|Published by Giles Goddard on Thu, 12 Nov 2015 11:43|
The best thing about residential conferences is not having to think about food, and having plenty of it (and always cake at tea time!). The second best thing is the other people you meet.
From Monday to Wednesday this week I was at the Shared Conversations conference for Southwark Diocese. 20 of us from this Diocese (which stretches down to Gatwick Airport) met up in a conference centre in Essex, along with with people from Guildford Diocese and from the Diocese of Europe. It's an initiative set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, which draws together people from different traditions within the church - Anglo-Catholic, evangelical and all points between - with different understandings on the vexed question which faces the church: 'What shall we do about same-sex marriage?' We were asked to think about the question: Given the significant changes in our culture in relation to human sexuality, how should the Church respond?
Lots of facilitation, lots of careful group work, and quite a lot of cake fuelled a remarkable few days. I think everyone there was moved, surprised, challenged, and made to think. I have been present at many of these types of conversations over the last twenty years, but this one was very refreshing, for one very simple reason: we were not trying to change the minds of those who didn't agree with us. The hope underlying these conversations is that there will be greater respect between differing parties, not that the Church will suddenly miraculously find agreement. It was invigorating to be able to tell my story to someone on the other side of the debate, someone who might think that same-sex marriage is intrinsically and always sinful, and watch them begin to see the human being behind the stereotype, and begin to realise that I too am deeply motivated and inspired by Jesus and by the Christian faith. It felt like there were lightbulbs bursting into life all over the place. There may not have been a change of minds, but there was certainly a change of hearts.
The intention was not to come up with a solution, and indeed there were no outcomes except a hope that we can speak further, (and also to others who weren't there, especially those who took a conscious, but sad, decision not to participate). I came away more sure than ever that at the moment the church is being institutionally sinful by failing to acknowledge the loving relationships which are all around us. And that we still aren't very good about talking about the relationship between sex and love. And that there are other much more urgent things - for example, CO2 emissions and climate change - where the church's voice is being sidelined because of these unresolved questions.
But I was glad to be part of the conversations, because it felt like a genuinely new way to engage. I was glad to make some new friends. And I have more hope than I had before, that we might be able to find a way through this which will hold most of the church together - and at the same time enable us to celebrate the love between people of the same gender. Here's hoping. And praying.
Now, more cake, please!