The Listening Day

To Stirling today for the Scottish Episcopal Church’s day of listening.

Quite a lot of the day was food for thought though it would not be appropriate to blog about the people or the stories involved. In the end I was generally glad that I was there though sometimes still frustrated by the process. It is all beginning far too late.

Two significant moments for me. The first was experiencing and articulating a sense of outrage that the main speaker had been put in the position of accepting to speak in the first session when he could not stay for the whole day. The act of speaking without listening could not more clearly sum up much of what is wrong. I still have reservations about the fact that the only two people who gave talks to the whole group were straight bishops. To speak and not stick around to engage with people modelled precisely what should not be.

WIth the exception of some inaccuracies about the Porvoo churches, Richard Clark actually spoke very well indeed, but by that stage, that was not the point for me.

Later in the day there was another significant moment for me. I realised in a group that I was hearing people speaking positively and lovingly about gay relatives. All of a sudden I was struck with the realisation that I have almost never heard anyone in a church context say anything positive about anyone gay. As that realisation dawned, I began to weep.

So you see, I’m glad I was there and I heard something that I was not expecting to hear. I never knew until today that I had not heard such things before. I was surprised by tears and now know not what to do with them.


  1. you may not have heard words of affirmation and blessing, but you have spoken them, remember?

    the tears today won’t be forgotten.

  2. Ryan Dunne says

    I’m sorry to hear about your tears Kelvin. I have heard lots of terrible things about gay people’s experience in the church (including a woman who was ditched by all her church “friends” when she came out; she’s now happily married to another woman). Much of your blog is helping me with similiar struggles, for what it’s worth.

  3. Hi Kelvin,

    Is there a list of who the witnesses were or at least what perspective they bring. How many former homosexuals were there there?

  4. There is not a list of the witnesses and I don’t think that there will be. They spoke as people with a range of experiences in life, not as categories.

  5. Kelvin,

    Was there anybody there who was either deliberately celibate because of a conservative theology or a former homosexual?

  6. I have no idea about the choices that anyone had made regarding celibacy. It was not a day about celibacy and frankly, to pry into people’s lives to such a level of detail seems to me to be inappropriate.

    There were several people present who have been at one time or another former homosexuals.

  7. Just to build on Kelvin’s comment ‘it was not a day about celibacy’: neither was it a day about discussing sexual activity.

    It was about people telling their stories. None of us heard all of the witnesses, so none of us will be sure of the range of perspectives that were offered.

    Peter, if you are concerned that someone, or some perspective, was silenced, can I offer the reminder that the invitation for the day went to the whole church, and in one of the sessions people were given a chance to raise any issue they felt hadn’t been adequately covered.

  8. Ryan Dunne says

    Peter, I think the church has, if anything, listened too uncritically to ex-homosexuals; there are many times where I’ve come across evangelicals who give great credence to those who fufill ugly Cameron-esque stereotypes irrespective of how representative they are of the wider gay community.

    I go , perversely, to St.Silas.

  9. Ah, now, that would be a sentence worth parsing.

  10. Vicky says

    Sorry about the delay in responding, am on the road. I wonder if I could add another point about the celibacy issue. My understanding was that the day was about listening to folk who were not following an ‘orthodox’ line with respect to their sexuality. As far as I am aware the catholic orthodoxy is to remain celebate and where possible marry if one finds one self attracted to those of the smae sex. In a sense those who opt for this are no threat to the continued order of the Church. Surely, the question is, what if one either doesn’t have a vocation of celibacy OR one doesn’t agree that adult consensual sexual activity for pleasure is inherently sinful (unless married to someone of the opposite sex)? Perhaps the other question for the episcopal Church to ask itself is why it is happy to push a ‘compliance’ line on celibacy without at any point actually valuing those who are genuinely called to it?

  11. Are tears a bad thing?

  12. No, tears are not a bad thing and I have long since learned not to be afraid of them.

    What gives rise to tears can be a bad thing though and I think we are in the business of wiping tears from every eye.

  13. Just to affirm, as one of the day’s facilitators, that the event will be recorded in a variety of formats. None of these will include a list of witnesses, nor any details of their stories.
    And a personal reflection. As someone who always wants to know what’s going on in the other rooms at a party, I understand the urge to know who was there and who said what. The discipline of staying with the bit of experience one is presented with is a hard one, but rewarding.

  14. a propos celibacy. In any context celibacy is a calling or choice, which someone willingly and freely accepts. It demeans celibates either to demand it :
    — “as a matter of Discipline” (RC), or
    — because they are poofs and heterosexual Primates say so (Anglican orthodoxy).
    In earlier days in LGCM, it was magnificent to have a ex-monk on the Committee who still willingly remained celibate but openly gay. *He* was able to make the point by his life.

  15. Ryan Dunne says

    The other problem is that, within certain churches, Christian homophobia often entails settling for furtive gay sex combined with emotional celibacy, thus supporting the stereotype of gay people being incapable of loving monogamous relationships.

  16. I know what you mean, Kelvin, about how little listening often occurs at a ‘Listening Day.’ I remember one I attended in which a diocese invited two heteroseuxal white men to give presentations about what they thought about gay people and same-sex relationships. There was only time, as I recall, for two questions to be asked. I asked one of them, and it was this:

    “What, in this experience of listening to the other person’s point of view, have you learned that will deepen your walk with Christ and your pastoral ministry? What insights have you gained from the other person?”

    You should have seen the blood drain from the speakers’ faces. It wasn’t a day of listening, but a day of debate, and the speakers clearly hadn’t listened to one another except insofar as they could catalog points they wanted to refute.

    I’m glad for your ministry in the church that confirmed me, and especially for the tears.

  17. Eamonn says

    What gave rise to your tears, Kelvin, is definitely a bad thing. For me, what you said about the rarity of gay people being lovingly affirmed opened up an appalling vista of hard-heartedness and incomprehension in the Church and society at large. God forgive us all.

  18. Thank you all for your comments.

    Eamonn, I wonder whether you noticed that the group that we were in was sitting next to a noticeboard which had on it material from CARE, with their usual anti-gay campaigns.

    I sometimes notice that kind of thing and point out to others that it is there and that some people might not feel particularly safe or comfortable in such an environment. I tend to be met with surprised incomprehension when I do. I meet that surprised incomprehension with my own surprised incomprehension and we go on our way shaking our heads wearily.

  19. When one of my sons was in Primary 1, he often talked about his new friend Josh. We learned several things about Josh these first few weeks – that he had a cool pencil case, that he was good at writing his name. One day our son had discovered that his friend was something called a Jehovah’s Witness – and wanted to know if that was different from us.

    It was months later that we met Josh and found that he was also black. Our son hadn’t found that fact worthy of mention at all. It was just part of being Josh.

    Until we are as open and as carefree as that with each other we will struggle with our correctness and our carefulness. We do, truly, need to be as little children.

  20. Eamonn says

    I didn’t notice the CARE material, I’m afraid. I was concentrating on what was being said – that’s my excuse anyway. But your comment, Kelvin, brings home to me once again how we in the majority community need constantly to be more alert and sensitive than we commonly are.

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