I was glad to have the opportunity of writing this article for the Herald yesterday.
I think it is important to try and explain why it is that churches have difficulty with this issue. It’s partly straightforward divergence of view. But it’s also because we have sustained our traditional teaching on marriage to some extent on behalf of society. We are now in a time of significant change – we are in part recognising changes which have already happened all around us.
But we need to make a case for change – and this article begins to set out for a wider readership how we do that.
We began three days of General Synod today
The big focus of our work is the attempt to move forward on the issue of Same Sex Marriage. We worked at a process = amending and adjusting to try and get a process which would enable everybody to feel that what they hoped for – or could live with – would be expressed in the outcome.
My constant mantra is that we seek ‘visible unity in Christ with functional diversity’
Time will tell whether or not we achieved that
Here is the Sermon or Primus’ Charge
Strange that having written about Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole last week I should find myself listening to him giving the Arbuthnott Lecture in Edinburgh University this evening.
Ireland is entering a season of commemorations – beginning with the centenary of the Easter Rising of 1916. What Fintan O’Toole suggested was that, even though this was a violent entry into what became Irish independence, the level of continuity with the past was considerable. Most obviously, civil service administration was carried across almost wholesale – as was the corpus of law, etc. The implication for Scotland was that, should independence come, there would be a much higher level of continuity than many might expect.
A member of the audience asked the standard ‘What if?’ question of Irish history. And there is a considerable amount of revisionism going on in the same vein in Ireland. The third Home Rule Bill had been passed, although its implementation had been delayed because of the First World War. The argument goes that the Easter Rising was an opportunistic pre-emptying of the situation. Could we have avoided Irish Partition, the Irish Civil War and nearly a century of recurring violence which followed? Would a single Irish state have avoided the ‘mirror image’ limitations which shaped the two states of a partitioned Ireland? And the answer to the ‘what if?’ has to lie with the other reality – of the Ulster loyalists signing the Covenant in their blood. Division was probably unavoidable.
I was in St Andrews, St Andrews this morning. You may well ask why I would set myself up to preach on Trinity Sunday in a place like St Andrews. But I did and this was my effort
Here in Dublin, we are continuing to see reaction to the Irish Constitutional Referendum on Same Sex Marriage. The Vatican response came this morning. Cardinal Parolin told reporters on the margins of a Centesimus Annus conference in the Vatican: ‘I believe that we are talking here not just about a defeat for Christian principles but also about a defeat for humanity,”
In my opinion, Fintan O’Toole is one of the best Irish journalists. I’m looking forward to hearing him speak in Edinburgh next month. I think he got close to the heart of what has happened in Ireland when he described it as a ‘victory for articulacy’. He speaks of the ‘riveting eloquence of so many people …. who spoke their hearts and minds on the airwaves and the doorsteps’.
But he describes another kind of articulacy and says this: ‘What actually changed Ireland over the last two decades is hundreds of thousands of painful, stammered conversations that began with the dreaded words, “I have something to tell you.” It’s all those moments of coming out around kitchen tables, tentative words punctuated by sobs and sighs, by cold silences and fearful hesitations.’
I was delighted to meet Diarmuid Martin, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin last night. For a long time now, he has been speaking uncomfortable truth to his own community. He said that said the church needed to reconnect with young people to regain its traditional cultural standing and moral authority in Ireland. ‘We [the church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.”
Thinking Anglicans gives the statement from the bishops of the Church of Ireland and a thoughtful contribution from Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin who is part of our meeting in Dublin
I’m with the articulacy which is tentative and expresses provisionality. I heard some of it in our Cascade conversations – people speaking very different truths as they understand and experience them – speaking those truths in the presence of others who may not share them. We didn’t expect people to give up their truth. Just to share it and to listen to others. That process was not about making decisions. But it had a vital role in helping us to become the kind of church which can hold its diversity within a visible unity in Christ.
it sounds a bit like the rugby. But the 4 Nations Consultation on Faith and Order which I am attending in Dublin isn’t quite the open and running game. Possibly a bit more flat-footed than that.
Still it’s a really interesting time to be in Dublin as people digest the outcome of the Constitutional Referendum on Same Sex Marriage. It is remarkable that what has been one of the most traditionally Roman Catholic countries in the world should vote decisively in favour of change. Like the Scottish Independence Referendum, it is clear that young people in large numbers were deeply involved and voted with passion. Also like the Scottish Referendum, it is clear that this changes everything. It repositions the Irish Republic as the first country to make this choice by popular vote. It shifts the relationship between generations in a decisive way. Only time will tell what are the longer term implications.
Meanwhile back at the Consultation … we share understandings of how we respond as churches to human sexuality questions in general and same-sex marriage in particular. I think that a major part of the journey has been the task of learning how to reach agreement and common understanding on questions which all too easily can divide.
