Tonight, at the service of Evening Prayer with which we close each day’s business at Synod, I found myself in tears.
Not the tears that I wept at General Synod last year, when I had to make an escape from the building to have a few moments of quiet with a friend in my anger and my frustration. No, I said to those who came to me when worship was over. No, these are the good kind, these are the tears of joy. The weeping that I do today is the weeping of Easter Sunday.
The motion put to Synod before lunch today was whether we wished to proceed to debate the options for potential change to Canon 31, which is the canon the deals with how we marry people in the Church.
Section 1 of Canon 31 states that:
The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual, and mystical union of one man and one woman, created by their mutual consent of heart, mind, and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God.
Having decided that we did want to vote on some form of change to that Canon, the options we were choosing between were as is written here.
74% of Synod voted for Option A as their first preference. We have asked the Committee on Canons to prepare canonical material removing Section 1 in its entirety from Canon 31. If that passes through subsequent Synodical procedures, the result will be that Canon Law in the Scottish Episcopal Church is silent on the doctrinal nature of marriage and that our doctrinal understanding reverts to that which is found in the liturgies of the Church.
And to save you looking it up: The liturgies of this Church as they already exist allow for many possible understandings of marriage, including that which is between two people of the same gender.
I voted for Option A. I dithered, and I considered voting for Option C (altering “one man and one woman” so that it instead read “two persons”) which would have produced something that I could have joyfully lived with. I chose instead to put it as my second preference.
Because it isn’t just about me, is it?
It used to be about me. This conversation used to be a conversation that was being had only amongst people like me and people who agreed with us. But if anything has become clear over the last two days, it has been that this is now a conversation that is being had by the whole Church, willingly and intelligently and diversely and overflowing with love.
That has been a wonderful thing to witness.
And so I voted for the option that I think allows us to go forward together, loving one another in our diversity and our difference and our disagreement. I think that that is the kind of Church that we are, and it is the kind of Church that I want us to be.
Now, the work is not done.
To change Canon Law as has been requested in principle by General Synod today will require two years worth of procedures. The canonical material which has been requested will be brought for first reading at General Synod 2016, requiring a simple majority. If passed, that will go to the Diocesan Synods of 2017 for further discussion before being brought for second reading to General Synod 2017 where in order to pass and to actually become Canon Law it will require a two thirds majority from each of the House of Laity, the House of Clergy, and the House of Bishops.
No, the work is not nearly done.
But the things that have happened today have been good things, marvellous things, things that if you had asked me two years ago I would have said that I didn’t know if they would ever happen at all.
And as the words of Psalm 40 were read, I wept for joy and for gladness:
I waited patiently for God
and God bent down to hear me.
God lifted me from a murky pit
and set me firmly on a rock
where I can stand confidently.
God put a new song on my lips,
a song of praise to my Maker;
many will look on in wonder
and put their trust in God.
Countless are your wonders, O God;
in goodness you have no equal.
We would proclaim all your works
were they not too many to number.