The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion

At the end of last week, the Most Reverend Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of Kaduna in Nigeria, was appointed as the new secretary general of the Anglican Communion.

The announcement was made quietly on Maundy Thursday, on a day when most people who might usually be inclined to notice and comment on a significant appointment in the Church could quite properly be expected to be busy with all the furore of Holy Week. A day to bury bad news if ever there was one; and make no mistake, this has been bad news.

To be secretary general of the Anglican Communion is not a little thing. In effect, this man has been appointed as the executive officer of the Council which writes policy for the Anglican Communion and is charged with being one of the bodies that is meant to keep the member churches of the Communion together, and who is now expected to represent the Communion to ecumenical bodies, to worldwide churches, and to secular institutions including the United Nations. This is an appointment that it was important to get right, and that it was important to be seen to get right.

Ask yourself, at a time when issues of human sexuality are tense and prominent in the life of the Church, is it right of the Anglican Communion to appoint a man who has in the past been seen to be so vehemently anti-gay?

Bishop Josiah told the Dallas Morning News in 2007 that “[gay people] are wrong”, and just thirteen months ago at a high profile event in Nigeria he said that “the government has criminalised homosexuality, which is good”. It is not clear whether these are still his views. A private correspondence to the Episcopal Women’s Caucus which was made last week after they had made contact with him stated that his position has not changed and that he does not support the criminalisation of homosexuality — it seems to me that it is not possible for both of those things to be true. He has made no effort to publicly clarify his views; nor has either the Anglian Consultative Council or Lambeth Palace.

It is, perhaps more importantly, also not clear whether the Anglican Consultative Council believed these to be his views at the time that they made the appointment.

I am usually capable of allowing for difference of opinion. I usually take great joy in the fact that in the Anglican Communion we seek to love one another for our differences as well as for our similarities, and that we can make room for how each one of us sees theology and Scripture and God. I can recognise as an adult that not everyone shares my view of the world, and in all the things I have ever said about the theology of human sexuality I have never considered people who believe differently to me to be less than I am or to belong in this Church less than I do. I wish everyone did believe the same as I do, but they don’t and that’s okay.

But it is a different thing to hold and express divisive views as an individual than it is to hold those views when you are supposed to be a visionary bridge builder for reconciliation in a worldwide Church. I am paraphrasing from the person criteria now.

And if you believe that consensual sexual activity between two people who are of the same sex ought to be a criminal act, you are just plain wrong.

That’s not my opinion. That’s just the way it is.

The views of Bishop Josiah need to be clarified publicly. If the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury and my own Primus believe that it is a good and holy thing that someone who holds these views becomes the face which we as Anglicans show to the world, then we need to consider whether we, as individuals and as member Churches, remain in communion with the Anglican Communion.

EDIT: A statement has now been made by Bishop Josiah that he does not and has never supported the criminalisation of homosexuality. He continues to express some very troubling anti-gay sentiments in that statement. There also needs to be clarification on this statement that he “has never” supported criminalisation, which is a direct contradiction to a statement he made in March 2014.

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Diocesan Synods and Religious Conscience

At the Diocesan Synod of Glasgow and Galloway on Saturday, the following motion was passed by a 67% majority of voting members:

In light of the recent coming into force of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, this Synod agrees that Canon Law should be revised to ensure that no member of the clergy should be expected to act against their conscience with a view to same sex marriage and proposes a motion to this effect to the General Synod of 2015.”

A similar motion had been passed earlier in the day by the Diocese of Edinburgh at their Synod.

I proposed the motion in Glasgow and Galloway on behalf of the Glasgow North East Region, who had conceived and approved it. The motion was seconded by Kennedy Fraser, who is also a member of the Glasgow North East Regional Council.

This is what I said at Diocesan Synod.

It is my joy and privilege to speak to you today on behalf of North East Regional Council, to propose the motion which you have before you from the Glasgow North East Region.

