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Shared Conversations: praise for three days in hotel talking of sexuality

08 May 2015


THE first sessions of "shared conversations" on sexuality have been hailed a success by participants from the five south-western dioceses that took part.

About 50 people from the dioceses of Gloucester, Bristol, Bath & Wells, Exeter, and Truro spent three days in a hotel last week in the first round of facilitated discussions.

Erika Baker, from the diocese of Bath & Wells, said that she went along, as someone in a same-sex marriage, with a lot of trepidation, but found her fears were not realised.

"I was very surprised. To see how it actually was was quite amazing," she said on Tuesday. The group included everyone from straight people who believed same-sex relationships should be welcomed, to gay people holding traditional theology, she said.

"We had the resources, and there were debates about scripture. But in my group there was a feeling we have done scripture to death. . . This was more searching and conciliatory. People were almost trying to find what they shared; reasons to stay together rather than go apart."

Rose Grigg, an Evangelical and a lesbian from the diocese of Truro, said that she found a similar atmosphere. "Everybody was incredibly gracious. It felt very safe. There was an environment and atmosphere which was mutually respectful and gracious and loving. . .

"I suspect that most people went in with 'I know what I believe and I'm here to debate it.' That changed quite quickly because the atmosphere was one of listening and being open to one another. I don't think anyone I spoke to did change their theology, but some did change their attitudes."

Trained facilitators guided small groups through sessions on "human perception and language", "observing our changing world", and "good disagreement", besides discussing how to approach biblical texts on sexuality.

The Revd Diego Galanzino, Assistant Curate at St Ia the Virgin, St Ives, and St John's in the Fields, Haseltown, said that he had been dreading heated arguments, and "people chucking their toys out of the pram".

"But actually it was very, very good; it turned out really well. I found it very humbling. Everyone there was there to genuinely try to understand what the other person was about," he said.

He said that he particularly enjoyed the opportunity to sit down and talk with people who disagreed with him. "It was a very good occasion to sit, talk, and put away all the drama and just see their point of view."

The conversations would definitely change the tone of the debate in the C of E, he believed, but beyond that he was unsure of their impact.

Keith Brown, who came to the conversations with his wife from the diocese of Truro, agreed that the experience had been much better than he had expected. "The whole atmosphere was very open," he said. "People were willing to share honestly their positions and experiences."

He said, as someone who came to the discussions with a "traditional" view on homosexuality, that many of the other participants were approaching the conversations with different objectives from his. But this was not necessarily a bad thing. "It was very informative."

He and many others felt, however, that simply aiming for "good disagreement" showed a "certain lack of faith in God's ability to deal with this".

Nor was he confident that the process would change the outcome of the discussion on sexuality, which he felt would be decided by "power bases in General Synod".

"It was very intense, but I thought it was the Church at its best," Ms Grigg said, though she, too, was doubtful about any wider impact.

For Ms Baker, the long weekend felt like a "good starting point". She had been considering abandoning her activism on issues around same-sex relationships, but said that the conversations had convinced her to continue. "But I came back really encouraged, and I think there is a lot left to play for."

'Sharing and charing' - Leader comment

Is "good disagreement" a reasonable aim for such conversations? Vote now

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