Go back to normal view
At the meeting of Depwade Deanery Synod in February 2016, Bishop Alan reported on his recent involvement in important work currently being undertaken in all the dioceses of the Church of England.
The Church of England is currently engaging in a series of facilitated ‘shared conversations’ taking place across the Church of England. They are part of the current nationwide discussions on the issue of human sexuality, which the Church has been addressing in a number of ways over the past ten years.
A commission examined the issues involved, and in 2013 produced the Pilling Report, which recommended
In 2013 the House of Bishops met for shared conversations, and then rolled out the format to involve representatives from all the dioceses in the process, guided by two key questions.
1.How can we most effectively be a missionary church in a culture that has changed so radically in its attitudes to sexuality?
2.Given that it is now clear that there are very different views, strongly held, can we learn to disagree well?
The format adopted brought together 12 representatives from each diocese for a three-day meeting. In our region, 12 representatives from each of the dioceses of Norwich, Ely, and St Edmondsbury & Ipswich met together at Ditchingham. The 12 representatives were chosen to include a mix of ages, gender – including members of the LGBT community – lay and ordained, and to reflect the range of views across the diocese, i.e. both ends of the spectrum but also the broad middle. The conversations were led by team of facilitators under the leadership of a Northern Irish Baptist minister who is also a Canon of Coventry Cathedral and involved with the Coventry ministry for reconciliation.
The ground rules were designed to create a safe space for the discussion of issues that were both difficult and very personal:
After the event, ideas could be discussed, but there would be no report saying who said what. No final statement was to be issued – the aim was for all to enrich their understanding of one another.
The programme included:
In a reflection, participants explored how the future might look, given the range of views. Is the Church of England facing amicable divorce, or can we continue together, holding differences? Very few of those present would choose to split. So how can we disagree well as the church goes forward?
The Pilling Report invoked the concept of ‘pastoral accommodation’, which currently allows clergy in some circumstances to offer marriage and/or a blessing in church where one partner has been divorced. The Report did not propose any change in the church’s teaching on sexual conduct. Could there, however, be a pastoral accommodation that might enable clergy, with the approval of the local Church Council, to offer appropriate prayers and blessings to mark a faithful same-sex relationships, and/or to clergy who marry a same-sex-partner?
The group of representatives from the diocese will be meeting again in a few weeks to reflect on the shared conversations and on ways forward for the diocese. General Synod will be engaging in shared conversations in July, and the House of Bishops is due to meet in the autumn and to take decisions on ways to lead the church for the future.
Bishop Alan brought two thoughts to us from the shared conversations:
1. He asks us to pray, and in particular for:
2. He exhorts us always to see the face of Christ in the people with whom we disagree.
A pair of resource booklets for the shared conversations, Grace and Disagreement.