Well, there’s quite enough to think about without this. New lockdown for England, all the uncertainties about jobs and furloughs and church buildings to get our heads around, plus awaiting the election results in the US.
But next week, on 9 November, something I’ve been engaged with for a long time now finally gets to be released: Living in Love and Faith (LLF). Publication day has, like so much else, been delayed by the pandemic, but the Church of England as a whole has spent a lot on getting to this point. The cost of the preliminaries, the Shared Conversations, between September 2014 and August 2016, was announced in 2017 as £384,525. The cost of LLF, up to February 2020, was estimated as being £600,000, taken – to quote the response to a General Synod question – from “the diocesan apportionment, an Archbishops’ Council restricted fund, the Church Commissioners, and a grant from a charitable trust. These financial figures do not take into account the very substantial ‘in kind’ contributions of over 40 people to the production of the resources.”
As one of the “over 40 people”, and one who has blogged here about various aspects of the events in General Synod which led to the LLF process, how am I feeling right now?
Pretty tired, actually. I’ve never been involved in producing an official document of the Church of England before. I suspect this will be my only experience of it. It was far more onerous in terms of time, and far more exhausting in personal terms, than I’d expected. And all this for a series of ‘resources’ which in themselves bring the church no nearer to accepting its LGBTQI+ members on equal terms: able to marry in church, to take on the same roles in congregations as anyone else, and to offer themselves for ordained ministry without having to give assurances of ‘celibacy’. The current state of play blithely ignores the usual understanding of celibacy as a vocation for some (regardless of their sexual orientation) and makes it into the only way of life acceptable for those who are lesbian or gay.
I was invited to take part in the History working group. It wasn’t clear at that point whether we’d be writing sections of the final book – and the target audience for that book shifted around between being one of two (popular/scholarly) or one for a wide audience or one to educate the bishops and other leaders – or whether someone else would summarise our materials and do the writing at the end of the time allocated.
I knew there would be meetings, but not how many: there were meetings of the group, and then full meetings of everyone involved. All were face to face although in our group we’d been very keen to meet online for some of the time. From being part of the initial small group where we had come to know each other, as the months went by I felt the project spinning away from me; in the full-day and residential meetings when we all came together, it was impossible to get a sense of what everyone else in the 40 or so people involved was doing, or why. Papers from other groups were shared on Dropbox but it was impossible for me to read everything, not just because of the amount of material but also because the material kept changing. At formal meetings, “Not everyone has seen this yet” was a common comment. There were even more meetings which meant a significant investment of time in preparation and travel; I spoke to the College of Bishops – the same talk three times, with question time – while other members of the project ran events at General Synod.
Throughout, the seven drafts which LLF passed through were circulated for comment, usually with a week, or even less, of reading time. As the final document is 468 pages, you can imagine how many hours were spent on all these drafts. In comments on one draft, I see that I wrote for one section “I feel I have read so many versions of this that I can’t face another.” At one point, a factual historical error which I’d pointed out wasn’t corrected, so I had to ask for it to be corrected on the next draft (remember, 468 pages – that’s a lot to read). I hope it will not have drifted back to the error version in the final product…
But I haven’t seen the final version of the book: nothing was sent to me after Draft 7, but I was approached for some additional ‘text boxes’. My understanding is that, in fact, these are not being used. More on that when I find out whether or not that’s the case. At the last meeting we had, we saw some of the other resources – the videos of people with a range of sexualities and gender identities – but I’ve not seen any more than that initial batch. There’s a study guide which I was sent for the first time in proof, with only 24 hours to go until its deadline for submission.
At an initial meeting back in 2017, we’d done the dreaded post-it notes exercise, and had to write down things like “how we’d hope to feel when the document is published”. My personal notes from that day say that people were using words like authentic, honest and kindly, and I was expressing the hope that “everyone can hear their voice” in the final product. It would be interesting now to revisit that exercise, but like all such exercises it was never mentioned again. At the last meeting of the full LLF group, we were instead asked to reflect on what we had learned from being part of LLF. I suppose the post-2017 entries on this blog represent my response to that.
What would I add now on my ‘learning’? This is very personal, but that’s what this blog is about. So…
- That some people really like meetings and others don’t.
- That adding on a time of worship to a meeting doesn’t make you feel better about it all.
- That it’s very difficult to feel part of things when you’re a lay person not employed by the church: when this started, I knew only a handful of the 40 or so people and some of those were from being on General Synod a very long time ago: I left in 1993. I’ve met some people with whom I’ve made good connections, but often felt I wasn’t part of the general chatter and bonhomie.
- That my own feelings of exclusion and not being heard were nothing compared to the way all this could feel to those who are LGBTQI+; required to be the object of discussion at the same time as allegedly being full members of the group doing the discussing.
When I’ve seen the final products of those years of work, I’ll write more.
(updated 5 November to correct the number of pages, when the final version reached me, and 9 November, to show my collapsing copy: no, it isn’t supposed to be loose-leaf)