Our Shared Conversations are over and the participants from Europe, Guildford and Southwark have made their way home. The rule was that we were asked not to Tweet or Blog during the time we were together – and to be honest that made sense. Rather than thinking about an external audience we were able to concentrate much more on the task in hand.
And what was that task? Well, in a sense it was simple. We talked about the church, our selves, the issue of homosexuality and the church’s response to it. We were reminded at the beginning that we were not there to arrive at any decision, that the conversation was all important, that we had no power or mandate to change anything. To be honest that felt quite strange. We are now used to setting and measuring outcomes and so to be told that there was no expected outcome made me want to ask ‘So why are we here?’ But we were there in order to listen and to talk.
So what have I come away with? Well, I’ve heard some moving stories of people’s lives and beliefs. People have been enormously generous in being prepared to be honest and open in what they have said. On Day Two we are given a massive amount of time in small groups to tell our own story. We each had about twenty minutes to speak about whatever we wanted to speak about in terms of our own life, faith, sexual journey. But that didn’t feel too long when, after spending time plotting my own story, I then told the others. Even though I had told bits of it on many occasions and to different people I hadn’t put it all together in one complete narrative like that, nor quite seen all the connections and influences.
As I listened to others it was good to hear that though my story was my own it was, in places, not that unusual. Again, that’s reassuring. And, of course, to be listened to, without interruption, without interrogation, is unusual in itself. So all of that was gift.
I leave with two thoughts. The first is that I actually feel more hopeful after the process. I don’t think anyone changed their mind, that wasn’t expected and though we’d been told that outcomes weren’t expected we have something as a diocesan group to bring back to the diocese. But I think, even more importantly, we all know more about one another than we did on arrival and that knowledge must, by the grace of God, change things.
The second thought that I take away came as a consequence of the afternoon session on Day Two when we were looking at possible solutions to the problem/challenge that we face as a church with regard to the presence of large numbers of LGBTIQ clergy and laity. Our group came up with a lot of possible solutions from the most conservative to the most liberal via keeping the muddle and the status quo. As we then set out the positive and negative impacts of some of these possible solutions I was struck by the fact that all of them, even doing nothing, were enormously painful, enormously costly. We looked at what we had produced – who would bear the pain, who would pay the price? What are we asking of each other, and not just those who are at the heart of the issue, the LGBTIQ clergy doing amazing jobs, exercising incredible ministries in our parishes, the LGBTIQ laity faithfully worshipping, living out the Gospel, disciples of Jesus Christ, but also those who hold more conservative views on the issue. No one wanted to cause pain, no one wanted the person next to them to suffer.
That doesn’t mean I have found an answer, a solution, just a realisation that any solution will demand everything of us as a church.
At a luncheon in the White House in 1954 Sir Winston Churchill was reported to have said ‘To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.’ And, of course, Jesus advises just the same thing where he says ‘Come to terms quickly with your accuser’ (Matthew 5.25). God is in the conversation, and God was in these conversations. Let’s keep talking.
you blessed us in these conversations.
Continue to bless your church
that we may be
gentle and caring with each other.