It has taken me a long time to process all that was discussed at Synod, not least because I tested positive for Covid towards the end of the sessions and have taken time to be well from that. There was, though, a great deal of business on our agenda including the route map to Net Zero, the war in Ukraine, review of strategic funding for the lowest income communities funding, safeguarding, pensions and assisted suicide. I would encourage you, if you have not already done so, to look back at the Business Done, Voting Results and Report of Proceedings here.
What is not reported on, because it was conducted in pre-arranged small groups, was the Living in Love and Faith (#LLF) and Vision and Strategy for which the agenda gave two hours. When it came to the #LLF discussion groups, we had been put into groups in advance. We were first asked about our relationship with the bible. We then moved to our responses or concerns to the #LLF process, which we began by writing on a graffiti board. After looking at what everyone had written we were asked to share what we had written with the person next to us. My own ‘graffiti’ was that I was tired of hearing “‘The bible is very clear on sexuality’…it is mentioned a handful of times and each time there is a context which is not mentioned by those who feel it is clear; Jesus never mentioned same-sex committed relationships.”
I asked my discussion partner to go first and their first words were that the bible was clear. I heard them and asked for clarification as to how they had formed their opinion, which was based around Jesus’ teaching on divorce. When it was my turn, I diplomatically stated that we were coming from very different places and that I did not feel the bible was clear, but that I was happy to disagree. My partner immediately asked how I made sense of Genesis and woman being made from man and man cleaving to woman. I said that we would undoubtedly see the Creation Story very differently and that I did not see the need to make sense of it as the bigger allegory concerns God’s relationship with humanity, and therefore God’s desire for humans to not be lonely. Our conversation was stopped there.
Joining together with the whole group we had the opportunity to feedback on our conversations. One person mentioned the importance of the Old Testament, and how we often focus only on the New Testament. Another continued that point by referencing the Ten Commandments…I felt the need to point out that there are 613 laws, yet as Christians we tend to only focus on 10. We spoke briefly about how many of these were to keep people safe as it could be argued that food laws became less relevant with the advancement of fridge and freezer technologies, pondering what else that may be the case for. I shared that my own relationship with the bible had needed to change as, dramatic as it sounds, a matter of life or death. It had become untenable for me to hold my sexuality alongside my view of a God who created me and found me abhorrent. I spoke briefly of crying out to God in desperation, and hearing God clearly respond that I was just as God had created me to be…perfect in God’s sight. The difficulty came a few moments later in our discussion when someone who was more conservative theologically told me that I was clearly wrong in the conclusions I had drawn and that my conclusions were biblically unfounded, canonically incorrect and unjustifiable. My colleague, who shares pastoral care with a bishop, as I do, set any care for my well-being aside as he told me that my understanding, which I had outlined had been a matter of life or death, of God and the bible was – in his view – wrong. He might as well have told me to go back to my suicidal thoughts.
Not even a few weeks after that, news of the Lambeth Conference Calls came to the fore…specifically the Human Dignity Call to affirm Lambeth Resolution 1.10 from 1998, essentially that marriage is between one man and one woman. The reason that this was so contentious is that General Synod and the Church of England have been led to believe that #LLF is a discussion in which no-one knows the end and we are all journeying together. Reaffirming Lambeth 1.10 would prevent certain outcomes from #LLF. Whilst the Human Dignity Call has, for the time being, been removed from the discussion at the Lambeth Conference, that is just it – it is for the time being. It has also led to some bishops from the Anglican Communion refusing to receive Holy Communion alongside their more liberal colleagues. Incidentally, there are colleagues at General Synod who do not receive Holy Communion for the same reason…where is the love?!
Then we have Jesus delighting in the woman who washed his feet with expensive oil, and dried them with her hair, kissing them in gratitude at being forgiven. I hope I would be that woman if Jesus were with us now, spending all I had on the most expensive bottle of perfume, knowing that I was undeserving of all that Jesus was about to do for me – not, I hasten to add, because of my sexuality, or because of my frustration with the #LLF discussions, or any feelings towards colleagues who have failed to care for my wellbeing, but purely because of my humanity which makes me sinful and imperfect by default.
The Church of England, and the Wider Anglican Communion has had a lot of attention in the media recently – attention which does not reflect well. I fear we are in danger of losing credence in society – a society which, in the main, does not understand what all the fuss is about! I am not alone, though, in feeling left behind and ignored by the Church in which I serve.
Over the last few days I have been trying to think which other area of work there is in modern day England specifically where employees are constantly worried about who their next Director/Head of Department will be and whether that person will be accepting, never mind affirming, of their sexuality. My sexuality goes to the core of my being – I cannot change who I am or who I love – over the years I have wished I could – now I am ashamed that I ever thought like that. I am really stuck to find another area of work where something so intrinsic to identity would be the cause of so much anguish in the workplace…it just does not seem relevant like it perhaps did in the 1970s and 80s. I thought we had moved on.
General Synod feels polarised – this is my first quinquenium so I have nothing to compare it to. It surely cannot be healthy for folk to just shout until they get their point across…at what cost. I am aware of the cost to a number of colleagues who again and again have been asked to trust a process and to share of themselves. So many times they have had their fingers burned, and the cost feels too great. I feel let down by those who say nothing even though they have a platform to speak and be heard. I feel ignored by those who shout so loudly they fail to hear Jesus, and I feel damaged by a process which, again, failed to care for the most vulnerable within it as it allowed its tanks to charge on through. I also know I am not alone in the way I feel.