I’m an authorised lay preacher in the Diocese of Oxford. Back in 2015 I was selected as one of my diocese’s participants in the ‘Regional Shared Conversations’ the Church of England ran as part of its response to the Pilling Report. In Oxford diocese, where I live and work, the Bishop asked for volunteers, so I wrote in and offered: other dioceses chose their participants in other ways. In Spring 2016 I took part in one of the three-day residential events which every diocese has now experienced.
Links to the Shared Conversations documents and the Pilling Report are on http://www.sharedconversations.org and https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1891063/pilling_report_gs_1929_web.pdf
Health warning – the Pilling Report is a long one…
The Shared Conversations operated under the St Michael’s House Protocols so I can only talk in very general terms about the experience, and focus on my own reactions. However, the Protocols also asked us to share what had happened, and it’s in that spirit that I have offered my thoughts before and after the event, and around the issues of human sexuality which we’re exploring. This includes making connections between the way my church reacts to sexuality, and what was then my Day Job as a Professor of Classical Studies. It would be odd if it didn’t!
After the Shared Conversations, I was asked to join the History group working on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process. This, in a different way, was difficult as the Shared Conversations. In the Church of England, many expectations of LLF are not going to be met. It’s not going to sort out questions like whether the marriage of two people of the same sex can happen in church, or whether people in active (I hate that word) sexual relationships can be trained for priesthood and then ordained. As the process shifted from 2017 to 2020, it became clear that the original idea of a ‘Bishops’ teaching document’ was being replaced by a set of resources about sexuality and gender identity, with a view to individuals and parishes then using these over another few years. Not surprisingly, this has been seen as ‘kicking the issues into the long grass’. In February 2020, with a colleague from the History group I wrote a piece for the Via Media blog on the release of a ‘Pastoral Statement’ by the bishops which seemed to ignore all the warnings the rest of us were heeding about not preempting the materials of LLF. In November 2020 I wrote an invited piece for the Modern Church blog about my experiences of LLF.