I would like to speak very briefly now about where the Church is at present on this issue and what we think is the beginning of a possible way forward.

As you arrived today, you will have been given a copy of the House of Bishops guidelines concerning marriage. These were issued by the House of Bishops in December to all clergy and lay readers in the province, and they represent the official position of the Church on the matter of marriage between same sex couples – legally and pastorally.

When we spoke about the issue of same-sex marriage at this Synod last year, we did it with a particular view of the world and a particular understanding of what we expected to happen next.

The world has changed.

This is a country where marriage equality is now the law of the land, and where it is possible for any two people who love each other to be married regardless of their gender. I was present at the first marriage to take place between a couple of the same sex, as the bells in Glasgow rang out for a new year, and a new world, and a better world. I was very proud to be there. It is difficult perhaps to understand how much that moment meant, if you didn’t do your growing up in a world that told you you wouldn’t ever be good enough to get married and to profess your love before your family and friends and community.

And in this community, that love is still not considered good enough to proclaim before God and I am hurt by that.

However, this is now a Diocese where we have sat down and talked about these issues together at the Cascade Conversations which took place last year. In the discussion which led to the motion that you see before you, the clergy and lay representatives to the Glasgow North East Region had a long conversation about the Cascade process. There was a diversity of opinion in that room as there will be in this room, but we were agreed on two things:

First, a recognition of the valuable conversations that took place in Cascade and that for many people the process has been genuinely helpful.

Second, the urgent sense that the substance of those conversations must be taken forward, that they must inform action and decision, and that this must happen with urgency.

Bishop Gregor’s point [made in his Charge to Synod] about the hypothetical proposals which may come on this matter from the Faith and Order Board to General Synod is well made, but I think it is important to remember that we as a Synod are also the Body of Christ of this Church and that it is just as important for us to ensure that we tell General Synod of our hopes, our fears, our dreams, and our aspirations.

It seems to me that that urgency has become more pronounced in the last few months.

The law has changed, and as a result there are clergy in this Church who now find themselves in a position where they are legally unable to marry some couples. They are struggling with the question of how to make an appropriate pastoral response to couples who are able to marry and who wish to do that in the presence of God. They are expected to act against their conscience.

And the position of the Church has changed, too.

There are clergy and charges who for the last decade have been able to offer blessings to same-sex couples, and who suddenly find that there are unprecedented restrictions placed on this practice.

There are clergy and lay readers who last year were planning their own weddings, and who now find that the Church will not allow them to marry – to be clear, will not allow them to marry even in a registry office.

And there are people going through discernment for ordination and for lay readership who have been told that they must choose between their vocation and marrying the person who they love.

These people are also being expected to act against their conscience, and to compromise the honour and integrity with which they conduct their private lives.

These are things that I think make us a less loving and a less welcoming Church.

They are also things that stand against the long held tradition of the Church that the solemnisation of any marriage is a matter of religious conscience. This is something that we wish to see rectified, to enable those who wish to solemnise marriages of any kind to be able to do so, to recognise the views of those who do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, and to allow all who work for and within the Church to conduct their personal lives with integrity.

I commend to Synod the motion and with the permission of the Chair, I am happy to take questions and comments.

A lot of you will already have read the Bishops’ Guidelines which I alluded to at the beginning of the proposal. They were provided to members of Synod when they arrived. I was also asked by the Bishop to provide a short paper explaining the purpose behind the motion, and that was also given to members of Synod. They are available here as PDFs, for context and completeness.

House of Bishops’ Guidelines Concerning Same-Sex Marriage

Explanatory Notes on Motion to Diocesan Synod

Are All Welcome?

On Saturday 21st February, Changing Attitude Scotland is holding a Eucharist for Change where we will pray for LGBT inclusion and justice in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Frankly, at the moment it doesn’t feel as if all are welcome in this Church. A sign hangs outside every Scottish Episcopal Church in the land that proclaims, “The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You” — and I’m not sure that it does. In the wider sense of Church, this is become a Church that I don’t much like and that I don’t recognise.

