Some weeks ago, the Bishop invited me to take part in one of the Shared Conversations taking place throughout the C of E. These are to explore the issue (I would say 'issues') of sexuality and its implications for humanity and for the Church, in the light of the Bible and human experience. The Bishops have already held such Shared Conversations, and they are now taking place in regional groups.
Clearly the topic is sensitive and potentially divisive. The conversations seek to explore the key question: 'Given the significant changes in our culture in relation to human sexuality, how should the Church respond?' There is no pre-determined outcome, nor does the process feed directly into decision-making; rather, a safe space is created for the exploration of questions of difference and disagreement.
My first response was a sense of relief that a wide cross-section of people is being brought 'around the table' not so much to find a solution to differences within the Church, as to help us to discern Christ in those who hold sharply differing views. Listening to one another and learning from and about one another will be key to this process.
My second response was to wonder 'why me?' I don't know the answer to that question, but I do welcome the opportunity to participate prayerfully and openly. In the past I have had ordained female colleagues (I'm strongly in favour of the ordination of women as well as men) at the same time as a curate opposed to the ordination of women; there was pain and the need to work at understanding and relationships on both sides of a significant theological divide, and the key to making it work was good relationships and mutual respect. It wasn't easy for anyone but I believe we all grew and matured through the process, and somehow Christ was present in that. Perhaps I can bring that painful yet constructive experience, of living in the tension between two mutually exclusive viewpoints, as a contribution to the table.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 12, St Paul speaks of the Church as the 'body of Christ', made up of individual members which differ in form and function. For the body to be complete, every member needs to be included and to play their part. None should be excluded by others. So often, we're a broken body, torn apart by disagreement and division: the body of Christ of Good Friday or Holy Saturday, weak, injured, dying. One of the wonders of Easter is the healing of the body of Christ. His body still bears the wounds of the Passion, but they are no longer a hindrance to joy, peace, and fullness of life. Instead, they speak of his love for us - and of our humanity, drawn into the closer presence of God at the Ascension.
The vision I have for the Church is as the resurrected body of Christ: a body in which space is made for everyone; a body in which the wounds are neither denied nor excluded, but become transformed into signs of grace and hallmarks of the truth of the Resurrection.
That will be especially tough for those who feel threatened and unwanted by those of opposing views. It will only work if we can all persevere together, however painful we may find it, however unwilling we may feel to acknowledge the presence of Christ in those who would prefer the Church to be free of our presence or our views. But I am sure it can work, and it must; for it's most profoundly by our love for one another that the world will recognise our discipleship, and therefore our Lord.