At about 4.30 this morning I found myself awake, wide awake in my hotel room in Edinburgh. The sun was streaming into the room despite the curtains trying to block it out. And my first thought was words that we sang at morning prayer yesterday in the General Synod meeting.
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning.
It’s time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
And I realised for the first time the impact of what happened during the synod meeting yesterday.
What we did was set out the pathway that we are on to be able to have the chance of allowing same-sex couples to be married in church.
I’m delighted, of course that we achieved that. No one would expect me to say anything else. But it was a day of much more than getting what I wanted – it was a day when those who disagree with me were kind and generous. People who were hurting were unfailingly godly and I see in them the love of Christ.
It was perhaps the first day I’ve spent at any synod when I couldn’t predict what would happen. There were many speeches that surprised me. Several folk whom I expected to speak against what I hoped for, spoke about their journey to a new understanding of sexuality. We witnessed one almost damascene conversion. And one of the most prominent people in the church came out as a settled married bisexual whom though now married to his wife had previously loved a man. And the thing was, that wasn’t the most talked about thing of the day. It was just something we learned that we didn’t already know.
At the end of the day, we made some strikingly clear decisions. We are moving towards removing the doctrinal definition of marriage from Canon Law that was placed there in 1980. This will then allow a move to enable the church to nominate those, and only those, who wish to celebrate marriages for same-sex couples to be able to do so. This may now happen in summer 2017.
It seems glacial to those of us who want change. It will seem terrifyingly fast to those who don’t.
But the glacier is moving. That is now undeniable. The vote to instruct the Faith and Order Board to prepare the new legislation was 110 in favour to 9 against.
Along the way we also decided not to go down the route of allowing Civil Partnerships to be registered in church. We’re going for marriage being possible for gay and lesbian couples.
Once upon a time I’d have leapt at the chance of getting Civil Partnerships in church. Now I hope for something immeasurably better.
There was drama yesterday at synod. There was passion and there was pain. But there was also love.
Within minutes of the vote being announced I saw someone predicting on a US website that three of our churches would leave the Scottish Episcopal Church over this and take 40% of our membership with them. It will be news for those churches that they represent that proportion of the membership of the SEC. Notwithstanding the strength of those particular churches they don’t represent anything near that percentage.
In any case, one of those churches which is near where I live is simply not of one mind about these things. The rector of another told us of the gay folk in his congregation and how clear it was that they were welcome to marriage preparation classes. The rectors of those churches tried to bring in the possibility of opening marriage to same-sex couples by a different route to the one we eventually chose. That was costly and generous of them all.
Today I awake to a new church. I believe what I believed yesterday morning – that it is the love of Christ that can hold Christians together much more effectively than a definition of marriage.
Yesterday though, I saw it happen.
For all Your goodness I’ll keep on singing,
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul,
Worship God’s holy name.
Sing like never before, O my soul.
I’ll worship Your holy name.