Kim's Blog

Due Process

Mourning our infidelity


The article above is worth a read, by Elaine Storkey, on the Philip North / Sheffield issues. However in the comments was raised an important matter I wanted to explore so I have posted it here below. It discusses the process and the mechanics of making something work inside the church that is difficult and which the media will get in amongst and run the issue if the church doesn’t take responsibility for gathering people and communicating, thoroughly and openly.

I think we have to learn, develop our listening skills, bring in our negotiators and reconciliation experts for situations like this. Good agreement / disagreement doesn’t just magically happen, particularly when prominent people take to the newspapers to lobby and give their opinions and interpretations of the actions of others. It’s easy for the uncertainty and assertions to take over. As a people who live in a very broad church, which says it is committed to space for all, we all need to learn to slow down and listen much much more, to have dedicated processes and spaces where we promise to listen hard to each other. We need a serious part of our theological education to be dedicated to this issue too. A B spells it out really helpfully here:

A B, March 11, 2017 at 11:22 pm #

“I wrote this elsewhere, on Facebook. I hope you won’t mind me repeating it here. Elaine, I agree with your words. But I am not sure the C of E, institutionally, has worked out how to cascade out from the Synod bubble the hard work of living out mutual flourishing into diocese and parishes. Here’s what I wrote about that.

Being married to a priest who is female I could understand the pain of those who were not coping with the idea of Philip North’s appointment in sheffield. But I do think there is stuff which, by grace, could have been done to make this work. But many things which could have been done were not done.

Let us suppose that it had worked out like this instead:

The CNC decided Philip North was their preferred candidate. At this point, given Sheffield’s own admission in its diocesan statement of previous difficulties surrounding the ordination of women, the Archbishops and their appointments secretary, together with the GS members of the CNC, at least some of whom had had the benefit of all the collaborative work which had led to women being ordained as bishops, got together with the diocesan reps to say “how are we going to make this work?”

And one or two of the CNC members who had not been part of the mediation work in the previous synod said “the thing is, this mutual flourishing thing looks like really hard work, how did you do it?” And those that were there said “it needs people consciously to behave like adults all the time, to acknowledge their own pain and that of others, but not let it push them into the child / victim role. And it needs those with power not to go into parent / persecutor mode but to say ‘yes it’s hard, but I will show you how to come with me into making this work’”

And then, before the public announcement, the facilitators who worked with the 2010 – 2015 synod were asked to meet with the CNC and Philip to make a plan as to how to midwife this potentially difficult situation into one of real mutual flourishing.

Then, as the announcement is made, as well as Philip meeting with the female clergy in Sheffield, there were a concerted series of meetings and events to which all clergy and other licensed ministers would have been invited to explore the emotion bound up in the enormous difficulty of having a diocesan who would not ordain women. No-one’s emotion or pain was ruled too much or out-of-order except if it became personal about another human being. At first people were asked explicitly not to try to persuade anyone of anyone else’s view, but simply to acknowledge their own pain and fears, and then to begin to acknowledge other people’s too. (I spoke to one of the mediators between the two votes in Synod – and they said to me that hearing the pain was enormously important – you can’t simply pretend, or order it away.)

As these meetings took place, people began to understand the possibility of living together despite apparently irreconcilable difference. That some of their fears really could be addressed, and that there might be ways of working where people felt valued. And to glimpse that perhaps the witness to the transforming power of Christ in “mutual flourishing” was a prize worth the pain. And there may have been tears of joy at Philip’s enthronement in the cathedral in Sheffield.

That’s the end of my alternative scenario. For this to have happened it would have taken leadership at the highest level in the appointments process to have taken responsibility for ensuring that mutual flourishing was not just a decision of synod, and a direction from the “top” of the Church of England, but something which was sown and midwifed and nursed in the Sheffield diocese from long before Philip’s arrival.

My point is that wars are relatively easy to win; it’s the peace that’s hard to build. And I am very sorry to say that, unless there was a bunch of work behind the scenes in Sheffield that no-one has spoken about, it doesn’t look like enough effort was made to win the peace.

The little secular fundraising partnership of 20 or so people that I work for is going through a process of working out an appropriate way of paying and organising ourselves. We are firm friends and respect each other enormously. We have not been at war with each other. But we’ve brought in facilitators to help us because we know that human nature and the voices of the louder or more hurt or more persuasive or more fearful can result in outcomes that none of us wants.

I wish so much that the joy of the Synod vote in 2014 had been followed by serious work and investment in understanding mutual flourishing in areas of the Church of England where it was needed. Personally, I would be very sceptical about moving to a diocese where the diocesan does not ordain women (and have the joy of being in a diocesa where we pray each week for Bishop Rachel) but then no-one has worked with me to understand how it might work if we had a a bishop who didn’t believe my wife was actually a priest. But I haven’t needed that. It seems that Sheffield did need it, and didn’t get it.”


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