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General Synod: Living in Love and Faith group reports of patience and pain

12 July 2019

Madeleine Davies, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in York


THE General Synod heard on Friday evening about the progress of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project. The work continued with closed seminars and workshops on Saturday.

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, reported that a third draft of the document was to be ready for the College of Bishops meeting in September. There had been wider participation meetings with individuals and church communities: 50 face-to-face and 100 written responses, and a great deal of engagement with the Anglican Communion through meetings and conferences.

A short film was screened that featured Canon Giles Goddard, Dr Cocksworth, the Revd Marcus Green, Dr Susannah Cornwall, the Revd Andy Angel, Alex Clare-Young (“I want us to get to a point where I feel safe and welcome”), the Bishop of Sheffield, Professor Michael King, the Revd Dr Jason Roach, Canon Jessica Martin, the Bishop of Dorking (“in the midst of a crisis moment where we are all feeling really vulnerable, we somehow get to a place of deeper honesty”), Professor Chris Cook, and Dr Amy Daughton.

Dr Eeva John, who is facilitating the LLF project, said that there was “nothing easy” about it. There was “no getting away from the fact that LLF is essentially a writing project”, and this posed a number of questions: “How can we write collaboratively? Who can be trusted to hold the pen? How can we pass the pen around and produce something coherent?” Asking “Who holds the pen?” could be another way of asking “Who holds the power? . . . How do we acknowledge, diffuse, or let go of the power that is held in different ways by different people in this process? How do we see or admit to the power that we might inadvertently be exercising?”

There was the power of bishops, of the marginalised, of the majority, of the process of lived experience, of campaigners. Old habits died hard.

“In the face of change or lack of change . . . how do we resist the temptation of politicking to manoeuvre the Church towards one outcome or another? . . . How do we hold fast to a process that is too slow for some and too fast for others? How do we stay open and transparent, making ourselves vulnerable, or being misunderstood and misrepresented? How do we keep at bay impatience to find an answer, the answer, so that when the answer comes, we are ready to embrace both the answer and one another?”

Patience was hard, and “much harder for some than for others. And it isn’t just about being patient with one another, but with God, who seems to be so slow in revealing himself to those with whom we disagree.” Patience and pain went together. “Our subject-matter — being and relating as human beings — is inherently glorious and joyful, but also and often the root of deep personal pain: pain that is unevenly distributed among us, and so a potential source of tension, rancour, and conflict.”

The work of LLF “invites us all to enter into pain; it calls us to be more sensitised to the divisions we have allowed our differences to create, and, as the work progresses and relationships deepen, this pain becomes more acute.” But “we persevere because there is a promise, the promise that we will be known to be disciples of Jesus by our love for one another.”

She suggested that “the pain is being shared around. Power is being acknowledged. Politics is being put in its place. And we are involved in a process of doing things in a new way: a way that requires hope and holds out a promise, were it to be fulfilled, that would speak powerfully to a nation that seems to be gorging on polarisation and division.”

When the LLF resources were published next summer, parishes, deaneries, and dioceses would be exhorted to engage with them.

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, who chairs the pastoral advisory group, said she was very proud of the Pastoral Principles that it had developed, but now they needed to “live them”.

Jayne Ozanne (Oxford) asked, given that so much was already written, “How will the input from Synod be included, and how will that then affect churches that have already made up their mind on this issue?”

Dr John said that the input from the Synod would be gathered from Saturday’s seminars, and there would also be further opportunities to contribute. She wanted to move from the language of responses to “learning and exploring together”. There were churches on all sides that “seemingly have made up their minds. My deepest hope is that everyone recognise we still have things to learn about what is a very complex subject.”

Dr Cocksworth said that “learning together, though deep and painful, can be something that somehow brings a deeper understanding and perhaps an experience of joy.”

The Revd Charles Read (Norwich) asked what methods of theological reflection the groups had been using: “Have you been using ones that identity whose voices are heard and whose are not in the process?”

Dr John emphasised that work exploring this was scheduled for this summer, and that no one method would be used on its own.

Canon Alistair McHaffie (Blackburn) said that his hope had been that “we would come to a conclusion about where we stand as a Church”. But the direction seemed to be towards holding together a variety of positions, “which makes the way forward rather difficult”.

Dr Cocksworth said that the group was engaged in “a learning exercise together. . . This is not an exercise trying to come to the sort of conclusions you are hoping we will: it is a process by which we learn together, so that at the right time those sorts of conclusions will be able to be made. This isn’t an exercise in trying to hold lots of views together, but in trying to understand what those views are, to allow them to be articulated and understood, and done so clearly.”

He continued: “I do think that we can come to some very clear conclusions about the fundamentals of who we are as human beings.”

Chris Gill (Lichfield) was “slightly surprised” that the group was “hoping God might help you in all of this: I was rather hoping that this might be God’s piece of work that we were looking into rather than something we were driving that we might let God into if we feel like it.”

Dr Cocksworth agreed: “We are God’s piece of work; so it’s all about trying to listen to the God in whose image we are made.”

Read full coverage of the General Synod here

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