A church cannot be sometimes inclusive and sometimes not. A church either welcomes people who are LGBT every week, or it doesn’t at all. It speaks up for justice issues whenever it sees injustice, or it doesn’t at all. It models diversity all the time, or it doesn’t at all. It recognises the relationships of same-sex couples within its congregation publicly and proudly, or it might as well not bother recognising them at all.

If you want to do justice, do it in the boring and the ordinary and the everyday.

I stayed at St Mary’s Cathedral because the day I came here as a visitor was the same day as two of our congregation had their civil partnership blessed, and their relationship was prayed for in the intercessions as if to do so were no big thing. By treating it as the most ordinary thing in the world, it was the most extraordinary thing I had ever heard in a church.

But it can also be important to do something a little out of the ordinary, and I think that time is now.

I feel as if we need praying for.

I feel that as we come up on the season of Diocesan Synods and the preparations for General Synod that go along with that, we need to pray for change and the will to make it happen. I feel that as we still struggle with the hurtful and harmful things that have been said by the Church this year, we need to pray for those who have been most badly damaged by it. I feel when I look at the hierarchy of the Church that we need desperately to pray for the wisdom and courage that often feels lacking from those who lead us.

This is LGBT History Month, and that’s significant — not only to pray in thanksgiving for those who came before us and got us to where we are now, but to pray for ourselves and for our place in our own history and for what we might do to change the world.

Bishops’ Response to Letter of Concern Regarding Guidelines on Same-Sex Marriage

The following letter was received shortly before Christmas from the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend David Chillingworth. This was in response to the letter of concern which was signed by over fifty clergy and lay readers in the Province following the publication of the College of Bishops’ guidelines on same-sex marriage.

I have an exam tomorrow and so I will most likely have more to say about this at another time, but for now I think it probably goes without saying that this is not a satisfactory response to the concerns that were expressed.

*

22 December 2014

I am responding to your letter which has been passed to me by our Secretary General. My response has been agreed with the other members of the College of Bishops. I would be grateful if you would circulate this response to the other signatories of your letter.

The situation in which we and other churches find ourselves is one of considerable challenge and we are grateful to you for your recognition of that and your support for us in our ministry. It is not within the experience of any of us that we find our church out of step with the provisions of Civil Law with respect to marriage. We are aware that a substantial section of our church would wish to bring the practice of our church into line with the Civil Law as soon as possible. Others, of course, wish to continue to uphold a more traditional position.

As bishops, we are acutely aware that the issues which are part of the wider discussion of human sexuality and are touched on in the Guidance issued by the College are not abstract matters of policy. They affect deeply the lives and relationships of members of our church, both clergy and laity. It is regrettable, therefore, that some have been upset by the style and tone of our Guidance document; this was not our intention. We are aware that what we say should be expressed in a way which is compassionate and which honours the depth of the feelings involved.

The Guidance offered by the College of Bishops was not intended to pre-empt any future discussion or synodical decision. It was issued at this point because of the need to bring clarity as the new Marriage Act becomes effective in Scotland. This is where we are at the moment. Our document is not seeking to defend the status quo but rather to preserve a space in which both the Cascade and Synodical processes might be allowed to work themselves through to a point where we can discern the mind of the church on this matter. We feel that for a diversity of practice to arise before we have done this will neither contribute to the unity of our church nor ultimately will it assist us as we try to move forward together.

I know that many who signed your letter are committed to the Cascade process. It is a process which, in a number of forms, has been followed by many churches. It seeks to provide an opportunity for honest conversation across difference and to foster a sense of belonging to one another in Christ. Whilst it did not achieve universal acceptance, we were greatly encouraged by the Pitlochry Conference and by expressions of the process at other levels. The purpose of the Cascade process has not been primarily to seek a resolution of these issues – rather it offers a way in which we can respond to our diversity and thereby create an environment in which resolution may be possible.

