St John's, General Synod and inclusion.

Published by Giles Goddard on Thu, 16 Feb 2017 11:02
Vicar's Blog

I am relieved and delighted that General Synod voted not to take note of the House of Bishops' Report on Marriage and Same Sex relationships.

As a General Synod member (the photo shows some of the 'out' members of Synod) I received far more emails on this than I have on any other subject, almost unanimously expressing their dismay at the tone of the report.

I know that the Bishops are in a very complex situation, caught between strongly conservative and much more progressive understandings of the church. But I too was disappointed that it seemed to be saying 'no change' from the current position of the church, which dates from 1991.

I was very involved in the preparation for the debate on Synod, because I believe very profoundly that the Gospel calls us to offer a welcome to everyone, regardless of sexuality or gender.

We now have a long row to hoe as we try to work out how we respond to the Archbishop of Canterbury's words at the end of the debate:

"No person is a problem, or an issue. People are made in the image of God. All of us, without exception, are loved and called in Christ. There are no ‘problems’, there are simply people.

How we deal with the real and profound disagreement - put so passionately and so clearly by many at the Church of England’s General Synod debate on marriage and same-sex relationships today - is the challenge we face as people who all belong to Christ.

To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church. This must be founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology; it must be based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st century understanding of being human and of being sexual.

We need to work together - not just the bishops but the whole Church, not excluding anyone - to move forward with confidence.

The vote today is not the end of the story, nor was it intended to be. As bishops we will think again and go on thinking, and we will seek to do better. We could hardly fail to do so in the light of what was said this afternoon.

The way forward needs to be about love, joy and celebration of our humanity; of our creation in the image of God, of our belonging to Christ - all of us, without exception, without exclusion."

I am grateful to the Archbishop and all those who participated in the debate for its tone and content. The hard work starts now!

Here is the speech I gave in the debate.

"I am often told that we have to bring the middle ground with us. Well, I stand before you as a member of the middle ground. I am vicar of a middle of the road parish, St John’s Waterloo - our electoral roll has increased under my tenure from 80 to 127 and we have five people thinking about ordination, two of whom are under twenty. We’ve also more than doubled our parish share. We must be doing something right.

Yet St John’s is seen as a dangerous parish, to be handled with kid gloves. Why? Because the vicar is gay and has a partner. Ours should be a story of success and delight; but we are mistrusted and feared.

This report will not help us. There are two points I want to pick up. First, it misrepresents the Shared Conversations. In York I heard, very clearly, that many of us do not think the time is right at the moment for opening up church marriage, but to say there is little appetite for change is a mishearing of what was said.

Second, this question of maximum freedom. The best analogy I can think of is saying to a prisoner ‘you have maximum freedom to walk around in your cell but of course, we can’t open the door.”

I am very anxious about what status the report would gain, despite the Bishop of Norwich’s words, for which I am grateful. We have enough documents already from the House of Bishops – from Some Issues, in 1991 onwards - which were presented as consultation and magically became policy. What’s to stop that happening with this one? I can easily hear someone saying, in the not very distant future, ‘GS2055 confirms that no change is possible.’

The howls of anger and pain which greeted the report, and the magisterial letter by the retired bishops have given ample reason to say – sorry, we didn’t get it right – we can do better than this.

My friends, I know that there is a huge amount of fear around. As a member of the middle ground I say - let’s relax about all this. Let’s try again. Let’s use our wisdom, our knowledge and our faith and let’s take time to produce something which confidently speaks of the Gospel for all of England. Please vote not to take note."

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