A better story

I arrived yesterday at Church House knowing that the day would be a momentous one for me whatever happened in the debate about LLF. It was to be my final day as a member of the General Synod, and the final opportunity I would have to be in the chair. In fact, I was due to chair two debates, one in the morning on governance and one in the afternoon on safeguarding. But, as you know, the fact that the LLF debate had to be adjourned at 7.15pm the previous evening and resumed after Morning Prayer, meant that everything was being bumped. In the ‘green room’ for the chairs, the lawyers and the administrators, we were trying to work through the implications.

The thought was that LLF probably needed another three hours to deal with the remaining 8 amendments and to give some time for a debate on the main Motion, whether at that stage it be amended or unamended. In fact the remainder of the debate took three and a quarter hours, concluding at about 12.30pm. How Geoffrey Tattersall and the team managed it (he was the chair who did a magnificent job) I do not know. It was a masterclass in how to manage something that had all the ingredients to become a most toxic moment. But through lightness of touch and no little humour the debate was brought to its conclusion.

My comment had been that ‘it could have been worse’ and that remained true. It could have been worse. As the debate wore on and as all but one of the amendments fell through lack of support from one side or the other, and as I looked at the voting numbers of each of the Houses at each point, I remained nervous that the final vote might be very tight.

The result has been well reported but here it is

Bishops: For 36; Against 4; Abstentions 2

Clergy: For 111; Against 85; Abstentions 3

Laity: For 103; Against 92; Abstentions 5

That means the total figures, if there had been a simple count of the whole Synod, was

For 250; Against 181; Abstentions 10

But the truth is that in the Houses of Clergy and Laity there was not a 2/3rds majority and so if we had been talking about formally changing the Canon on marriage I don’t think there would have been the support needed. So this was the best we could have hoped for and we look forward now to a period of reception in the church, the technical phrase for ‘getting used to it’.

Can you believe it? I woke this morning. The sun was shining on the dome of St Paul’s, the sky was a powdery blue and it felt like a better day had dawned, that we were in a better church, that we had a better story to tell. That phrase ‘a better story’ was one that obviously was being rehearsed throughout the debate by the opponents of the LLF motion. they spoke of us being able to tell a better story, the better story of the Jesus they knew who requires those who are gay to live their life in imposed celibacy, who requires heterosexual people who love each other to refrain from sexual activity outside of marriage, who places a limit on love and identity and the freedom that may of us thought he won on the cross.

It was a mis-telling of the better story, in my view, not a story I would be eager to share.

For the first time in my 40 years of ordained ministry I can look to God who will bless me and will bless my relationship. In my heart I have always known that I am blessed and in fact the church has blessed me in so may ways, but it has always been hidden, lacking in honesty and integrity. Today, after yesterday, we can be open and honest and truthful and not live in fear. ‘This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice in it’, as the psalmist says. We have crossed the Rubicon and we cannot go back and I hope and trust that those who voted against this will discover the good, rich fruits for life that will flow from it.

Jesus is speaking about mission to his apostles and he says this to them

‘What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops’. (Matthew 10.27)

For too long we have been whispering about inclusive love in the dark, now we must proclaim it in the light from the housetops. God is love and we are allowed to love and to be the ones whom God has made in love. For me it feels like liberation and I say that as the dean of a cathedral in a diocese that has been enlightened and bold and brave, for years, and yet even in this place I have had to live looking over my shoulder, so what has it been like for others in other parts of the church?

This is the better story and we can now tell it – that God loves all of us and wants to bless all of us.

The rest of the business of Synod went past in a bit of a blur and a haze. Items were bumped off the agenda, my two items ended up next to each other. In the middle of them the Archbishop of Canterbury made an intervention. In the end, after a rather cheeky response on my part, I allowed him to speak! He was so kind in thanking me publically for the role I have played in Synod over the last 18 years and as a member of the Panel of Chairs for the last 11. It has all been a privilege and I have loved it, even the bad and boring moments.

I will add one more reflection to this blog and then sign off finally. But for the moment, I just want to breathe the new, fresh air of the church and thank God that I can say and believe that he loves even me, a gay man, a gay and partnered priest.

Loving God, may we tell your better story of love and joy, of hope and promise, of life, now and for ever. Amen.

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