Diocesan Discussions

We had a really good afternoon discussing proposed changes to the law on marriage this afternoon at the wonderful St Bartholomew’s, Gourock. This little church is high up overlooking the Clyde with views of the dark brooding cloud that hangs over Dunoon. It has recently been gorgeously refurbished, something that their Rector, Drew Sheridan and the people there must feel immensely proud of.

Anyway, we were there this afternoon to talk about the possibility of allowing Civil Partnerships in religious premises and the possibility of allowing same-sex couples to enter into marriage in some form or another. It was an excellent discussion – really helpful all round. I had thought that there might be a low turnout but in the end more than 30 people gathered with Bishop Gregor for a really thoughtful time.

It was worth it to hear surprising things. I was surprised to hear Fr Gadgetvicar from our neighbours at St Silas speaking much more positively than I would have expected about how there might be a place for blessing gay couples in church as part of the pastoral care of such people. In turn, he seemed surprised (nay, astonished) at my answer when he asked me how many gay blessings a year we are doing at St Mary’s. (Answer, none this year, none have been asked for). I wonder whether he thought we did little else.

Of those who spoke, a couple of people were against opening up marriage to same-sex couples. Most who spoke seemed to be broadly in favour. Some were passionately so. Some remained in thoughtful silence listening to what was going on and clearly still in a place where their minds were not made up.

Interestingly, the discussion got on to what processes the church would need to go through in order to proceed to conduct such weddings. People were very interested in the synodical processes that might be needed in order to change Canon Law. There seemed to be the view that if the law changed, the church would inevitably face the discussion at synodical level and that no-one could predict the outcome. They wanted to know how it could be done.

I found myself feeling quite moved by the discussion. Firstly that it was happening at all and that it happened so well. We had a great meeting listening to one another, respectful of one another and caring about one another. Secondly that I was hearing members of the church, not activists or policy-wonks or politicians or attention seekers like me, but ordinary church members, arguing passionately for same-sex marriage.

When you grow up never hearing any positive word ever spoken in church (or anywhere, come to think about it) about being gay and have a suspicion that it might affect you, it does something to you that is hard to describe to other people. It can lead to barrenness of expectation. It leads many people never to grow in grace or faith or hope or love. Similarly I struggle to explain what it feels like now on odd occasions when people whose voices have not previously been heard begin to speak with authority and passion about their own sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and their relationships. I find it hard to put into language. Indeed, it moves me beyond words to realise that it isn’t me who is out on a limb arguing for something that people don’t understand and don’t believe I’ll never see. It is real and round the corner and supported by people whom I should never underestimate.

I can’t really describe what that feels like to sit amongst all that but along with others I can taste something in the air. It is the sweet taste of longed-for change that is coming more quickly than most people ever thought possible.


  1. It was an excellent discussion and I found myself very moved by a lot of what was said, particularly by one ordinary member of the clergy who was in favour and who spoke very eloquently and passionately.

  2. (apologies for the “Christian” Institute link) http://www.christian.org.uk/news/evangelicals-urge-salmond-not-to-redefine-marriage/

    Yes, evangelicals seem to be in the curious position of having to appear fans of civil partnerships and gay blessings. Strange, because if gay couples ” already have the rights of marriage available through civil partnerships.” and society has not collapsed, then does that not negate most of their Rome-fell-because-of-teh-gays style alarmism rather? One would have thought that their energies would have been better addressed towards the apparent heterosexual evangelical drift away from monogamy http://www.adherents.com/largecom/baptist_divorce.html

    And I suspect that the originator of “The McCarthy Version” gay blessing liturgy had largely egotistical reasons for enquiring as to its popularity 😉

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    Yes, the the clergy-person was eloquent and very moving – as were many others. As usual, I was saddened by how uncomfortable some were in grappling with the Bible (people on both sides of the debate)- I long to do more to help the Scriptures become an open land, a land to be explored and played in and enjoyed. And also as usual I felt pain because it was clear that some held the view that gay relationships were in some way second best, and because I was, as usual, haunted by the old concern that some gay people might believe this, that they might suffer from ‘Stockholm syndrome’. Too many damages lives already. Whatever is some times thought, trust me: in the fifties there were visible gay people about and from my childhood, there have been gay people in my life. Plenty of us have never wanted it otherwise. [Exits, humming ‘When a knight won her spurs …]

    • william says

      Your statement “I was saddened by how uncomfortable some were in grappling with the Bible (people on both sides of the debate)” intrigued me.
      Are you able to locate and enlarge upon even the approximate grounds of such discomfort?
      Is this a concern for what is going on within the church, church discussions generally, or this debate particularly?
      One cannot help be moved by how moving Kelvin found the experience [particularly last 2 paras]; can that encouragement for him take place side by side with with a comfortableness in grappling with Holy Scripture, do you feel?