Ultimately, this resolution must come through General Synod. The process for doing so in 2015 will be the subject of debate by the Faith and Order Board at its meeting in March. This may lead to a full debate at General Synod in 2015 on the Theology of Marriage in response to a paper to be prepared by our Doctrine Committee. We also expect a debate which gives General Synod members the opportunity of expressing a considered view on a number of options for canonical and other changes. The College trusts that our Cascade Conversations will mean that votes on the floor of General Synod – when they come – will give expression to a deeper unity and catholicity which our church has sought in honest conversation, mutual respect for diversity and prayer.

The question of the authority of the Canons is of particular difficulty. It affects clergy and all who hold a licence for ministry in our church. Whether or not a priest or a deacon can promise obedience to the Canons is ultimately a matter of personal and ministerial integrity. But, because we are an episcopal church, it also involves the bishop before whom such declarations are made.

There are of course wider issues involved here – about the nature of the Scottish Episcopal Church and its place in Scotland today. Many people in and beyond our church would recognize that we have, over the years, bravely represented and advocated gospel-inspired positions on social, moral and justice issues. We honour that history and our tradition of openness and compassion. The challenge we now face is to be open and courageous about engaging with our own theological diversity – honourably resolving difficult questions in a way that strengthens and deepens our oneness in Christ. I believe that we are not only capable of doing this for ourselves but of offering it as an example to others.

Thank you again for your letter. I know that it arises from the deeply held feelings of many people within our church and I hope that this response helps to answer some of their concerns.
With kind regards,
+David
The Most Rev’d David Chillingworth

Here Comes The Sun

Today is the Winter Solstice.

It is the mid-point of winter, the darkest and longest of these dark days and long nights. It is the time of year when all the major religions of the world celebrate, in their own way, the coming of the light into this dark world. It is the moment when everyone on Earth stops and tells each other that we have come halfway out of the darkness.

We have had some terribly dark days, these last few weeks. We have had days when I have thought that that Advent God for whom we wait must look at his church with dismay and believe us to have abandoned all that he lived and died for.

On this final Sunday of Advent, we turn our eyes to Bethlehem, to the star that has appeared in the East, and to the promise that dark days give way to light and that, yes, yes, the age of miracles is not yet past.

For from these days of darkness has emerged a new dawn of hope, in the will and testament and action of the ordinary and now extraordinary people of God. They are people who work for the promise of that Advent God; of the bravery of Mary and the compassion of Joseph and of all that that child in the manger might yet do.

It isn’t simple. It won’t be easy. It’s not anywhere near done yet.

But as we look into that light, it becomes just a little easier than it was last week to believe that we will get there in the end.

Stir up in us O long-awaited God the will to join your revolution, to change your world, and to be in word and deed your living Body and the rock on which your Church can be rebuilt.

Letter from Clergy and Lay Readers to the SEC College of Bishops

The following letter has been sent to the College of Bishops in response to the guidelines on same-sex marriage which were sent out last Tuesday to clergy and lay readers. It was organised by clergy of the Diocese of Edinburgh, and it has been signed by some fifty or so clergy and lay readers from across the Province whose names appear below.

To every single one of them: Thank you.

*

Dear Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church,

We read with dismay the Guidance for Clergy and Lay Readers in the light of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014.

We appreciate that we are bound by the law, and that until our canons are changed, we cannot legally perform same-sex marriages. However, we are disappointed by both the timing and the tone of the document. We have been urged by you to enter into ‘cascade conversations’ in a spirit of open and sensitive listening with people of all views on this matter. This document only makes this process much harder for us, even impossible for some. Far from acknowledging the reality of differing experience and views in the church, it gives the impression of a definitive answer to the question we have yet to discuss or debate. The document ought to make it clear that the restrictions it describes may be temporary, if the church decides to change its canons. Because of the confusion created by this document, we now believe that such canonical change should be decided in Synod as soon as possible.

