[image: ProjectManhattan, Sticky Notes on the Wall, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sticky_Notes_2.jpg%5D
The Church of England does love its sticky notes: the paper ones, not the online version. On my Parochial Church Council we are still living with the results of a sticky-note exercise many years ago which led to the formation of the various sub-groups which meet between full PCC meetings and are supposed to do the real work. And the sticky notes have reared their multicoloured heads many times in the processes designed to help us work out where we should go with inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people – first the Diocesan Shared Conversations and then Living in Love and Faith. In the Shared Conversations we had giant-sized ones which eventually spread all over the walls of the main room where our residential event took place. In Living in Love and Faith, the very first meeting of the fledgling History Group involved us all writing down what we hoped we’d feel at the end of the process. I don’t think the present situation, after the February General Synod, counts as ‘the end’, but for the record, what I wrote was that everyone would feel their point of view was represented fairly in the final documents.
Why sticky notes? Well, they are a way of making sure that everyone can contribute – not just those who shout the loudest. They can be anonymous so you can say what you think, assuming your handwriting isn’t distinctive. You can move them around easily to identify emerging themes. But that can be difficult and can be influenced by the preconceptions of the person doing the moving around. If you ask people to write ‘just one word which sums up…’ you can bet that some of them will write two words, or three, or a phrase. The trouble with the small ones is that writing just a word or phrase may miss any nuances. The trouble with the large ones (you can get some which are 279 x 279 mm) is that they encourage people to write an essay. And in any case what happens to them after the event? Does anyone go back to check them or are they stored in folders somewhere?
After the most recent College of Bishops meeting, there was a rumour that a bishop had posted on Twitter a photograph of Dr Eeva John, who as its Enabling Officer had held the LLF process together, holding flowers marking the end of her role with LLF, and that the photograph had disappeared rapidly because it also showed a raft of sticky notes which were presumably not supposed to be shared more widely. On 4 April, anglican.ink shared it regardless, and deciphered some of the handwriting. The journalist there concluded that the notes showed that ‘the LLF process has landed the Church of England on the rocks’, which seems an odd comment when sexuality has been discussed for over forty years and the LLF book – despite its flaws – has done a good job in charting the range of beliefs which currently exist within the C of E. Maybe it’s more that the LLF process has made us face the reality of our divisions on sexuality. Considering how long we spent on writing the main book, and how many of us kept insisting that it had to cover far more than the specific question of whether same-sex marriages could happen in church, it is depressing that everything has narrowed down to that, or more accurately to a resource of prayers which include some which could be used with a couple who had entered a same-sex civil marriage or civil partnership.
Because these episcopal discussions were private, we have no idea whether there were other boards on which the more positive comments were collected. Are the notes behind Dr John the result of grouping, or a random brain dump? We don’t know. As Marcus Green wrote in 2020, she was ‘dealt an unplayable hand’ but still did ‘a terrific job’. In 2021 she was awarded a Lambeth doctorate for her work on LLF. It is depressing that this final image of her extraordinary work gives the impression of unremitting gloom.
Leaving aside the highly creative things you can do with enough sticky notes, such as the Extreme Sticky Notes Experiments (these used nearly 300,000 of the things – I wonder how many the C of E uses every year?), what do you do to make people think beyond their gut reactions? We seem to be regressing at the moment into precisely those caricatures of our fellow Christians which LLF was intended to move beyond. At a College of Bishops residential which I attended in my History Group role, I walked past some posters on which bishops had been asked to put their comments using De Bono’s ‘Thinking Hats’ method. At the Shared Conversations, I was impressed by some of the exercises we did, which I described here. When watching some training being offered in another diocese, I came across the ‘Fruit or Chocolate?’ exercise I described here. Rather than sitting writing sticky notes, these exercises involve interaction with other people, working with them, beginning to know them, learning from them and, most importantly, coming to trust them. And at the moment, it doesn’t feel like that is happening at all.
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