  4. Rosemary Hannah says

    William, Kevin is an excellent bible-grappler and helps others to so grapple – but the task of teaching this ability is too big for any one person, whatever their talents and position. It was clear to me that some people on both sides of the debate (not all) did not have a very clear idea of what was in the Bible or how to read it. This is not utterly surprising – it is an Iron-age text, and other writing of its period is even harder to get to terms with. But in some instances it was perfectly clear that speakers were not really familiar with the circumstances in which Jesus was saying what he was saying, and why he was saying it. Other people spoke of their sense of being inadequate in the area of interpreting the Bible. Generally, and I am not speaking here of this meeting, I find the laity afraid to actually dig into the text – they tend to look at it verse by verse, or at the very best, story by story, and are uncomfortable with the idea that writers may have been very clever and sophisticated indeed – that the writers may, like all great writers, have been luring the reader/listener in to think more deeply about a subject. Astonishingly, I find people who still believe that Jesus’s parables are simple and straightforward, despite the fact that many of them are funny (in a mordant way) and trap the listener in dilemmas which should make them laugh ruefully at themselves.

    One instance of this is the story of the Publican and the Pharisee praying in the Temple. The listener is liable to find himself thinking ‘Thank God I am not like that Pharisee’ – and I bet you are now thinking ‘Well, thank God I have not fallen into the trap of thinking I am not like that Pharisee.’ See? Very very clever story. Not only do I love Jesus deeply, and think he was good and loving: I also think he was seriously clever.

  5. william says

    Was he also God become flesh – as John particularly reveals for us – and so has to be heard and seen and believed, as such?

  6. William – does the primacy of the Incarnation not work against the attempts by certain sola scriptura types to view Christianity as being the dutiful following of a set of self-evidently scriptural prescriptions available to all?

    Excellent post Rosemary! It’s worth stressing that most pop-evangelical forms of sola scriptura proof-texting are silly, lazy and egotistical; their relationship to more grown-up (not solely) “liberal” approaches analogous to the gulf between reading York Notes with a hangover and serious forms of literary study. Applying an approach to Holy Scriptur that one would not apply to any half-decent novel is not, to me, something to be proud of.

    The view that the bible has one simplistic self-evidently moral reading available to all (running contrary to ‘liberal’ approaches) is a theory. It is utterly repudiated by a dispassionate look at history and serious contemplation of issues around texts and reading. Example: most of the major reformers were antisemitic and misogynistic. I’m guessing that you, William, are not. You know and I know that said reformers could “proof” text such unfortunate beliefs, and I’d imagine would not think much of their early 21st century Brothers in Christ throwing them under the bus in the interests of PR expediency, nor the implication that they were lacking the intellectual powers of a Mark Driscoll (!) or John Piper (!!).

    Destructively simplistic reading strategies – such as the “Christ analogy bingo” approach to the Old Testament – can be a lot of fun and whip up some fine-seeming religious sentiment. But they are ‘childish’ in the pejorative sense. And what did St.Paul (or was it God Himself, to a dictating scribe?)say about putting away childish things?

  7. I’m glad it was a good day – but would ask you to spare a thought for those who live under the brooding clouds in Dunoon (aka Mordor).

  8. Rosemary Hannah says

    @ william -of course – the more reason to think he was very, very clever.

  9. Rosemary Hannah says

    Politically John Knox was misogynistic, because it suited him to be so – in his personal life, he was not,and probably the person he was closest to, spiritually and emotionally, was his mother-in-law. Personally, Knox found it easier to forge strong relationships with women than with men. Actually he is fascinating, but I am told it would be an unpopular move to write his biog. And no architecture,which is really my starter for ten. Sorry – writing too much -will shut up. Poor Kelvin!

    • I’m not sure that’s much of an improvement;there are plenty of people who have an ideological prejudice against group x whilst still being on seemingly warm terms with rare members of said group. Afterall, Gay baths are (er, one would imagine) full of Republican homophobes!

      I’d read a blog post on John Knox and architecture 🙂

  10. Rosemary Hannah says

    Well, really Knox had a problem with the (really rather horrendous) regime of Mary Tudor, and the web of Catholic power in her period which just happened to be largely headed by women – and his life had not been inclined to promote tolerance of certain kinds of politics, and if I had been sent to the galleys I might have been left rather more embittered than he was – but I actually do not think he had a problem with respecting the learning and spirituality of women. Mary Tudor was an extremest in a way Knox actually was not, you know. It is not a case of his saying one thing and doing another in any simple way. People are incredibly complex creatures. You gotta love a man who is on good terms with his mother-in-law.

  11. Rosemary Hannah says

    The astonishing ting about the Reformation in Scotland is how tolerant it was – think of the monks living out their lives as pensioners of the Protestant state. Mind you, my greatest admiration is for the Catholic sir John McKirdy, (sir being the usual title for priests, as we use Rev’d today) living in the south of Bute, serving his parishioners, and summoned to the kirk session in Rothesay at intervals to explain why he was still indulging in the ‘idolatry’ of the mass.

  12. fr dougal says

    At one level I’m glad people find grappling with Bible uncomfortable – it means they are actually engaging with it. I’m mindful of the reply Prof Willie Barclay gave to a student who asked how he coped with the bits of the Bible he didn’t understand. “They don’t worry me – it’s the bits I do understand that give me bother!”

  13. Zebadee says

    Father Dougal What a brilliant post. This will be passed onto a number of persons I/we know. Thank you.

  14. Rosemary Hannah says

    I think I use ‘grapple’ as you use ‘engage’.

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