In which Ruth ponders General Synod 2014

I seem to be the last of the Pisky bloggers to get around to writing about General Synod this year. I’ve been off Synod for the past two years after many years on, so this was an exciting return for me. For I do love General Synod. I love meeting up with Provincial pals who we see less and less these days. In days gone by there used to be Provincial Conferences where we all met up and made new friends, shared stories and ideas, socialised and partied. Sadly we don’t have them any more so there is less opportunity to meet with folk from other dioceses. Of course, I don’t just love Synod because of my social life, it is also an honour and privilege to be someone who plays a small part in the future planning of our wee Church.

There are other good reports on Synod over on the following blogs: Kelvin, Beth, Malcolm, Samantha and Christine. I notice that Chris didn’t like the seating at P’s & G’s, our first time venue for General Synod. We followed the model we use at our Diocesan Synods where everyone is seated at round tables (8 to a table allocated randomly). To begin with I wasn’t sure about that either – especially as I didn’t get to sit with my old pals in what was strangely known as the ‘naughty corner’. However, it means that I have met new people with whom I would probably never have spoken and it also allows those who never would have the courage to speak at Synod to have a say in the small group discussions. And instead of itchy horsehair cushions in pews with no leg room, I much prefer comfy chairs and tables on which to put the copious quantities of paper which go along with Synod business. However, I agree that it did make a faff of voting because the tellers couldn’t easily count when we weren’t sitting in serried ranks.

At my table I think every diocese was represented and we also had the delightful company of Bishop Bob of Aberdeen, past curate of Christ Church Falkirk, so it was good to catch up with him again after our recent 150th celebrations. I also had the joy of meeting Fr Simon of Argyll & The Isles, complete with ponytail and monocle. We Piskies certainly do style and eccentricity in equal measure.


But what about the business? Well, we had the usual reports from Committees, some more exciting than others. You want to hear about the exciting ones, don’t you? Well, Bishop Kevin brought us up to speed with the new Scottish Episcopal Institute which replaces Tisec, our current model of training ordinands. It was such an enthusiastic presentation and our prayers are with Rev Dr Ann Tomlinson who will be the new Director. We were told that the new Institute will have cost implications of course and I feel passionately that we must invest as much as we can into training our clergy. Bishop Kevin pointed out that if every member of the SEC were to give an extra £10 per year we could cover it. How easy would that be? I sprang to my feet and threw my last tenner in the air to kick off the collection. (Then Synod told us we can’t have impromptu collections and it all deflated rather suddenly, which was a shame. However, reluctantly, they did allow a retiring collection after Evening Prayer which produced £200 so that’s a start.)

The most contentious issue was the subject of equal marriage. We are not allowed to talk about it in Synod. Even though it will become law in Scotland later in the year, our Church thinks we should take our time. You see, we are not to be trusted to talk about it in Synod because we might say hurtful and triumphalist things. This has apparently happened in the past and some folk don’t like it. (Not when I was there, it has to be said.) So instead the Church held a conference in Pitlochry a few months ago where specially invited folk, from both sides of the debate, were invited to listen to one another in a nice friendly way. And they did. It was all about the listening. And we were told at our pre-Synod meeting that people who’d never talked to one another before became friends. I don’t know who these people are that don’t talk to one another are, because I talk to anyone. I even talk to people I don’t agree with on many subjects but that doesn’t mean to me that we can’t be friends. It would seem that not everyone feels like me. Gosh. At our pre-Synod meeting we heard about these enemies who’d become friends which was all rather lovely and how Pitlochry had given them a nice space to listen to one another. They were quite evangelical about it, in fact. Not so good at listening to those who hadn’t been there, mind you.

I was one of the people who signed a Rule 10 motion to ask that it could be discussed at Synod. It has been one of those subjects that we’ve never really been allowed to talk about. For years we’ve talked about not talking about it. So I thought that Synod ought to get the chance to talk and listen. Those who make up the agenda thought not. We are to follow the process mapped out at Pitlochry where the lovely way to talking and listening has to cascade ‘down’ (yes ‘down’ to us mere mortals who didn’t get to go – and yes, I asked if I could but was refused) to Area Councils and churches. We still haven’t been told how or when that will happen, btw. The Rule 10 motion needed 2/3 of Synod to agree and although we got a majority it wasn’t enough. You can read more about this in the comments on Kelvin’s blog. I thought it quite interesting that Kelvin wasn’t invited to take part especially as he has probably been most vocal about this issue in the past and is an out, gay priest. I also have campaigned on this issue for many years but wasn’t invited. Interesting that the three big evangelical parish priests were all invited. Hmm. Even one of them came to me after and said it wasn’t fair.

