GUIDANCE on emotional intelligence is being issued to members of the General Synod on the eve of “revolutionary” conversations on sexuality, with a warning that addressing this issue has resulted in a “fracture” in every other mainstream Church.
“Shared conversations” — open-ended, structured discussions — on sexuality are due to take place behind closed doors after the conclusion of the General Synod in York next month. Briefing the press last Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chief of staff, David Porter, who has led the shared-conversations programme, said that its success would not be measured on whether or not it prevents a fracture but on “how we fracture. . .
“Every major Church that has sought to address this issue has fractured in a major way. We have taken a different road to try to ameliorate that: a relational road.”
Advice for Synod members (a short document, Grace and Dialogue: Shared conversations on difficult issues) includes advice to avoid “jumping on answers you don’t like”, and suggests that participants “refuse to give up on anyone, no matter how unpleasant, opinionated, or difficult you find them”.
It also asks members to consider their body language, and avoid looking bored.
Mr Porter said that one of the aims of the conversations was to raise participants’ “capabilities around emotional intelligence”. The conversations are expected to create an atmosphere unlike that in the debating chamber, where the Synod’s business is formally conducted. The guidance sets out the difference between “debate” and “dialogue”, defining the former as discussion that “encourages people to listen in order to find flaws and refute arguments”.
The gathering in York will mark the culmination of more than a year of regional shared conversations, which have involved more than 1300 participants (News, 11 March). The guidance to Synod members describes this as a “small revolution” that has “enabled us to talk with each other in a way that we may never have before about the challenges posed by human sexuality”.
Mr Porter said that he could not think of any other Church that had achieved this level of “mass participation” in discussion of a difficult issue.
The conversations in York will be “based on but not the same as” these conversations, Mr Porter said. Members would join small groups of no more than 20 people representing all three Houses. There would also be “cultural” representation from outside the Synod, including members of the LGBT community. There would be no speeches, presentations, or pre-prepared material: “only honest, open, and moderated conversation in a safe space”.
The conversations would be closed to all but the participants. The Synod’s secretary-general, William Nye, denied that this constituted “a process of retreat or going private. . . Sometimes you do public things and sometimes you do things for yourselves.” Mr Porter said that the approach reflected Jesus’s instruction to those who disagreed: “You go to your brother and talk about it. . . only after that do you take it to the wider Church.”
Members would be “free to share their experiences of the conversations in the same way as the regional conversations, provided that they do not expose or break the confidentiality of others in the conversation”. Leading clergy in the Synod have defended the decision to hold the conversations behind closed doors (News, 13 May).
Mr Porter has always been frank about the potential for a split. He has expressed fears that as many as 20 per cent of the Church of England may become disaffected and leave (News, 30 January 2015). But on Friday he spoke of the calibre of the “immensely gifted” people facilitating the conversations — Anglicans who have worked in the UN, Cabinet Office, and EU — and their track record in “helping all sorts of groups and organisations sit and talk together around deeply difficult things”.
The Church was not “unusual” in having to have such a discussion, he said, and must not “get consumed with the narcissism of our own conflict”.
The conversations will not give rise to any report or decision. Mr Nye said that it would be “artificial” to produce a timetable on next steps.
THE formal business of the Synod will be conduced in less than two days. On the evening of Friday 8 July, members will debate a report on nurturing and discerning senior leaders — the programme previously referred to as the “talent pool” in the Green report (News, 12 December 2014).
The overarching vision and narrative of the Renewal and Reform mission programme will be debated on Saturday afternoon. A paper by Mr Nye lists some of the “serious and deep-rooted challenges” facing the Church, including not only declining numbers but “institutional inertias”.
The intention, the paper reiterates, is to “reverse the decline of the Church of England so that we become a growing Church, in every region and for every generation”. The export of lessons learned in London to other parts of the country, through church-planting, was one of the sources for hope, Mr Nye told the briefing.
The Synod will also consider whether to put into effect two private members’ motions passed at the February sessions. An amendment to Canon B8 contained in a consultation paper from the House of Bishops could permit the clergy to “depart on a general basis” from wearing robes or vestments for Sunday services.
An amendment to Canon B38 would permit ministers to carry out the normal rite of burial for those who taken their own life. the C of E’s chief legal adviser, Stephen Slack, said: “The minister is not meant to use the normal burial service for those who have taken their own life; however, we know that in practice that is not likely to happen, so this is just about bringing the legal requirements in line with pastoral reality: a special service has never been approved by the Synod or the Bishops.”
The simplification and clarification of “unnecessary, out of date, or burdensome” canon law would feature strongly in the Saturday session, Mr Slack said. This would include ecclesiastical jurisdiction on the care of churches, and C of E pensions.
“Simplifying the legislative process itself will enable the church legislation to be repealed and amended more quickly and easily, which at the moment can only be done by the Synod passing the Measure,” he said.
The Synod will also hear updates on the implementation of the safeguarding legislation.