So in Scotland we have had Cascade Conversations in which we have spoken .. carefully and truthfully – with one another. I see that as ‘dialogue with our diversity’. We have also had a major paper from our Doctrine Committee. I see that as ‘dialogue with our tradition’. Both these dialogues need and shape a space in which we can think and explore – many of my efforts recently have been committed to making sure that that space remains open. It hasn’t always been easy.
Next month at our General Synod we shall begin to move in another way – attempting to find out whether we wish to define where we are by making changes to our Canons. And if we do want to see change, what kind of change should that be.
I’ll say a bit more about that shortly. But my hope is that we shall bring into that synodical process the values and patterns which we have learned and used earlier. That means decisions in which we all share rather than processes in which we become winners and losers. It means thinking about what ‘unity in diversity’ means – and how we hold together truth, unity, justice ….
Church growth is – in my experience – a strange, somewhat unpredictable and rather random thing. Not so much a programme which delivers defined outcomes within a timescale. Rather more something which you become aware of and wonder about.
I used to watch people sort of wandering into church life. They weren’t quite sure what t hey were looking for – and less sure about what they had found. But if it was what they needed, they would stick. What makes the difference is the quality of life of the faith community – and Pentecost.
It’s that kind of growth which we were trying to mark liturgically on Sunday – Pentecost – at Crieff in our Strathearn Group of churches. We had a baptism – and three Affirmations of Baptism/Confirmations. I say to congregations in these moments that these things would not be happening unless they had become the kind of communities in which it was possible or likely that people would experience a call of faith – or maybe the kind of community which people can see as offering support for the next stage of their journey.
We had to do a bit of tweaking to persuade our liturgy to express the same flexibility – but that’s all in a day’s work
Another Thought for the Day on BBC Scotland this morning
I seem to be in a season of Confirmations – this was the Confirmation of Cliff and Brian at St Peter’s, Kirkcaldy, today with Revd Christine Frazer.
People can be a bit sniffy about Confirmation – ‘a rite in search of a theology’ is just the most obvious of the barbs. I share some of that. And I would be happy to see the last of the ‘rite of passage’ aspects of Confirmation – that would be dealt with most obviously by more teaching and more practice of the admission of children to Holy Communion before Confirmation.
But Confirmation Services as I experience them aren’t particularly in search of anything. It’s often adults who want to make a specific faith commitment. Sometimes it’s people whose faith journey has been prodded into movement by something which has happened in their lives. And sometimes it’s people who have joined a congregation or moved from elsewhere to join the Piskies – and want to ‘do something’ to mark that move. Such people feel their Confirmation deeply – and so do I.
And one more thing. You will know that I am keen to see our church move steadily beyond membership models of church to .. well ‘discipleship’ is a bit under attack at present as a concept. But Confirmation provides an opportunity of teaching about faith, about faith commitment, about the movement of the Spirit . in the life of the congregation. Not to be missed.
General Synod is coming – this is what I said in the Press Release which was issued today.
“A range of significant issues will be addressed and debated, including the mission of the Scottish Episcopal Church, both here in Scotland and further afield; how the Church can deploy its financial resources to greatest effect in assisting our dioceses in their work across Scotland and how proposals for Mission and Ministry Support Grants – sometimes called block grants – will bring radical change in particular to the financial relationship between Province and Dioceses – enabling our Church to work together as “one Church” through its ‘Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy’.
“Other key matters to be discussed are the wider engagement of the Church with society and its issues, including climate change and the Living Wage. General Synod will also consider the adoption of new liturgy and of a “Safe Church Charter” which is being considered by the Anglican Church worldwide which addresses how churches can be safe places for all people, particularly the vulnerable.
“What is likely to attract most attention at this year’s General Synod is the beginning of a process through which the Church shall consider whether it wishes to consider change to its Canons on Marriage.
“As members of General Synod begin to read their papers in preparation for our meeting next month, they will recognise that this is a particularly important Synod.
“During the last two years, our Church has committed itself to the Cascade Process of conversation across difference in the area of same sex relationships. In Province, Dioceses and congregations, people have been courageous and open in expressing and listening to the diversity of views which are held within the Scottish Episcopal Church. We have sat together as one Church and shared thoughtfully and prayerfully.
“We now move to consider whether or not we should undertake a process of canonical change regarding Marriage. First we shall discuss a comprehensive paper on the Doctrine of Marriage from our Doctrine Committee. Then we shall consider whether or not we wish to consider future change and look at a range of possible ways forward.
“It is my hope that here too we shall think and act as one Church. That doesn’t mean that we must, or that we shall, all agree. We are considering an issue which in our times is profoundly challenging for all churches. Our ability to do that depends on our commitment to sustaining our visible unity in Christ.”
Anyone who is not a member of General Synod is welcome to sit in the public gallery of St Paul’s and
St George’s Church during the meeting of General Synod