It’s been a few days since coming home from Governing Body, and only now am I starting to feel like I’m rebuilding my energy after what was an intense and uncomfortable time, airing the Church in Wales’ internal business in front of the press and media.

In my previous post, I published a statement for the press ahead of the business of Governing Body. This was because my phone was red hot with the media wanting interviews and film clips of me giving my opinions on the hot potatoes. I decided that I wouldn’t give an interview ahead of GB because I had submitted a question to the Bench of Bishops:

Are the Bench of Bishops able to explain why a Primate whose province upholds (and has reaffirmed) the doctrine of marriage as currently outlined in our prayer book, such as the Church of Ireland, has not been invited to speak on their processes for welcoming the LGBT community in the Church whilst not permitting same sex marriages, in order to complement the invitation of the Rt. Rev. Mark Strange and add to these important discussions?

This question was prompted by the announcement that the Bench of Bishops would be revisiting the debates around Same Sex Marriage, and they had decided that they would invite the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (whose province has sanctioned same sex marriage) to give us a presentation on their process (and not their theology) behind the change. I had no problem with the Primus coming provided that an alternative speaker with an alternative view was present to give us something different. My question was about the very thing the bishops wanted the GB to talk about: process. It wasn’t a theological question. However, I don’t understand why the bishops thought that we could have a discussion on marriage without theology permeating the speeches.

The response I was given didn’t really shed light on the point behind my question but did reiterate and extol the Most Reverend Mark Strange and why he was joining us. I have to be honest, Mark Strange delivered well. He was genuine, gracious, and very clear in what had been done in Scotland and why. 

In my response to the answer given to the question (the person asking the question is allowed to either make a statement or ask another supplementary question) I reminded Governing Body that the Church in Wales is episcopally led, but that it is synodically governed. I expressed my concern that the bishops, whilst keeping to the letter of the law, are not keeping to its spirit and are undermining the processes by which the Church in Wales is governed. We conduct our business via the methods of bills and motions. We do not use straw polls. This is the second time in three years that a straw poll has been used to steer the Church in Wales. Anything that has potential to steer the Church in any particular direction should be considered using the proper means, and a straw poll by simple majority proceeding a one sided presentation on the issue in hand is not the way to go about it. It was interesting that during my response, the Primus was nodding his head at what I was saying.

And so after that, the presentation was given, the Question and Answer session followed and the “discussion” (debate) was had. The presentation and Q&A threw up some interesting points:

  • The Episcopal Church in Scotland now has two definitions of marriage running parallel to one another.
  • The marriage law in Scotland is vastly different to marriage law in Wales.
  • The Scottish Church went through a completely different process to what we have seen in Wales so far.
  • That since the canons were changed in Scotland, the Primus’ own diocese has conducted 5 same sex marriages.
  • That churches (like this one) have left the province and others are considering their positions currently. 

There’s noting new to report on the general discussion (debate) afterwards. The same old arguments for/against from three years were rehearsed. However, I would make the following observations:

  • There are generational differences which nuance the discussions. From what I can tell, the older generations think we can debate and discuss this issue by dispensing with theology. We were told numerous times from the podium that “theology doesn’t matter, because this is about people and their love for one another.” Interesting. And I would happen to disagree; as would the younger generations of the LGBT+ lobby. Theology does matter. Also, I found, personally speaking that the younger generations do not think that those of us who are conservatively minded are homophobic or bigoted. This was a great comfort to me, considering what I’ve been described as in the past, despite me having many LGBT+ friends;
  • I would also observe that the makeup of GB does not accurately represent the demographic of the Church in Wales. Whilst I couldn’t be sure, I would imagine that perhaps up to 30% of GB are part of the LGBT+ community. This, for me, would cast doubt on whether GB is the appropriate place to discuss Same Sex Marriage, if that is what the immediate future is going to hold for us. GB is adversarial in nature, and with it disproportionate to the general profile of the Church in Wales, we need a rethink.
  • A good number of those expressing concern over changes to the doctrines of marriage were young people; contrary to what the older generations believe about young people. Interestingly, someone commented to me that at a meal time, they were sat with some older members of GB who raised that point amongst themselves.
  • Considering the vote, 76 voted in favour of the statement (to which I will come to now) compared to 21 against, with 1 spoilt ballot paper. This simple majority is misleading, considering that any motion or bill would need a 2/3 majority in each house (laity, clergy, bishops) before it was passed. It could easily be that 21 clergy voted against the statement, meaning that a vote would be lost if it were a motion or bill. 

So now to the statement itself:

We were asked,  “Do you agree with the following statement: ‘It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.’” Even the statement itself would have been confusing to the GB (even though I’m sure the bishops didn’t mean it to be.) Indeed, everyone believes the current situation is pastorally unsustainable; both for those who seek change and those who resist it. This has therefore added to the unreliability of the result of the straw poll. With the result given, the bishops have said they will go away and have a think of what to do next, and that is the sum of that part of GB.

Watch this space.

The other main feature of GB was evangelism, though this was towards the end of the meeting and so I feel that passion to engage by this point had diminished. I’m very thankful that the Church in Wales is attempting to become more serious about evangelism. But from my conversations, there is differing opinion on what evangelism actually is. It will be very hard for the evangelism and church growth group to lead when they don’t have a working definition of evangelism. And this was highlighted in the confusing (and perhaps conflicting) ideas of evangelism presented in the video GB was shown:

I will leave you to make your own mind up. I’m encouraged that +Andy (bishop of Bangor) is leading on this and wants to see people come to a living faith in Jesus Christ. I hope that future GB meetings will spend more time on this than on other things, for this is the core purpose of the Church. But there’s a lot more work to be done, and I don’t feel we can make any real progress until we’ve sorted out as a province what we mean by evangelism, and what the result of that evangelism would look like. Of course, there are a few hints to be found in scripture, but that’s going out of fashion according to some.

A lot of uncertainty remains in the little Welsh Anglican Province which makes up (going by our biggest statistic last year – Easter communicants) just 0.057% of the Anglican Communion. Please pray for us.