There was an expectant hush in the chamber first thing this morning when Archbishop Justin stood to introduce Next steps on human sexuality – the presentation about the Teaching Document. A lot hangs on how this works.
Next faltering steps
He began by reminding us that God treats everyone the same, and that we ought to be doing the same. Given the slightly grim atmosphere yesterday, it was a pointed reminder. He then took us on a tour of some basic themes:
- listening well is vital – but is not the same as agreeing
- our task is to show the love of Christ to all, regardless of their sexual identity
- extensive consultation is part of our tradition of listening to God through scripture, reason and tradition
- there will be a significant level of untidiness. There always is in the Church of England.
He reminded us of the full text of his starting point. It’s important, so I’ll put it in bold:
To reflect a radical new Christian inclusion, founded in scripture, reason and tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it”
Part of what he then said was an attempt to manage expectations:
- inclusion of all those elements wanting a place at the table (he read out a long list) would not be simple (or, I detected a hint, possible)
- unity in Christ and truth go together: but they need to be in the service of mission
- the joy of Christ needs to be seen in our relationships (and often is not): we are called to be a church of reconciled reconcilers
It’s a huge programme of work: he suggested it might be ready to come to Synod in early 2020
The idea of a ‘teaching document’ is not terribly familiar to Anglicans. Roman Catholics are more used to them, where they have authority as the place where the Church’s teaching on race, sex, doctrine, etc etc can be found or appealed to. Archbishop Justin made it clear it would not be like that among us. Supported by Bishops Christopher Cocksworth (Coventry) and Christine Hardman (Newcastle), he explained it as a resource which would reflect the very varied nature of our humanity, and something that will help people to think this through, rather than just be told what the answer is. (Canterbury Prolocutor Simon Butler later suggested that it should be described as a ‘Learning and Teaching’ document…)
When the Chair invited questions, the first to the mics were some seasoned Synodical campaigners – Rosie Harper, Ian Paul, Dean David Ison. After that, wise chairing meant that not all the questioners were ‘the usual suspects’. We heard:
- pleas for inclusion of Deaf people and young people
- a passionate call that the Bishops recognise how urgent this is
- complaints that the 26 year-old Issues of Human Sexuality is still being used as a touchstone in pre-ordination discernment processes
- a pointed question about whether we would learn from (probably meaning ‘copy’) the Scottish Episcopal Church’s experience, which was batted off by the Archbishops reminding us that other provinces are available in the Anglican Communion – Canada and New Zealand, for example.
If you are very interested in the detail, you can:
- pick the whole thing up on YouTube here
- read Archbishops Justin’s introduction here (or not: it was not available online when I went to press)
- read the document here.
Harriet Sherwood did a fair write-up in the Guardian.
For me, the (lightweight) highlight in this (heavyweight) discussion was a moment when the Bishop of Coventry, Christopher Cocksworth, used the words ‘doctrine’ and ‘fun’ in the same sentence.
Moving swiftly on, we opened up Presence and Engagement – a grass-roots look at the C of E’s ability to work with and alongside communities made up of very varied religious and ethnic groups (read the paper here). There was some criticism that the main motion did not explicitly refer to the uniqueness of Christ, thus potentially implying a more universalist view about other faiths. This was resisted, and what followed was a series of positive stories about grass-roots work in multi faith and multi-ethnic environments.
The Dean of Southwark, Andrew Nunn spoke movingly about his experience working with local Muslims on the night of the London Bridge terrorist attack. His point was that good responses at times of crisis only happen where groundwork has been done over many months before. We must be present and engaged all the time, he said. (He may blog about it https://anunnatsynod.wordpress.com/
Those of us in relatively monochrome shire county dioceses learned much.
Local and national
There were cries of ‘ooooh!’ when we were told that the item on National support for local churches would enable us to make choices about how we spent the afternoon. It’s in response to the mood of ‘new ways of doing Synod’ and some requests made by Synod members.
So we were reminded about six things that Church House Westminster is doing in connection with the national church’s emphasis on bringing the news of Christ to all. They are (and this will come as a surprise to those who criticise central church bodies, whether at national or diocesan level):
- The national Pentecost prayer event Thy Kingdom Come
- Life Events
- Digital Evangelism
- National events as opportunities for community witness
- Inclusion and Outreach to the marginalised
- Crossing the Generations
I was initially less than enthusiastic about this item, seeing it as an attempt by those at the centre to justify their existence to those who pay the bills (us people in the dioceses). But perusal of the document which spells out what is going on (read it here) reveals some impressive activity, all of which has pay-offs for parishes and diocese.
