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Scottish General Synod: Changing views allow conversation

20 June 2014

THE Bishop of Brechin, Dr Nigel Peyton, convener of the Scottish Episcopal Church's Design Group for the Discussion of Same Sex Relationships, said that there had been "courageous and moving, painful and wise moments" during the Cascade conversations in Pitlochry, in April, in which 60 people, and six invited contributors, took part.

"I believe many of us now better understand how our own views, and those of others in our Church, have evolved and maybe changed over time - and how the contemporary challenge of same-sex marriage particularly presses upon the Church's theology and practice," he said.

The Synod Standing Committee had opted for a staged "fishbowl" conversation instead of a debate, facilitated by Hugh Donald, of Place for Hope. The four participants, the Very Revd Jeremy Auld (Brechin); Ruth Jeffries (Moray, Ross & Caithness); the Revd Samantha Ferguson (Aberdeen & Orkney); and the Revd Malcolm Round (Edinburgh) were of one mind that the process had been transformative.

They spoke of wariness and cynicism having been replaced by respect for process; and about the grace-filled nature of the conversations.

But there were also warnings that the conversations should not be "kicked into the institutional long grass", or "end up in a Neverland". Many at the Synod had wanted this staged conversation to be complementary to a debate, and Christine McIntosh (Argyll & The Isles) had challenged the process by speaking against the motion to suspend standing orders and go into different form of meeting.

That challenge failed: 93 voted for the motion, and 32 against. Members went on to discuss in table groups the questions: "What has shaped your views about same-sex relationships over the years?" and "What considerations should the SEC take into account when exploring whether to incorporate same-sex marriage into its life?"

A motion by Dr Beth Routledge (Glasgow & Galloway), proposing a framework for taking forward equal marriage, had not been included on the Synod agenda. On the opening day of the Synod, she had brought in Rule 10 of the Rules of Order, which allows for a motion to be put to Synod in two stages if it is supported by a proposer, a seconder, and 12 voting members. A two-thirds majority is needed to take the motion forward to open debate.

Her motion asked Synod to note the recent legislation that allowed same-sex couples to marry in Scotland; the principle established in Scots law that no one should be forced to act against his conscience in that area; and that Scottish Episcopalians were not of one mind about these and other matters.

The result of the voting was 77 for, and 55 against: a 58-per-cent majority, but not the two-thirds majority required.

The decision had come out of the synodical process, the Primus said in the statement on sexuality that followed the two votes on the issue. "But I think those who brought the Rule 10 Motion can be forgiven if they feel disappointed that their Motion did not reach the Synod agenda," he said.

He acknowledged "a significant feeling in this Church that we should be moving on human sexuality issues. How far and in what timescale - that will be for this synod to decide."

The Cascade process will run to the end of 2014, when the Mission and Ministry, and Faith and Order boards will discern what can be seen of the mind of the Church.

Quiet conversation with particular individuals and groups, and work on the theology of marriage from the Doctrine Committee will precede what the Primus promised would be a "substantial discussion at the General Synod in 2015".

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