The venue, Hothorpe Hall near Market Harborough, was excellent. The programme ran smoothly, under the careful oversight of experienced facilitators. There was a helpful structure of worship, and the discreet availability of a chaplain. Protocols were put in place at the start to maintain safety and confidentiality of all participants. We dressed casually, so clergy and laity mingled on equal terms. Whilst there was a range of age, experience, and so on, the ethnic diversity of the West Midlands region was not reflected, which I thought was regrettable.
Much of the tine was spent in small groups, constantly changing in membership. We therefore encountered a wide range of people. Personally I felt able to speak honestly from my own perspective and experience, and tried to listen carefully to others. It was also a good opportunity to get to know others better, including some whose theological approach is very different to my own. Very occasionally I felt challenged rather than listened to, but the overwhelming ethos as I experienced it was courteous and considerate.
Naively, perhaps, I was taken aback by the high level of fear expressed by several people that the Clergy Discipline Measure or the secular courts might be used to try to force or control issues of sexuality. That's not a good place for the Church and its clergy to be. As anticipated, stories of rejection - some of them really shameful - were painful to listen to. I felt being welcoming and inclusive in church was wholly inadequate, and resolved to do much more to reach out to minorities. As an immediate response, I spent a worthwhile couple of hours chatting to people at Warwickshire Pride, something I would not normally have found the time to do. I also encouraged people at All Saints' to do the same, and some did. One of my more conservative colleagues later remarked that Jesus would have been there too.
The elephant in the room, so far as the Conversations are concerned, is not really to do with LGBTIQ issues at all. It's about the ways in which we read and interpret the Bible. Preparatory reading (available on the C of E website) included two essays taking different hermeneutical approaches, but in my view, this was not enough. An overview of the different ways Christians have used the Bible throughout history and around the world would have helped. A broader question to address would be 'how do Christians of differing traditions frame their faith, and what is authoritative?' There was little scope to explore the interplay between Scripture, tradition, and reason, or to tease out how and why previous convictions and assumptions on topics as diverse as usury, slavery, and the role of women have come to be re-examined. A fundamental issue is whether there can be more than one authentic expression and understanding of Christianity; whether we can recognise diversity in the Church as legitimate and God-given. If we can, we need to work out together where the limits to diversity lie. There is also the question of perspective: how important should issues of sexuality be, compared with (for example) poverty and injustice?
The great concern I'm left with is for the unity of the Church. Anglicans have always been diverse; it's a strength, however frustrating it can be. I've been reflecting on the Church as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12) and the need for all of us to participate together, valuing one another. How we accomplish that is the challenge before us all.