My workshop was the digital evangelism one. The ever-exuberant John Spence talked about the Church’s ambition to reach people we have no contact with by traditional ministry and mission – digitally. He was followed by the relatively new Head of Digital, Adrian Harris (ex-Tesco, ex-BUPA), showed how very large numbers of people viewed the C of E internet campaigns at Christmas and Easter, and our responses to tragedies like London Bridge. He also said:
- Facebook works better than Twitter for his communications. Facebook followers have tripled in 6 months (admittedly from a low base) and the demographic is largely 25-44
- the C of E website is being reformed and renewed based on research with 1,800 people involved.
- It will be mobile-friendly (1/3 of traffic comes that way) and include A Church Near You (aka ACNY) – one Devon church got over 5,000 visits last year. If you’ve never explored ACNY go here. (Do not confuse with ACNA or GAFCON, which are slightly different animals)
- resources (e.g. a writing for the Web module) will be made available the work priorities are based on hard data that is available through monitoring digital output.
There was lots of techspeak about ‘aggregating content’, ‘ingesting data’, and ‘cobweb content’. But overall, an cheerful and inspiring presentation with some fired-up digital dudes raring to take it further.
Inevitably, the debate that followed was less exciting. Mind you, twitter went bonkers about it, to the extent that #synod was trending for a while. Judging by the tea-room chatter and the speeches, my initial suspicion about this item was ill-informed. Well done Church House team!
Jayne Ozanne introduced her motion about ‘Conversion Therapy’ of LGBTI people with a calm but passionate speech combining her own (very damaging) experiences; references to medical opinion (against conversion therapy); and the need to listen to people’s experiences. While pretty well everyone is against the practice nowadays, she referred to various Christian healing and deliverance ministries, and people who practice prayer to bring people from homosexual desire to ‘normal’ desire. She brought out statistics indicating the particular damage to young people, and explained how she saw them as abuse and a safeguarding matter.
The debate that followed required the bathwellschap clapometer: loud and long applause for some speakers; short but noisy for others (indicating less support). The full text of the motions and amendments can be found here
- Sean Doherty argued clearly for his amendment. It would remove the whole text of the Ozanne original and replace it with a softer approach, pointing also at good pastoral practice that must not include coercion; and looking to the House of Bishops for guidelines for work in this area.
- Dr Jamie Harrison, Chair of the House of Laity, offered a much less specific amendment, (with the rider that he referenced a 2015 Royal College of Psychologists memorandum (the other motions went for a 2017 memorandum, conjuring up – for those of us who are not experts – the old Monty Python gag about the People’s Front for the Liberation of Judea and the Jeans People’s Liberation Front.)
- Two relatively young members gave moving accounts of their own encounters with gay-change therapy approaches in church
- With his usual clarity, the Bishop of Liverpool pointed out that if being LGBT is not sinful, then we can have no truck with attempts to change people, and he reminded us of the hate crimes happening in his own city.
As we got closer to a vote, the atmosphere (already hotter than was comfortable) got tense. Simon Butler reminded us that Ozanne ‘endorses’ the medical references; Doherty merely ‘notes’ them. So he was with Ozanne. It got to an electronic vote by houses (enabling everyone to see who voted for what when the figures come out) on every amendment.
The Doherty amendment failed in all houses. A further amendment from Bath & Wells’ Christina Baron failed only because a tie in the House of Bishops. And eventually the Harrison amendment succeeded in all three houses. A late addition was an instruction to call on the government to ban conversion therapy.
All in all, I felt this was an unsatisfactory debate for those of us who like Synod to proceed in an orderly fashion. Nowhere was ‘conversion therapy’ defined; nobody went anywhere near speaking up for it. Effectively, we were voting against something that nobody supports. But as a wise old Synod bird said to me – this isn’t about the wording. It’s about alignment: getting the Church to be seen to be supportive of LGBTI people, not against them. There’s very clear write-up from Dean Andrew Nunn here. And Harriet Sherwood’s Grauniad piece is here.
The politics is fascinating: Despite the EGGS group having more than 100 people at their fringe meeting on Friday night, evangelicals did not have enough votes to stop the Ozanne motion going through – presumably because only the more conservative among them voted against.
In other business
A pleasant diversion was the book-signing by Catherine Fox, whose Lindchester series of novels throws a witty (and sometimes scabrous) light on cathedral city life. Catherine’s latest is Realms of Glory, and she even had some Lindchester mugs on sale. An ideal present for your Vicar, or Archdeacon. Maybe.
Tomorrow we all head off to York Minster for a grand Communion service, and then resume business after lunch with a diocesan motion on Welcoming Transgender People and an report on the work of the Crown Nominations Commission. After that – how well are clergy looked after (and how well do they look after themselves?); and a motion on schools admission policies.
A wonderful and varied day lies ahead.
* Stop! In the name of Love The Supremes’ 1965 Motown hit (written by Holland-Dozier-Holland) just before Diana Ross was picked out of the group to be the headline name. If you are old enough to remember b/w TV, you’ll just love the YouTube!