But we were especially dismayed by the section of the document which refers to clergy, lay readers, and ordinands, should they be in a same-sex relationship and wish to be married. In particular, we find the warnings to ordinands, both currently training and those who might be training in the future, to be unrepresentative of the generous and communal characteristics of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Even though our church has not yet agreed to solemnise same-sex marriages, they will nevertheless become a civil institution which we will recognise like everyone else under the law. It is our firm belief therefore that any prohibition on obtaining a civil marriage is outwith the moral and canonical authority of a bishop.

We acknowledge that this process is one which creates anxiety for all church leaders, and bishops in particular. We empathise with the difficult situation that you as bishops are in, and reaffirm our desire to support you in your leadership of our church, and as fellow members of it.

Nevertheless, some of us are now uncomfortable about solemnising marriages at all until such time as all can be treated equally, and all of us will continue to feel morally compromised in our ministries, and wish to make clear our continuing commitment to affirm and support all people in our church, and to recognise and rejoice in all marriages, of whatever sexual orientation, as true signs of the love of God in Christ.

Yours sincerely,

Revd Carrie Applegath
Revd Philip Blackledge
Revd Maurice Houston
Revd Canon John McLuckie
Revd Canon Ian Paton
Revd Kate Reynolds
Revd Martin Robson,
Revd Malcolm Aldcroft
Dr Darlene Bird (Lay Reader)
Revd Jim Benton-Evans
Revd Cedric L. Blakey
Revd Andrew Bowyer
Revd Canon Bill Brockie
Revd Tony Bryer
Revd Steve Butler
Revd Christine Barclay
Revd Lynsay M Downes
Revd Markus Düntzkopfer
Revd Canon Anne Dyer
Revd Janet Dyer
Revd Jennifer Edie
Revd John L Evans
Revd Samantha Ferguson
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood
Kennedy Fraser (Lay Reader)
Revd Kirstin Freeman
Revd Frances Forshaw
Revd Ruth Green
Revd Bob Gould
Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth
Revd Ruth Innes
Revd Ken Webb
Rev’d Canon Mel Langille
Revd Kenny Macaulay
Revd Simon Mackenzie
Revd Duncan MacLaren
Very Revd Nikki McNelly
Very Revd Jim Mein
Revd Nicola Moll
Revd Bryan Owen
Revd Canon Clifford Piper
Revd Donald Reid
Revd Colin Reed
Revd Canon John Richardson
Revd Malcolm Richardson
Revd Gareth J M Saunders
Very Revd Alison J Simpson
Very Revd Andrew Swift
Kate Sainsbury (Lay Reader)
Patsy Thomson (Lay Reader)
Revd Prof Annalu Waller

Reflecting on the Cascade Conversations in Glasgow & Galloway

Over the last six months since General Synod, the dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church have been engaging in “Cascade Conversations” . You may remember from what I’ve previously said that this is the process which some senior members of the Church decided we ought to use to discuss same-sex relationships [sic] in the Church.

The conversations in my diocese, which is Glasgow and Galloway, concluded this weekend with an event in Galloway. There had been previous events in Glasgow and in Ayrshire. I have attended all three of them and have engaged with the process as best I was able.

The process has followed on from the conference held in Pitlochry shortly after Easter and the presentation which took place at General Synod in June. This “cascading” process has involved series of conversations, which have begun to be arranged and take place in the various dioceses of the Church. The intent was for the conversations across the Province will have broadly the same format as the conversations that were held in Pitlochry, beginning with reflections from invited speakers and then breaking into small groups for further conversation and reflection. The further intent, so we have been told, was for those conversations to “cascade” further into churches and communities. It was thought that the result would be a whole Church conversation.

I have chosen not to speak publicly about my experience of Cascade until the events in my diocese had ended, because I did not wish to prejudice the process. I am going to write publicly about them now.

