After several years in which it has played a major part in my life, as of 29 April the ‘Living in Love and Faith process’ (LLF) has now officially been put on hold. Those of us on the various working groups were sent the press release when it went live, although the official website has yet to be updated and as of today is still saying ‘The goal is to complete the Living in Love and Faith resources by early 2020.’ We had been told just before Easter that the plan was to pause the project; until then, we had understood that the book would be finished in April with just a little more work to be done on the online resources, such as podcasts and videos of people describing their own faith and experience, some of which we watched at our last meeting in February.
Why the delay? Originally the publication date was focused on the Lambeth Conference – it was to be ‘a gift to Lambeth’, an odd image which to me evoked wrapping paper, bows, and disappointment – but when Lambeth was postponed until Summer 2021, doubts immediately arose about whether it was worth getting the present ready. Yet despite it being made abundantly clear to us that the whole timetable was being driven by this desire to ‘gift’ LLF to the Anglican Communion, the press release utterly fails to mention the Lambeth Conference, but instead observes that
the Church’s focus is now on ministering to people who are experiencing so many challenges – of bereavement, sickness, isolation, uncertainty about livelihood and fear for what the future holds. That is why we have decided to delay the publication of the resources.
That feels rather odd to me. Yes, that is the focus of the Church of England as well as of other faith communities and of many, many people who would not associate themselves with a faith.
But … while some aspects of Church of England life have been put on hold because of COVID-19, others have not. We imminently expect an announcement about whether the July 2020 General Synod will go ahead (surely not), and about the elections to the next GS which are supposedly in our minds even now as we elect reps for deanery synod at our Annual Parochial Church Meetings. Except we aren’t holding those meetings, and in my diocese the Bishop has extended the deadline for them to the end of October 2020. On hold, but with what for the moment is a firm end date.
Other aspects are not on hold. One of the first comments I saw on the delay to LLF asked whether the bishops had heard of working from home. Indeed, and if all that is needing to be completed are the podcasts then there shouldn’t be any problem in producing these without a physical meeting. The Church of England is clearly managing to maintain other activities by using online methods. Jobs are being advertised and posts filled. Webinars are replacing face-to-face training. BAPs – selection conferences for potential priests – are going ahead by Zoom. PCCs are meeting online. Books are being published, podcasts released, and book discussion groups are happening in parishes. Yes, there’s the problem of inequality of access to internet resources, but also an online discussion can bring in those who have the internet but are housebound or don’t like to go out in the evenings.
So when should we expect the LLF resources? What surprises me in the press release is the absence of any provisional revised timetable. Instead we have
we will monitor the situation to discern when might be the earliest appropriate time to publish the long-awaited LLF resources and thereby launch the process of whole-church engagement
and a comment about the resources coming out
when the time is right.
Am I the only one who feels uneasy about that phrase? Having lived through the debate about ordaining women to the priesthood, in the 1980-90s, it feels worryingly familiar. Who will discern the kairos, the moment of opportunity and rightness, for the rest of us?
The absence of any hoped-for timings contrasts with another delay announced in the last few days, for the review into the serial abuser John Smyth which has been delayed ‘into 2021’. But for this, COVID-19 is not being held responsible; instead, it’s because of the ‘wider than anticipated’ amount of evidence received by the reviewers and the complexity of having several different reviews by different organisations happening at around the same time. Yes, the press release mentions ‘any impact the COVID-19 restrictions may have’, but that is not given as the main reason.
The absence of any movement on LLF is painful, because those of us who will be most affected by the resources’ discussion of the ‘way forward for the Church in relation to questions of human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage’ are also being affected by the ‘so many challenges’ of yesterday’s press release, and in a very specific way. On 17 April the UN Human Rights Office published guidance on their concerns about the impact of the current crisis on LGBTI people. In the UK, the LGBT Foundation has also looked at the impact COVID-19 has on the community and has observed a 30% increase in calls about domestic abuse or violence to its helpline. And then there are the specifically ‘Church of England’ aspects. I know at the moment nobody can get married, in church or elsewhere, but for straight people that’s temporary: what if you are someone who longs to marry your partner in church but can’t because of their sex? What if you are in a marriage which the state supports but your church does not? What if you would simply like your church to bless your civil marriage? What if you are exploring a call to ordination but can’t take it any further without lying about your sexuality? No Zoom selection conference for you…
I really, really want to believe that this is just going to be a short delay and we’ll all get the opportunity in a few months’ time to read and engage with the LLF resources, and to start moving towards testing the mind of the Church of England and then of General Synod for possible change. But I’m not sure I can believe it, not without some intended release date. The ‘challenges’ which some people live with are being seen as more important than those facing others. Something here doesn’t add up: or, it adds up to institutional abuse.
UPDATE: in June it was announced that the resources will be released in November 2020