It is General Synod next week.
There are going to be lots of interesting conversations at Synod, conversations about what our Scottishness has to do with how we identify ourselves as a Church and about how we train ordinands and about how we count people who come to church and about what happens when someone who needs to be commemorated inconveniently dies on a major festival. Last year was my first General Synod and I liked being there and being part of those sorts of conversations.
I admit to being sorry and disappointed that Standing Committee have this year refused to bring a motion that was proposed to them regarding discussions on same-sex marriage. Those of us who are attending Synod or are alternate members of Synod have already read the text of that rejected motion, and as those of you who have read it will already be aware, I was the proposer of it. I’m sorry that it’s been rejected, because I think that a valuable whole Church conversation could have been had had such a motion been brought as part of the ordinary business of Synod; and I’m disappointed, because those who choose how Church business is to be conducted have for a couple of years now been conducting themselves in a manner that I think lacks courage.
For those not on Synod who might be interested, the motion that I proposed was as follows:
This Synod notes:
1) The recent passage of legislation which allows same-sex couples to marry in Scotland,
2) The principle which is now established in Scots law that no one should be forced to act against their conscience in this area,
3) That Scottish Episcopalians are not of one mind about these and other matters.
This Synod resolves:
1) For the wellbeing, peace, and mission of the Church, to endorse the principle that no one should be forced to act against their conscience in this area within the Church,
2) To request that the Faith and Order board asks the Committee on Canons to draft an amendment to Canon 31 which will allow for the possibility of same-sex weddings taking place in the Scottish Episcopal Church whilst ensuring that no celebrant be compelled to act against their conscience in this area,
3) To consider such an amendment for First Reading at General Synod 2015, with consequent discussion in Diocesan Synods as an integral part of the Church’s wider conversations within this area,
4) To notify dioceses immediately after this Synod as to how General Synod intends this matter to be considered.
However, my disappointment that this motion will not be being brought is nothing compared to my disappointment in the manner in which we will be discussing the issue at Synod.
The main thing we will be doing is hearing a series of short presentations on Pitlochry conversations, a process that I spoke about here. I have spoken to a couple of people who went to Pitlochry. My understanding is that it was useful as a listening process and that people came away from it with a lot to think about it and feeling generally affirmed. I am pleased about this, and I am pleased that the experience was so positive — certainly it was more positive than I feared it might be. On the other hand, my understanding is also that in spite of all the positives it is not a conversation that has got us anywhere in terms of what we want to do, how we are going to do it, or in what sort of timescale we might be having the conversation. After the people who were in Pitlochry have given their presentations, there will be small group discussions at Synod. There will be no whole Synod conversation and no chance for real feedback (we will have the opportunity to write things on flipcharts), and, so far as I am aware, nothing in the small group discussions is likely to be made public. It is not clear at this stage, even after asking, whether the content or outcome of the small group debates will be recorded in the minutes. It is most likely not.
There will be no chance at all for anyone to get up at Synod and say, “I disagree with the way we are doing this.”
I raised my disappointment in a Diocesan meeting with how this conversation is going to be had next week at General Synod. It seems to me more and more that the Church is trying to avoid doing or saying anything that will necessitate them having a conversation in public or making any sort of decision. I have never before had the experience of having everyone in a room agree with me. It is a disconcerting experience.
But it does say a lot about where the people within the Church are on this.
I think we are getting to a point now where people on all sides of the aisle would really rather just get on with it. It might be that we do disagree with what we want the outcome of this conversation to be — and I don’t know that we do disagree as much as we think we do. I don’t want the Scottish Episcopal Church to become a place where only the people who agree with me are welcome. I want this to be a place where all — all — are welcome. I want no one to be forced to act against their conscience. I want to believe in the same God as do people who agree with me about marriage, as do people who endorse a traditional view of marriage, as do people who think we should just do it like they do in France. I believe absolutely in religious freedom, and that means believing in the religious freedom of people who have views different from mine as well as the religious freedom of people who broadly agree with me. The Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole is a broad church and a church where one of the things we have historically been good at is believing that there is room for more than one idea. That is a history that I am proud of and one that I think should also be part of our future.
And the point we are at now is that all kinds of people who have all kinds of ideas are starting to think that we should define what we are talking about and then actually talk about it, so that we can reach an outcome and then get on with the business of living it and then talk about something else.
Are you not bored of talking about this? I am. I am bored. I would like to move on and talk about other things. But so long as the Church keeps dragging its feet and talking around it instead of about it, I can’t and nor can anyone else.