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What is Living in Love and Faith?

Living in Love and Faith is an ongoing process which has been taking place within the Church of England over the past few years. So far the Church of England has attempted to explore how questions about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage fit within the bigger picture of the good news of Jesus Christ? and what it means to live in love and faith together as a Church?

This has included the publication of Living in Love and Faith resources that were published in November 2020. We were then invited to use the resources to learn together, to listen to one another and to God. After this we were encouraged to share insights, stories and reflections in order to contribute to the bishops’ discernment about matters of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.

This is the stage our current set of elected representatives at Diocesan Synod were feeding into, on the 24th September at Christ the King in Beaumont Leys.

An exercise in listening

Saturday morning was structured as a mix of worship, speeches, small group discussions and reflections. Every member of synod was given the opportunity in advance to pitch the contents of a speech they wished to contribute to the session to ensure a wide range of views from a wide range of contexts were heard. Of those who submitted requests to speak, 13 people were selected. Our very own Rachael Brind-Surch was on of these speakers and she was selected to go last.

Rachael has been attending All Saints for nearly 4 years now and is an Ordinand (training to be a priest within the Church of England). She spoke about some of the discussions she had had with other ordinands throughout her selection process concerning LLF, and the need to respect difference.

Her address is below:

As a new ordinand, I attended a Stage 2 assessment or BAP in May. This is a trial by questionable coffee. In which a dozen prospective ordinands stay at a retreat centre in the hopes of convincing some very scary but secretly quite nice, selectors that we should be accepted to train for ministry within the C of E. 

In the ample downtime, we were left to our own devices. Leaving about half a dozen candidates ready and primed to disclose well-formed testimonies, insights and hot takes on the current issues facing the c of e with the slightest provocation. Seemingly inevitably, one daring candidate asked how we all felt about the LLF process.

What followed, possibly 'cause we were all on our best behaviour, was a very respectful, and yet incredibly diverse discussion on the issues explored within LLF. 

One person expressed hurt and frustration that their well-read and prayed-through stance was labelled ‘unbiblical’.

Another spoke of their difficulty reconciling their well-interrogated traditional views with their deep love of their queer sibling, whose struggles they’d witnessed. 

The feelings around marrying couples who rarely stepped foot in church, whilst denying faithful lifelong gay Christians equity were discussed. 

Another shared their frustration that a self-described same-sex attracted friend in a heterosexual marriage suffered endless speculation and abuse concerning his sexuality by LGBT+ Christians who thought him in denial and brainwashed. 

They paused though and did concede that this kind of assumption, speculation or abuse was wrong from either corner of theology. 

Finally, one individual offered their experience of visiting a farm as part of their formation - they had been given an antique yoke to place over their shoulders in order to illustrate Jesus’ comment on yokes at the end of Matthew chapter 11. They marvelled at the incredible weight of it, the audacity that it could ever be described as easy. 

The farmer then pointed out that each yoke was hand carved to provide the best possible fit and that no two yokes were the same. You see an ill-fitting yoke caused injury and sores and every pair of shoulders differed. For a yoke to be easy it must be unique, and in turn, the yoke allowed the wearer to carry a great load.

In this diocese our differences are profound. But they need not be painful. There are spaces in which there is a suggestion that one must fall in line, or else fall away. 

But our work is about a kingdom where the lowly are lifted, wolves and lambs lie down together, swords are beaten into plough shares and yokes are easy. 

Living in Love and Faith is only painful when we demand uniformity, instead of recognising each individual as called by God to their own unique vocation. Christ's yoke is not one-size-fits-all.

This process is far from finished. We must partner in Christ and the Spirit in the business of carving yokes. We must keep identifying where there are sores and work to address them with honesty, transparency, humility and compassion. Ensuring that all are equally yoked and not unduly burdened. 

My hope is that moving forward we may all be able to live well in love and faith and I believe that a true measure of this will be when each of us is given the freedom to fully engage in scripture without gatekeeping, censorship or shame from our siblings in Christ. 

And when every child of God is truly welcomed and respected as equal as their authentic, whole self. 

What now?

Bishop's Martyn and Saju were both present at these discussions. They will be meeting with other Bishops to discern a way forward and to decide what conclusions or questions they want to bring back to General Synod in February.