Here’s what I said @secsynod

Here’s what I said as the Convener of the Information and Communication Board at General Synod in Edinburgh last week:

The report of the Information and Communication Board can be found on page 43 of the Blue Book. Apart from reiterating publicly my thanks to Lorna Finley the church’s Communication Officer, I shall not repeat in my presentation what can be found in that report.

Instead, I want to bring two areas of work to the synod’s attention. These are each topics in which the Board has an interest at Provincial level. However, they are areas which have a relevance in other contexts of the church too. They are engagement with the press and the issue of the online presence of the church.

Firstly, I wish to highlight the increased coverage that our church has been getting in the press. (And generally, coverage for positive reasons!) At one time, we were getting lots of column inches in the press but not always for terribly serious stories. Typically we were seen as a soft touch by journalists simply seeking the quirky and the bizarre. Now, the odd quirky story is not necessarily a bad thing – it reminds people that we are here. However, it seemed to the Board a few years ago that there was a task to be done trying to engage with issues a little more. At that time, a review of the Communications Strategy suggested that some attention needed to be paid, largely through support that could be offered by the Communications Officer to enable the church to be seen to engage with issues in public life in Scotland.

It is my view that this year, we’ve started to see that bearing some fruit – [as you can see from some of the newspaper clips that will appear on the screen].

This year there have been significant stories reported on, amongst other things, the bedroom tax, Centrica, benefits changes, secularization. These are a far cry from the puppet shows and parrots in the pulpit that we were once known for. There’s also quite a geographical spread of coverage and a number of voices being heard.

It is worth noting that there are the same numbers of column inches to fill this year as there were last year and yet not all the Christian voices which were the dominant voices of last year are still around to provide the quotes that journalists love. There has been more space recently for Episcopal voices to join in the national conversation.

I bring this to the Synod’s attention both by way of noting the hard work of those who have stuck their heads above the parapet and also by way of encouraging people to engage creatively with the press where that is appropriate locally.

It is worth noting in passing that though it has been possible to get good stories into the press that are not about same-sex marriage that remains the dominant story through which many people in the media view the church. It is my personal view that this is because of a perceived disconnect between the morality of the majority of those whom the press regard as decent upstanding members of society and the morality expressed by the churches. Whilst that perception remains, same-sex marriage will remain the key story in the minds of those who put together our newspapers.

The second major thing that I wish to draw the Synod’s attention to today is the work that is underway towards renewing the online presence of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Questions about the website have been raised for some time and the view of the Information and Communication Board is that the time has come to renew the online presence of the church. A sub-group of the I and C Board led by the Rev Chris Mayo has been consulting within the church to this end and has now begun the work towards the new website. My expectation is that this will be done within the year that is to come.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is a church which has done pretty well in informal engagement online. The lively conversation around blogging and social networks indicates a church which has people who are not merely passive members but who are engaged in a conversation about it. Up until now, that conversation has been through informal channels and I expect that to continue.
A few years ago, I raised the possibility at synod of a website through which we communicated with one another rather than simply one which was used to disseminate news items. That challenge remains in view and those responsible for this part of the Board’s work have been speaking much more of a web presence for the Scottish Episcopal Church than of a simple site on which articles are posted.

I am grateful to Chris Mayo for taking the lead on this work and involving other members of the Board in the process.
The composition of the Board has changed this year and the work on the website is indicative of the Board developing ways of working that are changing. To be blunt, ways of working which don’t all include me as the convener. That is a positive step and needs to be the first of many as my time as convener of this Board will come to an end in a year’s time. The fact that I took a sabbatical for three months to wander the highways and byways of the Anglican churches in Canada and the USA last autumn gave a taste of an I and C Board without me on it. I’m grateful of course to those who made it possible for me to take that time out for reflection and growth. Thanks particularly to Lorna but thanks to others too. To all those who work and think about the communications field in the church. To all those who write, edit, make decisions and challenge and cajole.

My thanks to everyone.

That concludes what I want to say today and I am happy to take questions.

Design Process for Discussing Same-Sex Relationships

My General Synod papers arrived with a thud in the office today. Along with them is a briefing paper which is entitled “Briefing Note regarding design process for discussing same-sex relationships”.

The short version is that the College of Bishops has invited the Mission and Ministry Board to establish a design group to create a process by which the whole church will be able to engage in discussion. The remit for the design process is this:

To design a process to enable consideration within the Scottish Episcopal Church of matters concerning same sex relationships; such a process to enable exploration and discussion in a range of contexts and in an ‘unpressured’ atmosphere to allow time to be taken for careful and thoughtful consideration of the matters in question.

The Design Group is asked to seek the advice and engagement of the Continuing Indaba initiative of the Anglican Communion in designing a process for the Scottish Episcopal Church and also to consider the possible involvement of one or more partner dioceses or provinces within the Anglican Communion in any such process.

The Design Group is asked to report to the Mission and Ministry Board following the conclusion of the process

The Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Rev Nigel Peyton has agreed to act as convener of the group. He, the Primus, along with two Episcopalians who have experience of organising Provincial Conferences (the Rev Dr Anne Tomlinson and Elspeth Davey) met with the Rev Canon Dr Phil Groves of the Anglican Communion Office recently and they came up with the following principles to be offered to the design group.

  • The process should be province-wide with a view to enabling “every voice to be heard”
  • The process should be inclusive and transparent.
  • The process should be rooted in biblical principles of honest conversation across difference including mutual respect, complementarity and differentiated unity.
  • The process should include an Anglican Communion aspect by involving Communion partners, perhaps through existing diocesan companionship links.
  • The concept of indaba-type discussion is not new to the Scottish Episcopal Church. The last provincial conference (2004) embodied the concept of journeying together in mutual listening and discussion and it is expected that such an approach will feature in whatever process the design group develops.
  • The design group should contain an appropriate mix of gender, ordained and lay and gay and straight people.

The Board is now seeking suggestions of names to be put forward for the design group.

It is not clear to me from any of this what matters relating to same-sex relationships we are talking about. (How to find a partner? How to plan your wedding? Whether you can be a bishop? – it does rather matter).

For those wondering what an indaba discussion is, I’d define it as the manner in which the Anglican Communion has excluded gay voices from discussion processes. There are always those who are horrified at me saying this. However, I think there is some truth in it. The idea of an indaba process was introduced to the wider Anglican world in 2008  at the Lambeth Conference as a process at which the only possible out, gay partnered bishop would be formally excluded. Since then, “indaba processes” have frequently been used across the world to suppress the idea of listening to gay and lesbian people speak with their own voices on these topics (which many Anglican conferences, synods and conferences have called for) in place of “listening to difference”. In other words, it has consistently been a process by which gay voices have been silenced.

There was no mention of the word “indaba” at the 2004 conference. I was there. The only time we have had what was called an indaba process was at the General Synod a couple of years ago when the Synod broke into indaba groups to discuss the Anglican covenant. The process took 57 minutes and seemed to me to differ from having discussion groups simply and only by the participants being offered sticky buns (no, really) in order to represent the idea of us meeting in the context of hospitality.

The group which has devised the principles listed above appears to me to contain both ordained people and lay people and a mix of gender. The group does not appear to me to have included anyone who happens to be gay.

I’d be interested in the thoughts of others on this matter before I say anything else. I’m aware that to those outside Scotland in certain other Anglican provinces, these processes might well appear to be beyond their wildest dreams. I’ve a hunch that the response here in Scotland might well be mixed.