Yesterday, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to pass the first reading of our amended Canon 31, the canon that governs marriage within our Church and that in its amended form would allow us the possibility of marriage between couples of the same sex.
The result was 71% in favour from the House of Bishops, 69% from the House of Clergy, and 80% with three abstentions from the House of Laity. The goal for this year had been a simple majority in each house.
I think the media would have liked us to schism over it, for a Diocese to renounce our Episcopal oversight or a Bishop to storm out — after all, that makes for a better headline. Instead, the media got a reasonable, respectful, measured conversation among a room full of adults who weren’t interested in creating drama but whose priority was to find common ground. The manner in which we did our business and the way we modelled that to the world was almost more important than what that business was.
As recently as two years ago, we could not have had that debate in the way we have had it.
I told Synod two years ago that it talked about LGBT people as if we weren’t there in the room, and I believe that that was true. It isn’t true anymore. The people who stand up at Synod these days in the belief that they are talking to a room full of straight people are vanishingly few. There has been a seismic shift in the way the Church thinks about these issues and the way in which we talk to each other about them.
In our two most recent General Synods, I have witnessed a ministry of healing and reconciliation that has happened right there on the Synod floor.
I will never forget the man who, in the middle of our debate in 2015, got up to bear witness to the extraordinary transformation that had taken place in him during that very debate. He had come to Synod with the belief that marriage between people of the same sex was wrong, and he had been prepared to vote against a process for canonical change, but, that very day, as he listened to the discussion whirling around about, his heart and mind were changed by the people whose testimonies had been given and whose truths he had heard.
And this week I have watched in awe as person after person from the evangelical tradition has come to the podium to tell us that while they believe as a point of principle that marriage is between a man and a woman, they do not disagree entirely with the proposed changes to canon law. The Scottish Episcopal Church are a diverse people, and my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ say that the amended Canon 31 contains a way of expressing our difference of opinion that they might be able to live with. Even for those who did not feel able to vote for it, they recognised that this had been done in a way that allowed them not to walk away from the Church.
It is not always easy to discern the hand of God in the business of General Synod, but in these conversations the work of the Holy Spirit has been a real presence.
This has always been about how we meet in the middle to create a church where we live out the Gospel truth that we are all all blessed. I have the sense now that that is a place we are moving towards.
As we prayed together as a whole people after the results of the vote were announced, I wept. I wept tears of joy, and of relief, and of pride in my belonging to a place that can do its business with such compassion.
God most holy, we give you thanks for bringing us out of the shadow of night into the light of morning…
Of course, there is work still to be done. There are voices on both sides of the issues who have not yet been heard. There is hurt in people on both sides of the conversation that has not yet been healed. There is a second vote next year that will require a two thirds majority in each House before the amended canon is ultimately accepted into canon law. Yesterday, pacing around my hotel room at five in the morning and even during morning coffee as we waited for votes to be counted, I did not know if we were going to succeed in what we were trying to do. There is work to be done before Synod comes back together in a year’s time to vote on this again.
I stood yesterday outside the General Synod with a friend, both of us trying to absorb all that we had seen and heard — not only in the past few days, but in all the work that had brought us to this place and this day and this defining moment.
“What are you thinking about?” he asked.
I’m thinking about what’s next.