Reforming Canon 31 – What Kind of Church Do We Want To Be?

This is what my speech to General Synod said this morning. It was curtailed slightly in its delivery due to reduction of the time limit for speakers.

Chair, Members of Synod.

The world’s media thinks that we are voting today on whether a gay couple in Glasgow, or Aberdeen, or Dumfries, or Edinburgh, or Stornoway should be able to walk down the aisle in their Episcopal church. That this is a vote on whether, when I meet the perfect woman, the one who will share all my laughter, wipe away every tear, empty the litter tray, and not mind too much sharing me with a cathedral, that I will be able to marry her in the sight of the God who I truly love.

And it is a little bit about that.

But it is also about things that are bigger than that.

This is about the kind of church that we want to be. It is about whether we are a Church where there is room for everyone, a Church where the words “all are welcome in this place” are true. It is about whether we believe that we really are all God’s children. It is about our attitude towards minorities in the Church, to people who are a little different from ourselves — our attitude towards gay and bisexual people, yes, but also our attitude towards ethnic minorities, to refugees, to the poor, to single parents, to single people, and to people of diverse gender identity. It is about how we behave when faced with issues of social justice, and whether we are willing to play our part in dismantling systems that have traditionally kept the oppressed oppressed.

He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.

We have before us a motion that represents a great deal of work by the Committee on Canons, and that I think really does represent who we are as a Church. I don’t actually believe that it says anything radical. I think it says that we are a church where there is space, and respect, and love, and love, and love, and that because we have that we have the ability to accept more than one idea. And here’s the thing: that is all already true.

We are not a homogenous people. We do not speak with one voice. How dull would that be? And the Scottish Episcopal Church is lots of things, but you couldn’t call it dull.

We are not doing anything radical.

But it feels like we are doing a big scary thing.

Because change always feels like the big scary thing. Synod, I beg you: do you not fall into the trap of believing that the path of least change is the one that will do the least harm. Do not let yourself think that sticking with the status quo means sticking with comfort and familiarity. The status quo will not mean that there is no pain. There is already pain. Do not underestimate the pain and hurt and confusion that will be felt. If this motion is rejected, we will be saying that perhaps there isn’t room for everyone after all — perhaps there isn’t room for people like me.

We have heard from the Primus and the Acting Convenor of the Faith and Order Board about the steps that have been taken during the last year to try to hold us all together as a church, to soothe and heal the pain and hurt and confusion that has been felt in the last twelve months by people who hold a different view to my own. Those are efforts that I applaud, and I hope that the measures taken will bring comfort and acceptance to people in this room and people out there in the world. I want this Church to be a place that can hold everyone together.

And it feels like we are doing a big scary thing because the eyes of the world are upon us. In light of revelations made yesterday, perhaps more specifically the eyes of the Communion are upon us.

What do we want to say to them?

Go, make disciples of all nations, Jesus said. We heard that in our opening Eucharist yesterday morning.

If we leave here today as people of diversity, as people of respectful difference of opinion, as a body of Christ for whom more than one idea can be accepted and honoured, I believe we will indeed have said something to the world. I believe we will be saying that we can be leaders, that we can be brave, that we can be models for Anglican fellowship and love to the Anglican Communion throughout the world, and if we say that then that is something of which I will be very proud.

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5 comments

  1. What a speech. I believe that you could have added “….we can be models for Christian fellowship and love to the Christian Communion throughout the world”.

  2. Thank you, Beth, for all the input you offered both on Thursday afternoon (when I was present as an observer), and particularly this morning, which I heard via livestream on the bus back to Aberdeen. I had a vote on the ordination of women to the priesthood and the tension, and then relief, which I felt then waiting for the outcome were similar to my feelings this morning. In this way, I think we might actually be able to keep walking together.

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