But for the moment ... and it's a very big but ... I could not be more delighted with the feedback we continue to get about the tone and timbre of the meeting ... the content and the process.
Our goals had been to "Inform, Engage and Equip."
- To Inform the deputies about the history of the work we've been charged to do and about what we've done so far in response to that charge.
- To Engage the deputies in dialogue and discussion about not only the work we've been doing but the resources they need in their contexts.
- To Equip them to go back to their deputations and to their dioceses and bring their colleagues and constituents -- as fully as possible -- into this church wide process of discussion and discernment.
Here's how Nicholas Knisely [Diocese of Arizona; Phoenix] described his experience of the consultation over at Episcopal Cafe ... a description that tells me if we didn't get it perfect, we came pretty darned close:
What this process has done extremely well is to listen to the diverse voices in the Episcopal Church. I participated in the small group conversations. I saw the scribe for our group carefully keeping track of our conversation. Our group arrived at some very interesting insights, some of which were new to me.[Visit the Episcopal Cafe link above to read more from Dean Knisely.]
The group process worked; and when we disagreed, that was recorded too. Later in plenary sessions, the disagreements were recognized and honored. There is not a clear consensus on what the Episcopal Church should do with the report it will receive. There is a shared recognition that either way the decision goes on authorization, there will be some parts of the Episcopal Church that will not be able to bear the decision. But there was no sense that anyone was walking away. They had been heard and everyone was committed to staying in relationship with one another somehow, someway.
That's what reconciliation actually looks like.
And it is happening among the relatively small group that gathered for 22 hours of meeting time because of the process designed by the SCLM. So kudos to them. And I ask the question to the larger body; why don't we do this a lot more? The process used in Atlanta is actually only part of the beginning. We attendees were given tools and resources to extend the table and to report back to the SCLM. I'm hoping that is exactly what happens. I intend to make it so in Arizona.
We ought be regularly consulting in this way in advance of major votes at all levels of the Church. This event ought not be exceptional. The upside is so great that the expense is easily worth it.
I have heard some critique that "both sides" were not represented in the resources presented -- never mind that what C056 charged the SCLM to do was to collect and develop resources FOR the blessing of same-gender relationships … not to rehash arguments AGAINST the blessing of same-gender relationships.
More important than the increasingly small minority of folks who keep insisting we're not including them in the conversation because they've chosen not to talk about the subject we're discussing is the great work that is going on with those who do come to the table. Here's a great peek at that from Brian Baker's [Diocese of Northern California; Sacramento] blog post:
At the Churchwide Consultation on blessing same-gender relationships, I got in a great conversation with a priest who firmly believes that any sexual relations outside of marriage (which can only be between a man and a woman) is expressly forbidden in scripture. Consequently he does not support the church blessing any same-gender relationships. I do not have a need, or even a desire, to change his mind so he believes as I believe. I think it is vital that we make room for a diversity of viewpoints and theological perspectives, which includes those with which I disagree. I was thrilled that he came to the conference in which his view was a minority and I was pleased that the people in our small group welcomed him.[And of course you'll want to follow the link and read what Dean Baker has to say.]
At dinner, and through the following break, he and I had an in-depth conversation. It became clear to me that his perspective on what the Bible is, and how to read it, is very different from mine. It isn’t that he takes the Bible seriously, and I don’t. I take the Bible very seriously. I just understand it very differently that he does. Here are some things I believe to be true about the Bible:
My point on all of this is THIS IS HOW ANGLICANS BEHAVE AT THEIR BEST! We are a people hard-wired for diversity because of the DNA of comprehensiveness that courses in our veins. Descended from a people who figured out how to be both protestant and catholic in the 16th century we have ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for not figuring out how to be gay and straight in the 21st.
One of the things I said in my presentation in Atlanta was our task force ... the Teaching Resources Team ... was charged with giving the church the resources it needs. The whole church.
For example: In my small group was a man who said blessings were forbidden in his diocese and WOULD NEVER HAPPEN THERE. And there was me -- from All Saints Pasadena -- where we'll be celebrating 20 Years of Blessings next year. And probably most folks in the Episcopal Church fall somewhere in between us on that continuum.
And our job is to resource ALL of them ... those asking the "Why would they ...?" questions as well as those asking the "How do we ...?" questions.
To resource the folks in the diocese that forbid blessings and swear they will never happen there to understand why other dioceses are making the choice to bless and celebrate same-gender relationships.
And to resource the folks in dioceses that have been blessing same-gender relationships for twenty years with the liturgical rites and pastoral care tools they need.
It is important work. Holy work. All of it. The "why" questions and the "how" questions. It's work that it's a privilege to do. And it is work I believe will help us reclaim a few more of those inches on the way to making the Garden of Eden grow green again.