So instead of discussing it openly and having it minuted, we were to discuss it in our table groups. I felt very uneasy about that, as did many of my gay friends. It was like we were to talk about my colleagues’ sex lives, because that’s what it boils down to, in little secret huddles where nothing would be minuted. What made it even more difficult was that I could see some of my friends in tears in their groups, and some deeply upset and angry. It was a horrible experience. Then we all had to write a secret letter saying what our hopes were about this subject and put it in an envelope, then pick up someone else’s to keep. That felt very manipulative and contrived.

What was interesting was that so many people came up to me and my friends after to offer support and ask what had gone wrong. I’m not gay but I guess people know I support justice and have many friends who are gay, and even some Bishops were asking what it was all about. And as I said before, some of my ‘evangelical’ friends were lovely about it too. All in all, it was not very nice. And I still don’t know how this Cascade is going to happen other than we will talk (again) about it at our Diocesan Synod meeting in November. Nobody knows when we will ever get to talk about it in Synod and take a vote – perhaps next year or the year after folk were saying. Perhaps.

And what else was discussed at Synod you might wonder? Statistics gathering, budgets and finance, moving Saints days, and the other usual business. My blog wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the worship of course. I believe that as P’s & G’s were hosting the Synod they were asked to offer Evening Prayer in their own style of worship. I’m all for variety and in the past have learned some fabulous new hymns and mass settings at Synod. You won’t be surprised that the music in the evening was more of a modern style with a praise band. The sad thing about it was that we weren’t taught the tunes first, as we were with other new stuff. And the screen which contained the words of the songs didn’t always match what we heard, but that was a minor blip.

So it was a funny old Synod really. Looking back a week later I remember the trams (yes, I did the Park and Ride thing on the new trams) and the tears. I remember mirth and monocles. I remember passion and psalms. I remember voting and vetoing. I remember friends and fencing (you had to be there!)


In which Ruth ponders Cascade Conversations

Next week 50 people from the seven dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church will meet in Pitlochry to discuss Equal Marriage. Each bishop chose seven people to represent views from his diocese. I asked if I could go but was turned down. I only know of two people from Edinburgh who are going – the rest is a mystery.

These people will meet and listen and talk to one another with a bunch of facilitators and speakers. Only one of the speakers is from the SEC. Then they will decide how the discussion should continue to ‘cascade’ down to the people in the pews. I’m not sure what happens after that. I’m not sure how feedback from the pews will happen. I’m not sure about much, to be honest.

It seems a funny way of doing it really. Usually when something needs to be discussed in our wee Church we do it at Synod. For some reason this seems to be an inadequate way of talking about this subject. Perhaps we are not to be trusted to listen and talk in a civilised manner? That’s funny because we seem to have been discussing this subject (or rather, pussy-footing around it) for years.

I’ve been wearing a rainbow dog collar for a few months now in support of my gay sisters and brothers in the Church. It has attracted lots of attention from clergy (lots of thumbs-up), from congregation members (why? what is that for?) and from members of the public (Oh I like your rainbow collar!) Some conversations have led to discussions about why gay people would want to get married. A few folk have said that they thought Civil Partnership was enough, and why would ‘they’ want to marry in a Church, especially a Church who doesn’t want them. I usually ask if they got married in Church and why they chose that over a Registry Office. The responses I’ve had after that have all been positive. And of course, not all churches are anti-gay.

I know that some of my gay friends are disappointed that they won’t be going to Pitlochry to share their views and be part of the process of Cascading Conversations. People like Kelvin and Beth who are open and honest about their feelings and blog about them regularly have not been asked by their Bishop. It does seem a shame that those who have been most involved in this subject dear to their hearts are being excluded. It does seem a shame that those who will be affected most won’t have the opportunity to share their stories. We are told they will have a chance later on when the conversations have cascaded ‘down’ to their level. But wouldn’t it have been much better to have had them involved in how that happens in the first place?

So we wait with bated breath to see what will happen next. I pray for those who have been overlooked in the process and their hurt, and for those who will attend and have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. I pray for those who will attend who are gay that they will be treated with respect and have the courage to speak out without it affecting their future in the Church. I pray for any Bishops attending that they will remember those left behind and be pastorally sensitive to all who risk telling their stories. And I pray for those who are opposed to Equal Marriage. I do. I really do pray for them all.

