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General Synod digest: Challenges of Living in Love and Faith discussed

by
21 February 2020

Madeleine Davies, Hattie Williams, Adam Becket, and Tim Wyatt report from the General Synod in London

GEOFF CRAWFORD/CHURCH TIMES

THE General Synod debated the timetable and impact of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) discussion, on Tuesday afternoon.

The Bishop of Newcastle, the Rt Revd Christine Hardman, intro­­duced the work of the Pastoral Ad­visory Group, which was set up in 2017 alongside the LLF project.

She was “extraordinarily proud” of the group, who came from the entire range of theological convic­tions on sexuality and life experi­ences. The process was both joyful and “at times painful”, she noted, but had produced a set of pastoral principles that they now com­mended to the whole Church. Their existence was not enough, however; they needed to be lived and used.

The Synod was then shown a video, produced by the group, which introduced the six pastoral prin­ciples: acknowledge prejudice, speak into silence, address ignorance, cast out fear, address hypocrisy, and pay attention to power.

The Bishop then handed over to the Bishop of Coventry, Dr Chris­topher Cocksworth, who gave an update presentation, with the LLF enabling officer Dr Eeva John (News, 14 February).

Dr Cocksworth said that, by the time the Synod met in July, the LLF resources would be published. Be­­sides meeting 34 times in various permutations, the people involved in the project had had conversations with 54 individuals and 12 church groups. A further 120 people had written to the team.

Dr John said that the process had involved “gathering around us an ever-growing cloud of witnesses”. Their participation, even when pulling in different directions, had shown the LLF group how much they needed each other, she said. The end of the process was drawing near: the book was in its sixth and penultimate draft, the additional papers were being organ­ised into an online library, and ten films and a podcast had been pro­duced. More were in the pipeline.

She acknowledged that there was a growing unease in the wider Church as the publication day ap­­proached: many on both sides were worrying that the resources would favour one perspective over another.

Dr Cocksworth said that the LLF teaching and learning resources would be a “call to action” for every parish, deanery, and diocese to en­­gage afresh with the Bible, in the Church’s tradition, and the current social context. People should be pre­pared to step outside their comfort zones, he said, and try to “discern a way forward for the Church”.

The presentation was followed by a conversation on the floor of Synod between members of the LLF ­Co-ordinating Group: the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam; the Bishop of Dorking, Dr Jo Bailey Wells (Southern Suffragans); the Revd Dr Jason Roach (London); Dr Cocksworth; Canon Giles Goddard (Southwark); and Dr Elaine Storkey (Ely).

It began with a question about what they had found hardest.

Bishop Holtam spoke of a “spec­tacular fallout” at a meeting at which “some people were not feeling as if they were heard by the rest of us.”

Dr Roach spoke of times when he had left meetings “feeling like the particular view that I have of the way God has spoken and asked us to live is one that seems to be beyond the pale, and at best tolerated and at worst despised”. The irony was “that everyone in the group would share that experience”.

Canon Goddard’s hardest mo­­ment had been the recent publica­tion of the House of Bishops’ state­ment on civil partnerships. Dr Bailey Wells agreed, “even as a member of the House of Bishops”.

Dr Storkey spoke of a time when someone had lamented not being listened to, and of thinking that “I couldn’t listen any harder than I had been. . . In that moment, I could see that it is possible to be of one heart with another person without being of one mind.”

Dr Cocks­worth’s difficult moment had come when what he thought was going to be “straightforward” — “telling the Christian story of salva­tion” — had led to difficulties. “We need to take care of how we phrase these fundamental foundations.”

Another question was what had members been surprised to learn.

Dr Storkey said: “How quickly we were able to become vulnerable.”

Canon Goddard had gained “a much greater respect for those who take a conservative view, who have left the room feeling vulnerable”.

Dr Roach was increasingly con­scious of “how much fear there is amongst us as a community about speaking about these things”. Bishop Holtam had gained a greater ap­­preciation of where other people stood. It was not a case of “Me right, you wrong”, but “We are standing in different places, and we see things differently.”

Dr Cocksworth had become “much more hopeful about what that can do — what real attention to each other can do”. Dr Bailey Wells spoke of “finding a richness in God’s word that I didn’t know before”.

Canon Goddard said: “I hope when the resources come out, people will understand it is completely rooted in scripture.”

Dr Roach said that he had come to learn “the depth of difference in the way that we can approach scrip­ture . . . even what we think the Bible is”.

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