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Management of the facilitated conversations about sexuality

22 May 2015


From the Revd Rob Yeomans

Sir, - I, too, attended, at the invitation of the Bishop of Truro, the first sessions of the "shared conversations", properly titled "on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality" - emanating, of course, from the Pilling report.

You headed your report ( News, 8 May) "Praise for three days in hotel talking of sex". If only we had! We did, indeed, meet in a hotel - which certainly set the the cash-strapped C of E back a bob or two. The culture of niceness which pervaded the encounter carefully avoided really talking about sex at all.

Instead, under the direction of facilitators, we tried to talk through four essays that had been circulated to chosen participants shortly before we met. One from a traditional conservative point of view considered "the biblical" case for the traditional position. The second essay, "Reflections of a Biblical Scholar", explored a more liberal understanding of homosexuality and the Bible - although not in a way that made a comparison between traditional and liberal understanding of key biblical texts possible. The third essay, "A search for Good Disagreement", ended with the words "The time has come for good disagreement." The fourth essay told us how the Church of Scotland had achieved this.

The whole was orchestrated by a team of facilitators, who were briefed to sit in on all of the groups, into which we were tortuously divided, and manipulate (is that too strong a word? certainly not from my perspective) a cosy outcome.

The booklet Grace and Disagreement: Thinking through the process, which was distributed to participants with the booklet of essays, stated: "Each of the conversation groups will report on its exchanges and the experience of conversing together. These reports will be drawn together and the Bishops and the Synod will have access to the combined reports. Whatever emerges from the groups will inform subsequent discussions in the House and College of Bishops and in the Synod."

That is a good reason for these and subsequent conversations, except that the facilitators made it clear from the start that nothing was allowed to be reported from the conversations - that the "strap lines" that the facilitators were required to produce at the end of each discussion group (and which were displayed for all to see) were not to be copied (only covert notes for individual use were to be made), and that these written distillations would be destroyed after the meeting.

Who, then, is to make the report to the House and College of Bishops and to the General Synod, and how? It will certainly not be the participants, nor, if they are to be believed, the facilitators.

So, why were we there? I, for one, am mystified; but, with another dozen or so probably equally expensive regional conversations still to happen, I hope that the House of Bishops and the General Synod will be informed and not bankrupted.

The White Barn
Launceston PL15 8LY


From the Revd Richard Haggis

Sir, - We are told that ten per cent of Church of England Anglicans are so opposed to the ordination of women as bishops that they must have a bishop of their own to represent their interest. Might it be that more than ten per cent are in favour of gay people as priests and bishops? Can we have our own bishop, too, please?

And does this have anything to do with being called by God to ministry, or have we given up on that fanciful idea?

Flat 5, 14-16 Mather Road
Barton, Oxford OX3 9PG

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