In which Christ Church talks Equal Marriage

Last week we had a great evening at Christ Church with the lovely Beth. Beth represents Changing Attitude Scotland and came to talk to a group about Equal Marriage. It all began when someone in church asked “But why do they need to get married in church when they have civil partnerships?” That’s where it began. I had answered that and had gone on to talk about Scripture and how it is used and misused. But I reckoned that this needed more time than a conversation over coffee.

Beth was happy to come and talk, especially about the latest news on Equal Marriage. But first we used some of the dvd For the Bible tells me so. If you haven’t seen it before then I can really recommend it especially for elderly members of the family who might be stuck in their ways. It features Gene Robinson’s parents among others, and our own +Richard Holloway makes a short appearance too. After the dvd Beth talked for a while on Equal Marriage and then took questions. She created a really good atmosphere which allowed people to feel relaxed enough to ask anything.

It turned out to be a really good evening. If you haven’t talked it over with your congregations then this might be a model you could copy. Our church is going to be voting on it over the next few years so it might be an idea to find out what you and your friends think. I’m happy to lend the dvd if you’d like to see it.

It’s time

A few weeks ago a member of my little flock said to me:

“But why do they want marriage? They have civil partnerships. Is that not enough?”

“Where did you get married?” I asked.

“We got married in St ********”

“Why did you choose to get married there?”

“Because we were members there. That’s the church we went to… Oh.   I see.”

And that is why we are holding an evening to discuss such matters on Wednesday 17 July at 7.30pm at Christ Church. One of the things we might do is watch the new video by the Equality Network which was launched last night.  You can link there or here below.

You will see lots of famous Scottish faces. And you might see some not-so-famous too. You may even see some clergy and that was what made my heart soar. Clergy with dog collars saying “It’s Time.” Not clergy ranting and pointing at some verses in Leviticus. Clergy with a positive message instead of an exclusive one.

And haven’t they got good teeth?

Equal Marriage

Many of my friends are sad today because the Church of England has said No to equal marriage. It is an argument which just won’t go away. And in a way, I’ll be honest, I’m getting a wee bit fed up fighting it. I seem to have been doing that forever. Ever since I joined the church I seem to have been on the side of the people who are signing petitions. First it was against women priests. I know, can I ever be forgiven about that one? Then it was Changing Attitude and we held meetings and we tried to help people see that there was another way. Then it was gay Bishops and poor, dear Jeffrey John. Then it was equal marriage. Always I seem to be signing petitions and Liking some gay-friendly group on Facebook and wearing rainbows with pride.

Because all my life I have known gay people. No, I don’t mean that. All my life I have known people, some of whom happen to be gay. (My ex-husband was a hairdresser so honey, I knew where the in-crowd, the fun-crowd, was hanging.) Since I joined church I’ve met as many gay people as I did in those hairdressing circles. And if you think that’s an exaggeration then think again. Sadly, in the olden days they had to keep it a secret. And some still do, the ambitious ones, because we still haven’t got the bishop thing right. But gradually in our wee Episcopal church many have been able to come out and a few congregations are now quite used to having two men living in the Rectory. Most of them have entered into civil partnerships. Sadly some of them had to do it secretly and with closed guest lists. But things are changing. And perhaps in Scotland legislation will be passed which will allow gay people to marry in church one day. And I will rejoice and hope that this is the end of all the petitions.

But then I’m left thinking that this is not the end. Because there are still a whole lot of people in our churches who are not happy if that happens. There are still lots of people who would not want two men living in their rectory openly as a couple. And there are a whole lot of young people who never darken the door of a church because they are pretty sure they won’t be welcome. Of course, some churches have got this right. I can think of two who actually openly welcome people who happen to be gay on their website.  And dear Kelvin, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, is tireless in his promotion of equal rights using every form of social networking known to man, woman, gay or straight. This does not always make him Mr Popular.

Then today I read Benny’s blog and was directed to this blog which has an Open Letter to the Church from my Generation. It is American, yes, but it reads to any church. It also directed me to this song which I’d never heard before. Not my kind of thing normally, but I did find it extraordinarily moving. We need to get this right if we want our church to grow and continue. To the younger generation we are just so irrelevant.

No freedom until we are equal, the man sang. Amen.

You might also want to read what Bishop Alan Wilson has to say on the matter over on his blog too.

Why I believe in marriage equality

This is doing the rounds just now so I hope I have permission to reproduce it here. For all my friends who care…

A Love Offering for Marriage Equality, U.S. Supreme Court
(An occasion-specific paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
Interfaith Service of Love and Justice
Church of the Reformation, Washington, D.C.

