Monday, 23 June 2014

Pitlochry, General Synod and the way forward...

There have been many posts and memes running on the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church (although granted the audience for these has been largely limited to the rarified atmosphere of the SEC, I suspect), and I feel the urge to add a little.  I commented last on the Synod overall, from which I came back more positive than I have from previous episodes.  Many of my fellow delegates have come back feeling angry and unrepresented and manipulated, it would seem...

The issue that is vexing most is same-sex (or equal, or gay) marriage, and how to respond as a church. It is not legal, by either the law of the land or by church canons, for an SEC priest to solemnise a marriage between partners of the same gender.  In September this will change in Scotland, and civil marriages will be open to same gender partners.  Religious bodies may opt in to this, but the default position is to be opted out.  

The SEC needs to respond - we are, generically, a liberal and progressive church on such matters. An exercise was held in late April in Pitlochry where invited reps from the dioceses attended and discussed, under well facilitated conditions, a series of discussions on church attitudes to same sex relationships.  Some who were there, and many who were not, reject this exercise as achieving nothing, that it has all been done before.  Some who there (and some who were not) are violently against the church getting involved in equal marriage. Most people felt that something needs to be done.

So to Synod.  There was scheduled to be a presentation on Pitlochry. There was also a motion raised from the floor to try and start the synodical process to change canons to allow equal marriage to be one legal in SEC congregations.  The motion failed to get a majority to let a debate take place.  The Pitlochry presentation took place and received a post-synod social media mauling.  The Primus stood and said things would now start to happen, discussions started with some of the parties involved, options to be brought to Synod next year.  

Where am I on all this? I went to Pitlochry, and found it a superb exercise in managing behaviour in a respectful and listening fashion.  I seconded the motion to start the canonical process, but do not mind in the slightest that it failed: a majority supported it, and it showed a will in the church to start to move onto a decision.  To marry the behaviours that Pitlochry modelled with the purpose and process of formal church debate seems to be the only credible, respectful, rational way forward. The Primus responded, and I believe things will now, at a suitable pace, move on.

I am sad that many self-confessed activists are using aggressive and exclusive language in their response to what is now going on.  I cannot begin to understand what it must feel like to be excluded and discriminated against (I am a white, middle class, Oxbridge educated man, so am about as non-discriminated against as it's possible to be) but change is now in the air. A process is starting, which will involve some painful discussions and a need to remain as opening and listening as possible, but which I believe will end with equal marriage becoming part of the life of the SEC.  Some heat needs to be drawn out of the angry exchanges that are still being made, some respect for the position of others, some serious listening about what ALL parties can actually live with.

My plea is for calm and peace, but also strength and purpose. Things are moving, times are changing. The pace may be frustrating for some, but that is always the way (says he, from his position of non-discriminated-against) - but we are getting close. Peace, grace and respect are what are now needed.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

General Synod 2014

I start to tap this out on my second train back to the west from Edinburgh, after two-and-a-half days of the General Synod of our Scottish Episcopal Church.  It was my fourth synod, a very small number compared to many, but one starts to get the feel for the shape of the business.

What happened? There was a lot of normal business, of tweaking calendars, of approving budgets ("we must be prudent facing challenging times ahead") and receiving reports. Discussing matters that may or may not make much difference to the life of the church.  There were also a few points of profound engagement and emotional intensity.  Some issues get certain people het up: social justice, outreach, attitudes to risk taking, buildings, statistics. But there were also some massive, massive items.

The theological training institute for Scotland is being completely overhauled.  This is a risky business, I suspect, in terms of people, of attitudes to those who were in the 'old' version and of the money that is needed to create a generation of priests, deacons and lay people (I don't think bishops are produced by this method, hmm) that will be effective, resilient and the leaders for the next few decades. Big stuff.

And there was the issue of equal marriage and the church's attitude, formal and informal, to those of us who are not heterosexual. But that needs a separate post, which will follow.

I come away from this synod in a better frame of mind than I have from any previously. Which is good. I really do believe that there is hope for the SEC!