Monday, November 02, 2015

Shared Conversations observed

One way and another, last week was a good time for reflection and for growth.

Not only did I find myself reflecting on the nature of loss and change, as I spent three nights in a house whose wooded estate had been one of my most favourite childhood playgrounds, but I was there in the privileged position of chaplain to one of the Regional Shared Conversations.

For those who aren't up to their elbows in the Church of England, these are a series of opportunities offered to every diocese in the country for exploration of one particular question

"Given the significant changes in our culture in relation to human sexuality, how should the Church respond?"

Over three days, participants from a cluster of dioceses, and from all shades of opinion, engage in facilitated conversation, sharing their stories, their understanding of Scripture, and their ideas of possible futures for the Church of England. To be there on the sidelines as three southern dioceses explored together was an extraordinary privilege - which changed my own perspective, enabling me to understand something of the pain felt by those whom I had previously dismissed as having a purely black and white view of life. For the first time I was able to learn, in informal tea-time conversations that were anything but casual, of the pain that is experienced not only by the LGBTQ community, with whom as a lifelong liberal I instinctively ally myself, but also that of the conservative evangelicals who see the Church they love departing from her true self. 

Suddenly viewpoints and issues had human faces. Faces I was growing fond of. It was impossible to see one group or the other as "them"... they were, and are, family.

On Thursday afternoon, after all the official conversations (which were quite rightly reserved for those who came as representatives of their dioceses), after the plenaries, after the late night conversation over drinks and copious supplies of chocolate (this was a conference centre sans bar!), I presided at the Eucharist. Immediately beforehand, the lead facilitator had encouraged all to attend, saying that those who felt unable to receive the Sacrament (whether because of their sense of impaired communion with one another, or because of their reservations about my ministry as an ordained woman) would nonetheless be an important part of our worship, their pain at not receiving a testimony to the pain of a broken Church. 

So... they were all present - and nearly all of them received. It was quite overwhelming to stand before them at the Peace, looking slowly round at people whom I had come to respect and like, to proclaim "We are the Body of Christ" - and then to move behind the altar and in just a few short minutes take that Body, present now in bread and wine, and break it. It was impossible not to project into a future in which that Body would be broken again, to think about just who would be missing from the table if the Church split - and to feel keenly the pain of loss.

Though I was not part of the official conversations, those 3 days in Sussex helped me to understand that we will, truly, be a diminished Church if schism comes. We will lose not just a bunch of uncongenial opinions (whatever your perspective) but family members, with whom we are deeply connected. Who knows if family bonds can hold.... but come what may, last week's experience has enabled me to see people, not simply issues. My mind has not changed, but my heart is open in a way that it was not before - so I am praying for an outpouring of grace, so that a work of reconciliation may yet be possible.


Musings12 said...

Much moved by your words about breaking the Body of Christ. I have never thought of this issue in that light before.

UKViewer said...

What a lovely and thoughtful post. I have in the past been staunchly liberal and have sided with the LBTQ side as well - but have over time, been given pause for thought by members of that very community, who have said similar things to what you have said here.

And, I have spoken to a number of people from an even older generation than me, who are hurting, because they believe that the church that they love and value is tearing itself apart over something that they believe belongs squarely in private life and not obliging them to face something which they hold often liberal views about, but don't want to have to have as the main focus of discussion in the news media or the Church Times.

I can't imagine the pain of those who see their church disappearing before their eyes, but I know that coming from a strict Catholic upbringing, is that my views were once formed by that doctrine, which continues in that place, even today.

Some years ago, I was sent by my than employers for Diversity Training, to become a trainer y self. This was a pretty conservative organisation - the armed forces, who having been forced through the European Courts to change their culture of discrimination and prosecution of actively gay service people, have engaged with those communities in real ways.

The testimony that I heard during that training from people from the LBTG communities convinced me at the time, before I became a Christian, that I/we couldn't go on, creating categories of people as outcasts in our world.

Through having an open mind, and engaging and meeting and talking with people who had and continue to suffer real discrimination because of their sexuality, I was convinced of the injustice of the system.

When I became an Anglican, I couldn't understand how the church could tolerate it. I resented being questioned during the discernment process about my own sexuality, and even more being expected to agree with the HoB Paper on Human Sexuality and that I was also expected to abide by it's terms and conditions, if I were to proceed further.

These conversations are an opportunity to discover those things that you describe. It's not just an issue to argue about, it's an issue that affects the lives (and livilihood in some cases) of hundreds if not thousands of members of the church today putting the issue in terms of people, who we know and love, makes it something different, its about mutual pain and suffering from both ends of the scale - by fellow members of the Body of Christ.

We need to stop this form of self harm, by nurture, support, prayer, love and Grace, more and more Grace, to agree a way forward which doesn't divide by diversity, but unites in diversity. I dream of it being achieved by and through God's infinite grace. That might well be all of our prayers.