I know that some of you who were there and others who have heard reports will know that there was a social media embargo. For the first two events, that embargo was only in place for the time we were meeting, and each participant was given guidelines which stated specifically that we were entitled to speak freely about process including on social media. At the third event, we were specifically asked not to discuss the event on social media. I think that is an unhelpful and dangerous embargo and although I’ve respected the embargo while physically in the conversations, I am deliberately disregarding it now.

You may also know that there was a rule of strict confidentiality, specifically that anything said in the small groups and in the room was to remain entirely confidential to the groups and to the room respectively. I am not going to break that rule of confidentiality at this stage. It has been stated on multiple occasions by the House of Bishops and by the Design Group and it was reiterated at the events themselves by the facilitator that the purpose of these rules was to ensure that the process was a safe space.

I have been openly and unashamedly critical of the process since it was foisted upon (not chosen by, not agreed to) a vocally dubious General Synod in 2013. I have criticised it in social media, I have criticised it to my Bishop and to the Primus, and, with considerable support from those both inside and outside of the Synodical processes, I openly dissented against it at this year’s General Synod. I had my doubts from the conception of the Design Group, which arranged the process beginning with Pitlochry. After hearing a little about it at General Synod 2014, I wept tears of anger for myself and shame for my Church as many of my worst fears seemed to be confirmed.

In the end, I did not engage with this process because I think it is the best or the most appropriate process to handle this bit of Church debate, but because it was the process I had been left with and my option was to engage with it or to not be involved at all. In September, at the first Cascade Conversation in my diocese, I was an invited speaker, and I made the terms on which I had eventually engaged very clear to the participants.

But I do confess that despite all of this I did not go to the first event looking to be offended by it. I had heard good things about the event in Pitlochry, and it was clear to me that some participants had found it extremely valuable – some of them people whom I respect and like a great deal. It is not actually in my interests to torpedo what is presently the only mechanism we in the Church have for discussing a subject that matters a great deal to many of us, and I wondered if perhaps by engaging in it I might at least start to see some of the good things that others so obviously had.

It is disappointing that I come away with a sense of having not seen those good things.

I give credit where due to those particular members of the planning committee in Glasgow and Galloway who, having been present for the horrific situation that unfolded at General Synod when the Cascade Conversations were discussed ,worked hard to make this a more positive experience than that. I acknowledge that they were able to do that only within the Provincial framework that they had been given. I acknowledge that some people did indeed have positive experiences at these Diocesan events and say that they have learned valuable things, and I think that that is good and I have no wish to take that positivity away from them.

However, I think it is important that the voices of those who have had negative experiences are not silenced. My experience of this process is that the provincial Design Group and the House of Bishops do not wish to hear from those of us whose experience of this process is that it has been dreadful.

The pitch at the beginning of each event that I have been to has been that there are no outcomes to the day, that there are no decisions being made, that nobody is to take a position, that nobody is to challenge anyone or ask anyone any probing questions. The whole point of the day is simply to listen. The day takes place on holy ground, we were reminded constantly, a refrain that was also uttered in the General Synod presentation about the Pitlochry meeting, and that, while perhaps done with the best of intentions, came across to me as grossly manipulative.

The pitch has also acknowledged equal marriage legislation, but the process has never been said to be about equal marriage – we are, so far as I know and reflected in all of the conversations I have participated in, still having a conversation about issues around same-sex relationships, which, with no definition, cannot be and has not been a cohesive conversation.

My main trouble all along with a broadly defined listening process is its existence as the only process. If it were happening alongside a Synodical process, or in the context of (defined) equal marriage legislation and the (defined) processes of the Church, or even with a sense of general timeline and an idea of what might happen next, I would probably think that a listening process in which the whole Church can participate was a good idea. But absent those things, what results is a roomful of people who aren’t really certain what they’re meant to be talking about. It leads to people sitting around in their small groups not knowing where to begin, or leads to entirely separate conversations about different things with no common thread and not really getting anyone anywhere at all.

