General Synod: sexuality presentation

Sexuality teaching document ‘more than a mapping exercise’

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARK WOODWARD AND DANIEL EASTON

The University of York, showing the central hall on the right

The University of York, showing the central hall on the right

BEFORE the Synod went into seminars, which were not open to the media, on Saturday afternoon, the Revd Dr Eeva John, the enabling officer for the Bishops’ teaching document Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about human, identity, sexuality and marriage, delivered a presentation on four aspects: visioning, learning, involving, and planning.

This project was “complex and ambitious”, she said, and they had begun by exploring the question “What would success beyond our wildest dreams look like?” Highlights included: “a landmark piece of work” and “it would address the culture, with a missional focus that brought good news”; “it would be unifying and enable people to live with integrity.”

The purpose was to provide resources for bishops to exercise their teaching office, this then leading to “accessible and attractive resources”, all informed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Learning was “a process of feeling together where and what are the key questions”.

The groups had “learned to be honest with one another” with work under way to integrate scholarship with experience and practice. The work had often been described as a mapping exercise, but “our emerging vision suggests it is more than that: we hope to discover brand new territories and new insights to challenge each of us.”

Involving meant engaging with church communities and individuals. The group wanted to hear about good practice and conduct “appreciative inquiry”, searching out “the good from which we can all learn”. It was also seeking out individual stories — including “those who are certain they agree or disagree with current teaching and those who are confused and unsure”.

There was a need to ensure that scholarly work made connections with experience and vice versa. It was “not passive or a piece of sociological research”. The group was committed to offering Synod members regular opportunities to hear about and comment on its work.

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The plan was to bring the work together in 2019 and to begin road-testing material, so that by 2020 the group was in a position to agree and publish a core document and resources, in time for Lambeth 2020.

She introduced the image of tangled knot of multiple threads of different colours: “You could choose to pull on your favourite thread, making the knot tighter and causing the thread to break, or we can pause and patiently unravel them one by one until the liberated threads can be woven together into something new and beautiful.”

The second image was of “gathering around a table at which we feast on rich fare of scholarship while listening deeply to stories of experience”. Christ was “not only among us but our host: it is he who has invited us to listen out to what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. What new teaching and learning is he calling all of us to? What transformational work is he doing among us?”

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, provided an update as chair of the pastoral advisory group. It was a “fascinating task”. She explained that “we work within the current boundaries of the teaching and doctrine as the C of E has received it. Some view our work with frustration, as there is real desire for change.

We believe we can do better in the way we relate in this issue of our deepest vulnerability: our sexuality. Others are fearful that in doing this, this is the thin edge of the wedge, and we are going to undermine doctrine and teaching. I am very relaxed about the fact that we won’t please anybody. If we don’t, we are probably doing very well.”

Something to avoid was “the sense that we are developing pastoral care for us to show to them: nothing is further from our task”. The group was “looking at how we are living in a way in which we are open, compassionate, and respectful with one another, offering a deep level of pastoral care to one another.”

It was “the most extraordinary group I have ever been part of: we entrust ourselves to one another”. At a recent residential meeting, they had looked at the current guidance on prayer for LGBT couples and “allowed ourselves to react to that”. This work would be shared at the afternoon’s workshop.


Read a report of every General Synod presentation and debate from York 2018, here

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