Same-Sex Union, which will be one of the objectives discussed.
What Bishop David Walker mentions near the end of this article is probably most important for the discussions on the outcome of ‘Conversations on Human Sexuality’ scheduled to form a major part of the Synod deliberations. He emphasises that, possibly even more important than what he intends to take with him to the synod will be what he intends to leave behind:
“Gut reactions, including my squeamishness in the face of some aspects of sex. Unshakable convictions, those that I won’t even allow God to challenge. Political positions, this really is not the occasion for them. Party loyalties, my commitment must be to God and the process, knowing it will be surrounded and held up in the prayers of so many.”
I reckon that if everyone attending this important session of the General Synod applies the same guidelines – about what they ought not to bring into the discussions – then they will proceed with a minimum of rancour and the ethos necessary in order for the Church to face up to, and deal with, the situation before it. My prayers are for this General Synod and for those marginalised by the present culture of sexism and homophobia.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand