ONE of the principal hopes that Jane Williams has for the Spouses’ Conference is to bring together the two worlds of Global North and Global South. She argues strongly that people who live in consumerist plenty should engage with people who do not have enough to eat, and have seen the traumas of war, disease, and poverty.
The fruits of this interaction are already apparent, as people have gradually become aware of others’ perspectives, Mrs Williams says. She heard one Western wife say: “Some of the things we say and do sound so different, and have a different resonance to them.” Then a wife from the Global South noted of one from the United States: “I know now she’s a Christian. When I hear things from America, I’ll think of her.”
“People begin to stop un-christianising each other,” says Mrs Williams. “They start to trust each other’s good faith. Even if it reaches conclusions you don’t agree with, you know they are trying to be disciples.”
Thus, when discussing matters such as the Millennium Development Goals, their effects on people at the Conference are at the forefront of people’s minds. “Having met them will influence our commitment. It will deepen it,” says Mrs Williams.
Diocesan links are important in keeping up these contacts. They are “fantastic for learning and praying”; so the Spouses’ Conference has devoted a session to renewing them.
Yet the picture is not all rosy. The spouses reflect the divisions among the bishops. In one session, “there were very polarised views about what makes for the well-being of children. There were some real differences about how we express the ideal, while coping with the broken reality,” Mrs Williams says.
People in the Spouses’ Conference have reacted in different ways to disagreement, “sometimes absenting themselves”. But the Bible-study groups have deliberately mixed up various traditions. “Some questions are handled differently when you are sitting face to face.”
Sitting with people means that it is hard to make disagreements “a matter of faceless ideology”. Participants are aware that “all are fellow-Christians, to whom you have some duty of commitment. That doesn’t mean the issue will get resolved, because there are fundamental disagreements.
“I hope we won’t pretend we agree about everything, because, in all these subjects, there will be areas where we don’t agree,” Mrs Williams says.