We were told at General Synod that the diocesan Cascade Conversations would be over by the end of November, which was later altered to the end of the year, which has been further extended as we know now that one Diocese is not holding its events until the spring of next year. And once these events actually are over, we will have “further conversations” in Diocesan Synods. And what will happen after that? Bishop Gregor spoke briefly about plans that the Faith and Order Board have for options that might be offered to Synod, but no suggestion as to what form those options might take or what timescale they might take place over.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting where someone asked about the timeline of the process and when it would end. This was not a Cascade event – this was a different meeting, public and minuted and with no expectations of confidentiality, all of which means I am allowed to say that a member of the provincial Design Group was present and their response was that the process will never end because the Church must always keep talking about lots of issues. I acknowledged the truth to this but said that, as I had been told by the Province and by the Diocese and by the House of Bishops that nothing else could happen until the Cascade process, as it had been pitched to us, had ended, it must end. I have still not been given an answer as to when it will.

The best thing I can say on a personal level about the Cascade Conversations in this Diocese is that on one occasion I found them blandly inoffensive and lacklustre, and I left wondering what it was I had just wasted my Saturday on.

Now, let me return to this idea of strict confidentiality and let’s talk about the principle of safe space.

For when it has been worse, the worse has been created by this wilful misunderstanding of the difference between confidentiality and secrecy.

I was one of a number of people at the Diocesan Synod in Glasgow and Galloway, long before even the Pitlochry event, who tried to educate the original Design Group on what a safe space actually is and why an imposition of confidentiality on a group that is on the wrong side of a power imbalance is dangerous and abusive.

That word, “abusive”.

I do not use it carelessly. I do not take it lightly when I say that a harmful thing has been done wilfully, but in this case a harmful thing was deliberately included in a process after multiple people who have some experience in this matter had tried to talk about what a safe space is and what it is supposed to be, and were ignored.

In the course of the Cascade Conversations that have taken place in this Diocese, a number of offensive and inappropriate and factually inaccurate things have been said, each one of them about LGBT people, and none of the LGBT people there were allowed to talk about them afterwards.

We are not allowed to talk about them to each other, or at Synods, or in public, or online. And when the Province tells me how wonderful this has all been and I tell them that it hasn’t, I am not allowed to say, “and this is why.” I think it is harmful that when offensive things were said to me in my small group, I was not allowed to tell the rest of the room what had been said. I think it is harmful that I was not allowed to challenge those things and that I was expected to receive them with “respectful listening”. I think it is harmful that I am not allowed to report them at Synod or talk about it online. I think that telling me that I am not allowed to speak about any of those things or repeat them to anyone else, ever, is a harmful process and is the very opposite of what a safe space is meant to be.

And don’t forget, I’m not the one who has the most to lose in all of this.

I could lose my church, and that’s not nothing.

But I have friends who could lose their careers, their homes, and their relationships over this, and that’s a lot more.

If a process which was designed by a power structure to talk about a minority group has as one of its core principles that members of the minority group must be silent on the matter of what was said about and to them, that is abuse.

It is my understanding from a member of the provincial Design Group that this Cascade process and how well it has gone has been informally reported to bodies outside of Scotland and outside of the Anglican Communion, and they are so pleased with how well they are being told it has gone that they are considering adopting the process for themselves.

This is not being done in my name.

Dear Vicky

Dear Vicky,

I was quietly checking my Twitter feed before bed last night when I learned that with few fireworks and little fanfare, you had spoken to the Independent about being a gay Christian woman and thus launched what I imagine must have been 24 hours of somewhat of a circus.

In the world in which we live (and which I rejoice in living), there are going to be a lot of folk scratching their head over why what you have done is important, because, after all, being gay (or lesbian or bisexual) isn’t a big deal anymore, right? Alas, not in the Church. Also, for the record, not in professional sports or in Hollywood, thus completing the unlikeliest trifecta since eggs, bunnies, and Jesus. I know you know that. I know, because it’s the history written in your scars and your soul and now across the world in newsprint.

