I have been reflecting upon the journey that led to the decision in General Synod last week to amend our Canon on Marriage. That reflection is partly to do with the continual Theological Reflection that accompanies any process I am involved in, but also because it is important to record the journey we took. It is important so that we are confident in our responses to questions and important as other parts of the Church struggle to find ways of debating these issues and look to us for an example.
It seems we have been discussing and debating the questions around marriage in the church for most of my time as Bishop. It has also been a time when the debate around us in society has also moved as the UK government and our own Scottish government implemented changes in the laws surrounding marriage which have had an impact upon us all.
The question we were originally talking about was the blessing of same sex relationships and the provision of authorised liturgies to allow for this. We as a diocese had our say on those matters as we looked at and studied the Anglican Covenant, we had a whole series of meetings which informed our Diocesan Synod and then the General Synod, meetings that concluded that the Covenant wasn’t the best way forward, a view endorsed when it was rejected by General Synod.
As the church looked for another way of addressing the issues raised by the Covenant, we, like all other denominations in Scotland were brought firmly into a debate on same sex marriage. The Scottish government issued a consultation document which asked us to comment on the proposals they had published on the provisions to allow marriage of those of the same gender. We gave a full report to the Government and declared that we would not be seeking nomination as a denomination at that time.
The change in the legal status of those in same gender relationships led the churches to begin looking at what we might do or say as we listened to the voices advocating both change and those seeking to maintain the traditional view of marriage. It was decided that we should hold a series of conversations to allow people to share their views on this matter in what we hoped would be a safe, prayerful and respectful environment.
The Cascade conversations grew out of these discussions, a cross section of this diocese attended the meeting in Pitlochry and then used that experience to run similar events in Dingwall, Ullapool and Wick. Representatives from charges across the diocese attended these meetings and were then invited to cascade the conversations down to the congregations and vestries.
We also decided to have substantial items on this subject at the regional synods, leading to further full debate across the diocese. This led to a motion from St Drostans Synod in the East of the diocese, that “We should get on with the formal debate at General Synod” this motion was passed in Diocesan Synod and passed onto the General Synod. At many of these events the comments from the participants were added to the website so all could see what was being said
The last three diocesan synods and associated Regional Synods also debated the issues and voted on them, with large majorities in favour of change at each synod. We have certainly spent much time on this matter.
Last week the General Synod after three years of debate passed the revised Canon which will allow those clergy nominated, to conduct same gender marriages, while protecting the conscience of those who could not consider such a service.
Some have rejoiced while others have been distressed by this change, we debated this issue fully and often with great grace. It will take time to heal and for some that healing will be very difficult, but we as a church found a way of debate that others are already copying, as we all seek to hear God’s call above the clamour of argument.