Having just returned from General Synod and the final round of Shared Conversations, I’m left with mixed emotions.
I should think some of that has to do with being rather tired still. Although you’re sitting listening to people, when you are truly listening and trying to put yourself in that person’s shoes it’s exhausting.
I’ll try my best to give you a rundown of what happened and how I felt throughout. It’s worth noting that I’m bound by St Michael’s House protocol as is everyone who took part. That means I can talk about my experience, and how it made *me* feel. I can talk about things that were said, however I can’t attribute that to anyone, and I have to make sure none of you reading can work it out either! So if I come across as being a little woolly on detail, that’s why!
We started on Sunday afternoon after a service in York Minister and a lovely meal out in York with friends. If you follow me on twitter then you’ll know I was pretty nervous about the whole situation, and I think some of that was due to not knowing who else would be in your group. We were given our group numbers via our pigeon holes, therefore you ended up with a number, two days before you were even due to meet!
For me one of my main worries was being in a group with someone that I felt I couldn’t emotionally handle. Possibly not in the essence of the conversation, but it was my fear none the less.
Once in our groups we spent the rest of Sunday reflecting back and sharing our stories with each other in groups of three. This was time just to listen to each other, and although you could ask questions there was instruction not to challenge or question insensitively.
I walked away on Sunday feeling overall quite positive, although emotional. Reliving the past and making yourself that vulnerable really took it out of me.
Monday was an incredibly long day, and there was an awful lot to take in. We started with presentations in the central hall on various points of view on scripture which was helpful. Again, my fear was that it would be the usual passages that would be mentioned just from different angles, but it wasn’t which was refreshing. I know some from the more conservative angle were upset and didn’t feel they were properly represented – part of me wonders if the lack of ‘clobber texts’ was why! We then went back into our small groups and discussed passages of scripture that we felt had helped us in our journeys around the subject of human sexuality.
For me up until this point, I’d been rather happy. Tired & emotional yes, but that was to be expected.
At lunch on Monday I learnt of what had been happening in other groups, and how my friends experience was very different to my own. Certain things that had been said, and literature being given out really got to me. Not just because of the way it was making people feel, but actually I felt that went against the protocol and the essence of what was trying to be done over the course of the conversation. I wouldn’t have, and didn’t give out anything to anyone I disagreed with, this wasn’t an ‘I’m going to change your mind’ process, this was about listening & understanding better.
Having signed up whole heartedly to the protocol I felt I had to say something, not because I disagreed with what they were giving out (although I did!) but because it’s not helpful to the situation and it’s not what they signed up too!
Having discussed this with David Porter, I took the rest of Monday lunch to take some time out, try and not let my frustration affect what else was going to happen in the day and so I could listen properly.
We met back in the central hall for most of the afternoon, with what was an overload of information and emotion.
We heard four people’s stories of how they’d grown up and come to terms with their sexuality, their experience in Church, from friends & family and it was deeply deeply moving. I knew two of them, and although it wasn’t really my place to feel proud of them, I felt immensely proud. Having shared my story the day before with three people and been reduced to tears, I have huge admiration for them being so open in front of 450 members of General Synod.
We then heard from a couple of panels on the Changing Culture and how that affects us as a Church. I found both of these very difficult, probably because we’d already taken so much in, but also because of the content.
Don’t get me wrong, I expected all views to be represented, but what I also expected was for it to be like water off a ducks back, for it to go over the top of me, and it didn’t, it went right through me, and it hurt.
Looking back I think it maybe had something to do with how we’d opened ourselves up the previous day and in doing so I opened up old wounds, I guess 24hrs later they were still open.
Up until that point I had also been very much on the side of not wanting to split over this, and surely we could find a way forward, to coin someone else’s phrase, the Father mansion is big enough for us all. But something that was mentioned hit me a fresh, and again I don’t know why, but a comment was made asking how we can move forward together when the blessing of same sex relationship is considered by some, as blessing sin? I left asking myself the question if I believed a specific act was sinful, could I stay in a Church which then went onto bless, condone and celebrate that sin? I don’t know.
Having felt all of that, we then went onto the fourth session of the day in central hall, it’s worth mentioning by this point I was utterly shattered, I’d been on an emotional rollercoster and had taken in that much information that I felt I couldn’t possibly take any more in.
We discussed changing culture not just in the UK this time, but around the world, this particularly brought into context what had happened in The Episcopal Church of America and the wider Anglican Communion. There were some comments in this session that I felt were the final straw for me that in effect, shut me down completely. Comments about a woman’s place in a marriage and female genital mutilation which I thought were not only off topic but actually highly offensive. I think that was felt across the board and it was this, that made me wonder whether I actually want to be in wider communion at all!
I left feeling pretty down, and having to go back into our small groups, I didn’t know whether I could stomach anything else, but actually, my small group was lovely, and I did leave feeling better. Add to that a few glasses of wine, and talking to friends over dinner, and I did feel better by the end of the evening.
Tuesday morning was the final discussion over how we felt the process would help us moving forward. Inevitably this sort of moved us on to what change we’d like to see and ideas on how we think that change might come about. When I say change, I meant very very small steps (well in my opinion!), not bringing in same sex marriage over night, but how can we carry the momentum we’ve felt over the last few days. Even that, for some seemed too much and there I felt plunged back into my ditch of not much hope! Our small group session ended rather abruptly due to time constraints, and again I think that left me feeling a bit down.
In hindsight, rather than taking it to heart, it would have been good to have more time to listen to why people felt the way they did, and try and understand more.
Overall I’m glad I did it, and it was a privilege to be part of what seems to be, the start of something very real, and very important for our Church. It really was a rollercoaster of emotions, and as I said to many others, couple that with being tired, in unusual surroundings, without your family and friends from home it does take its toll.
I don’t know what happens next, it seems to be down to the Bishops, but there does seem to be a sense of wanting to carry this on, and to change the way we do synodical business around this topic. I don’t think anyone wants this to descend into a brick lobbing contest which is unfortunately what will happen if we debate this in the usual manner.
What I did really *really* appreciate was the amount of support I received, and I’m not the only person who’s said that.
I had people who I didn’t really know that well, stopping me in the corridor asking if I was ok, and how I was feeling. People messaging me, texting me saying they’re praying for us all, and your prayers did work, although it was hard, not once did I feel like I wasn’t loved, or valued, and I knew God was right there in the centre of it, even if I couldn’t always feel Him.
What’s obvious for me is that throughout this process over the 48hrs was that we are no longer issues, we are people, and it feels like everyone is coming to understand that. We know as a Church that we can’t continue the way we have been. As someone said, now we have started this, we have to do something; we can’t just sit back and do nothing.