Bishop Paul outlined the Church of England’s ‘Living in Love & Faith’ programme at Diocesan Synod on Saturday 14th November.

 

Full transcript of his address is here:


INTRODUCTION

Living in Love and Faith has been a major piece of work undertaken over the past couple of years. It was commissioned by the House of Bishops. The whole College of Bishops has been engaged in the process at very regular intervals throughout this work. It has though involved around 40 people from a wide range of disciplines, and a wide range of views, working in small groups, and together, to produce the book which was published last Monday.

The book is now commended by all the bishops for reading, study, reflection and discernment.

It has been a very major task. No other church has sought to produce such a thorough study with all the background papers and work being made available for people to read and study further if they so wish. Some of our colleagues in Durham University have contributed to the process. The book is offered primarily to the church but it is hoped that it will be found to be a valuable source for people from all faiths and none in exploring issues of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.

 

THE BOOK & RESOURCES

It is certainly not a short book at 468 pages. But it has been really well laid out in a good sized font so that it is easy to read and follow. For those who value these things it has extensive indices and endnotes. It is filled with stories alongside the teaching, learning and discursive materials. It does not have to be read from cover to cover as sections and chapters can be read alone. Although overall, reading the whole is beneficial to understanding each part.

After a Foreword by our 2 archbishops there is an Invitation from the Bishops. The book is then in 5 parts each broken up into several chapters.

Part One: is Reflecting: what have we received?

Part Two: Paying attention: what is going on?

Part Three: Making connections: where are we in God’s story?

Part Four: Seeking answers: how do we hear God?

Part Five: Conversing: what can we learn from each other?

In between each Part there is a section entitled Encounters which contain people’s stories. They are an important part of the whole. The book closes with An Appeal again from the Bishops together.

Taking part in the process through listening to debates between people with differing views; reading drafts of the book and seeing it change, develop and mature have actually been a great privilege. I have learned much personally along the journey. Every single one of my episcopal colleagues will say the same. We have all learned. We have all been changed in differing ways. The book does not seek to offer definitive answers; it is offered for study in a period of discernment which will lead to proposals in due course. But no one knows what those proposals will be because there is a genuine desire to seek to hear God together.

In order to help with this discernment process it is hoped that individuals will read and reflect. But the main encouragement is for people to do this together in small groups. Primarily it is hoped that this will be done at Parish level. Although a caveat here; it is hoped that people will make every effort to take part in groups where there are differing views held so that real listening to one another can take place. So there might be real benefit in parishes working together to create some such groups.

In order that a wide range of people take part the book is not the only resource available, although it is the core resource.

There is a course designed for small groups. This is helpfully entitled ‘Living in Love and Faith: The Course’. It has 5 sessions. There is a Leaders Guide to assist.

Then there are 17 story films, each about 4 minutes. These are testimonies of Christians’ own stories of marriage, celibacy, being transgender, same sex couples, intersex and so on. They are simply told as stories for people to watch and listen to.

There are 15 podcasts covering discussions between members of the LLF team.

I have little doubt that many organisations will also produce their own materials to assist further with the thinking. Although I want to say that the LLF materials themselves need to be the core of all group work if we are to truly do this as a discernment process together.

 

PASTORAL PRINCIPLES

One of the key things that emerged very early on in the process was the work that the separate Pastoral Advisory Group did on Pastoral Principles. These are designed to help us behave well towards one another as we engage in listening to one another. Matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage are ones on which everyone has opinions, often strong ones. So reaching a position of understanding each other, even if still disagreeing with one another, is not easy. The Pastoral Principles have already shown themselves to be very valuable amongst the bishops themselves. They are commended as the principles by which everyone operates in LLF groups, and indeed more widely in how we treat one another.

The Pastoral Principles in headline are

to address ignorance

to acknowledge prejudice

to admit hypocrisy

to cast out fear

to speak into silence

to pay attention to power

 

IN DURHAM

So how are we going to approach this in Durham?

First I am arranging to purchase a copy of the book for our stipendiary, SSM & House for Duty clergy plus our Lay Chairs and Lay members of Bishop’s Council. These will be with you before Christmas. You can download a PDF from the LLF website but I genuinely think this is one of those occasions where you will find having the physical book very helpful. If you wish to buy your own immediately then do so and pass the gifted copy to a churchwarden, a Reader or someone else you think will read it attentively.

I will be appointing someone as LLF Advocate, each Diocese is doing this. There will be a small group who will help us to run things across the Diocese. However because of the work that has developed so powerfully over the past few months around Black Lives Matter and issues of racial justice we want to encourage delaying setting up small groups on LLF until after Easter. A course for Lent on Black Lives Matter is being put together by Remi Omole working with a few others.

There is a second reason for the delay. We really hope that these LLF groups will be able to be done face to face and realistically this is more likely to be possible post Easter. We will hold a session on LLF as part of this Synod meeting in May. We are asked to feedback our discernment nationally by November next year so during the autumn we will find a way of bringing all that has emerged from Parish groups together to see what we can formulate as a Diocesan response. It will be very important for the process that follows nationally that our General Synod representatives are significantly involved in hearing this. I note that there are elections for a new General Synod to be held next summer, with that Synod meeting for the first time in November 2021 although the earliest any proposals will be brought to that Synod is February 2022.

 

CONCLUSION

I hope this has offered you a clear outline of the Living in Love and Faith process. It was not my purpose today to do anything other than outline the materials and the process that lies ahead.

I conclude using the prayer at the close of the opening Invitation in the book,

O Holy Spirit,

Giver of light and life.

Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts,

and prayers better than our own prayers,

and powers beyond our own powers,

that we may spend and be spent

in the ways of love and goodness,

after the perfect image

of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

The Pastoral Principles for Living Well Together will help us …

to address ignorance by learning together about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage in the light of our call to be faithful to both Scripture and the church’s tradition; by learning together with people who have different perspectives and lived experiences in relation to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. …

to acknowledge prejudice by welcoming people as they are, loving them unconditionally and seeking to see Christ in them; by reflecting deeply on our attitudes and behaviour in order to nurture understanding and respect between people who disagree. …

to admit hypocrisy by not condemning certain behaviours and attitudes while turning a blind eye to others, remembering that we are all weak, fallible, broken and equally in need of God’s grace; by learning from one another about the challenge to holy living and the wideness of God’s mercy as the Spirit moves within, among and between us. …

to cast out fear by consciously demonstrating and living out what it means for perfect love to cast out fear even in situations of disagreement; by modelling openness and vulnerability as each of us wrestles prayerfully with the costliness of Christian discipleship. …

to speak into silence by remembering that we are the Body of Christ, called to relate deeply and openly with one another, sharing what is on our hearts as well as in our minds; by practising deep listening without a hidden agenda that encourages conversations about questions of human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. …

to pay attention to power by being alert to attempts to control others, remembering that God’s Spirit alone can bring transformation into our lives and the lives of others; by following Christ’s example of service and compassion as we accompany one another in following the way of the cross.

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