If I speak like I know everything, like the world revolves around me, but I don’t love, I am nothing but a fool at a microphone.

If I can talk about The Scriptures, and preach better than all the other preachers, and get everybody and their sister coming back to church, but I don’t embrace love, then I’m just a silly dude in a robe.

If I give away all my best stuff, and have all the “Rev. Dr. This and Thats” in front of my name, but I can’t recognize love, then I haven’t learned a thing.

Because love, she is amazing. Love is relentless.  Love is extra-generous.

Love looks out for the interests of other people, not just one’s own self.

Love doesn’t reserve rights and privileges just for some.  Love doesn’t promote hierarchies, to the expense of equality, because love just doesn’t think that way. Love doesn’t work that way.

Love doesn’t hurt people.  And love never leaves people out.

No … Love goes all the way.  Love removes every obstacle.  Love appeals to the highest court in the land, when necessary.

Love gets up really early in the morning, after having stayed up really late the night before.

That’s how love is.  Love always does the right thing, even when it’s hard.  Love is fair and just, extravagant and wasteful.  Love can never be depleted.

Now as for long speeches and oral arguments and amicus briefs, they’ll play themselves out.  And fanatics can cry, ”Surely the world will come to an end!” and they, too, have their rights.  But your loved one’s embrace at the end of a hard day? …  The dreams you share … The plans you’ve made … The inside jokes … The kisses goodnight … Till death do you part.  That will never pass away.

When I was a scared, uncertain, disempowered gay person, I thought and reasoned like a scared, uncertain, disempowered gay person.  I thought this day could never come.  But now, I’ve put all that behind me, every limiting thought.

Yes, we see through murky waters.  We’re trying to discern every 5 to 4; 6 to 3; 9-to-nothing scenario.  But the day is surely coming, when we will be seen, and see each other, as God sees us — through love, because God is love.

We have a lot of things to sustain us in this life.   There’s that quirky optimism that, with God, all things work together for good.  And there’s always hope, and hope never disappoints.  And that’s all nice.  But most importantly, we’ve got this big, expansive, inclusive love.  Love!  And isn’t that the greatest thing?  Isn’t it?

The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the United Church of Christ’s Local Church Ministries and member of the denomination’s five-person Collegium of Officers, offered this prayer in Washington, D.C., in support of marriage equality.  He spoke during an interfaith prayer service before Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality.

A love offering for marriage equality
Written by The Rev. J. Bennett Guess
March 26, 2013

Confirmation Classes, past and present

When I first started going to St Michael & All Saints in about 1985 I was very quickly asked if I’d like to go to Confirmation Classes. I really had no idea what they were, but as I was embracing the whole SEC thing, it seemed like a good idea. I had to get my mum to babysit and I’m not sure that she really believed I was going to a church meeting that ended up in the pub. For Fr Emsley was a priest who did his best mission in the Auld Toll Bar in Tollcross over a pint of frothing ale. That part of the evening, I have to say, was much more exciting that the previous class.

I remember there were about 6-8 of us in that class ranging in age from 14-50ish. And I spent most of them hoping that Fr E wouldn’t catch my eye and ask a question. Having no church background or Sunday School memories, I really knew nothing about the bible, the prayer book or the church. Nor was I brave enough to ask in case folk thought I was stupid. It seems ridiculous now. Now I have no qualms whatsoever about asking anything at all. The confirmation classes were long and boring and dry. There was a lot of history, something about miracles in the bible, and then something about the Scottish Prayer Book. I was just glad when it was all over and I realised there was not going to be a test at the end of it.

Yesterday, as I sat with four eager teenagers, I remembered those days and smiled. It is so very different today. Our topic yesterday was the Bible and my plan was to gently introduce them to the notion that some of it might be myth, some might be ‘of its time’ and the importance of contextual study but they were way ahead of me.  We hadn’t got past the Pentateuch when they were telling me how some rules in Leviticus are not obeyed now, so why should the RC church get so het up about equal marriage?  We did ponder sex before marriage and whether that constituted ‘sin’ or not, before somehow moving on to circumcision and why it was sensible in hot countries and how shocking female circumcision was today.

Please let me tell you that I didn’t bring up any of these subjects. They just came up naturally in the conversation and were issues that they wanted to explore in a Christian setting. This group accepted a God of all faiths very easily, and loved the fact that they were Episcopal which meant that they were much more accepting of others than many churches. They like being liberal and catholic.

It really was the most glorious hour I’ve spent in a long time and filled me with hope. Bless them.

We’re doing prayer next week and I can’t wait.