In the church that I now attend, it took me six weeks to sneak up to one of the clergy after Mass and say, “Um, so, about this LGBT Group…” St Mary’s has never been in the closet about its liberalism; on my very first Sunday we prayed during the intercessions for a blessing of a civil partnership, plus, well, there was an LGBT Group, so it’s not like I didn’t know. But, at the time, being out at church felt like a big deal in a way that being out in the rest of the world didn’t. Even now there are plenty of delightful liberal well-intentioned people who presume until told bluntly otherwise that “gay Christian” isn’t a thing. This year at Synod, on the first day, I got up and proposed a motion that was viewed by parts of the establishment as terrifyingly radical and, had it passed, would have put us on a trajectory to allow the marriage of same-sex couples within the Church — and then on the second day I had to actually out myself, because apparently that part hadn’t been clear to everyone.

And all of that was just for me, with no reputation at stake and nothing to lose and quite comfortable in the knowledge that conservative evangelical America has never cared who I am. You have done a big thing and a brave thing, and nobody gets to minimise that. If they try, ask them when the last time was that a Church of England Bishop came out voluntarily and they’ll soon shut up.

Vicky, I hope you have seen the outpouring of goodwill for you on the Internet over the last 24 hours. I pray that that goodwill is reflected by what you encounter out there in the world. I know that it won’t be so everywhere, and so do you.

I talked to a friend last night as your story was breaking. “They’re going to throw rocks at her,” I said. (Metaphorically.) “They are, and she knows it and she’s done it anyway.”

But when they do, I want you to remember this: I want you to remember that for every Scott Lively, there is a young gay man who has thought for years that he is somehow broken and who knows now that he is loved and blessed and perfect just the way he is. I want you to remember that for every Ann Coulter, there is a teenage lesbian who was told that she would be condemned by her God and who knows now that she was made in His image and likeness. I want you to remember that for every Westboro Baptist, there is a family who rejected their gay son or daughter and are now maybe starting to think differently about what God would want for them. For every person who condemns you, there is a person whose life you have just made better by telling them that God loves you and God loves them and God loves all of us anyway.

It is no easy feat, to live the story that you’ve now shared with us and to come up on the other side with grace and faith.

As you move forward in the world, gather in the love and the love and the love that we all offer you, and may God bless you, today and always, in everything that you do and in all that you are.

With prayers and good wishes,

Beth

Pride and the Commonwealth

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For your diaries, there are three events in Glasgow next weekend all well worth coming to:

  • The annual gathering of Piskies at Pride takes place next Saturday (19th July). This year, the parade for Glasgow Pride starts from Clyde Place on the south bank of the river and then heads across the Clyde into the city centre and into Merchant City. If you would like to walk with a group of Scottish Episcopalians, we will be meeting at the south end of the Tradeston Bridge (the wiggly pedestrian bridge) at 9.15am on Saturday. This is a ten minute walk from Bridge Street, which is the nearest subway and is also likely the easiest place to park. If you are at the Clyde Arc (the squinty bridge) or can see the SECC/Hydro, you are in the wrong place.
  • On Saturday evening at 6.30pm, Peter Tatchell is giving a lecture on Human Rights and the Commonwealth at St Mary’s Cathedral. Taking place on Pride Saturday and immediately ahead of the arrival of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, this will be a compelling evening which has been arranged by the cathedral Justice and Aid Network. St Mary’s is on Great Western Road, between St George’s Cross and Kelvinbridge subway stations. Tickets are £5 on the door.
  • Peter Tatchell will be at St Mary’s Cathedral again on Sunday morning, at 12 noon, in conversation with Kelvin Holdsworth. This is one of the Forum events which we hold on occasion, with past speakers including Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of the Episcopal Church of Uganda and Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University, known to many more people from his frequent work with the BBC.  The Forum is a free event, as is the glorious Sung Eucharist which will take place beforehand at 10.30am.

Let’s Talk

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.