General Synod condemns and welcomes.
General Synod met in York over the weekend of 7 - 10 July, the first time members have been together since their sensational decision not to take note of the House of Bishops report on human sexuality in February. The agenda contained two important Motions of interest and concern to OneBody; Jayne Ozanne's Private Members Motion to condemn gay conversion therapy, and the Blackburn Diocesan Motion to welcome transgender people and explore the possiblity of offering liturgies to welcome them into church in their new name and identity.
In the weeks running up to the Synod meeting, OneBody's members and supporters were encouraged to contact their representatives to express their views on both matters. They shared their own stories and they spoke of their hopes for a fairer, safer, more welcoming and inclusive church. A church which does not do violence - physical, emotional or spiritual - to its own body in the deluded 'hope' of changing our identities, but which instead delights in our sexuality as a blessing and a gift from God.
The conversion therapy debate on Saturday was initially tense - Jayne having been subjected to some really unpleasant abuse in the preceeding days and weeks, and members having received deeply offensive material from the Irish Core Issues Trust prior to arriving at Synod. A number of amendments were tabled which would have reframed the theological basis of the Motion, and diluted its condemnation of these therapies.
The tone of the debate was good-natured and although speakers aired a range of views, the overall sense was one of compassion and concern. Ed Cox of the Church of England Youth Council gave an especially impassioned account of his own experience of conversion therapy, and Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool was amongst number of senior leaders who spoke out strongly in support of the Motion. You can read Harriet Sherwood's excellent account of the debate here.
Once an amendment by Sean Doherty of London diocese had been defeated, the mind of Synod seemed easier to gauge and speaker after speaker added their support to Jayne's motion, as slightly altered by Jamie Harrison's amendment. After the motion was carried comfortably Andrew Dotchin, stalwart of OneBody, Inclusive Church and the Human Sexuality Group on Synod, made an impassioned and heartfelt plea to go even further - to call on the government to an such therapies - and his amendment was carried.
The debate on welcoming trans people took place under blue skies on Sunday afternoon and several members of the Sybils as well as other trans Christians were able to be present in the public gallery. Chris Newlands proposed the Motion on behalf of Blackburn diocese, supported on the platform by Tina Beardsley (whose membership of the coordinating group for the Episcopal Teaching Document had been announced the previous day.) Christina has writtan an excellent piece for the Guardian following the debate.
You can read the BBC's report of the debate here, and there's a great interview with a young trans Christian, Nathaneal, on the BBC Newsbeat site here. Whilst some speakers felt there were already suitable liturgies for trans people within existing authorised forms of worship, or that the church had yet to undertake the necessary theology, others including the Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, spoke of the fast learning curve with which they had been faced when they first met and came to know trans people. Others spoke of the very positive experiences they knew trans people had had in some churches, but acknowedged that the debate was about the national church sending a message to people everywhere about what they should expect - acceptance, affirmation and welcome. Lucy Gorman got straight to the heart of the matter; this debate was not about liturgies, but something more fundamental - inclusivity and love.
A proposed amendment which would have stopped short of offering iturgies was defeated, and the Motion as presented by Blackburn diocese was passed comfortably in all three Houses of Synod.
Many felt it was significant that the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, spoke powerfully in the closing moments of each debate, strongly supporting both motions. Taken together, these two developments seem to signal a fresh sensibility within Synod - the 'radical Christian inclusion' of which the Presidents spoke back in February following the defeat of the House of Bishops' report. Even York's brutal concrete contours seemed softer and lighter in the sunshine, broken up with the splashes of colour and movement of flowers and grasses.
There will be much to ponder in the days and weeks ahead as we sense where we now stand, but there can be no doubt that this was a significant moment for which many have worked and prayed for years. Our thanks to Jayne, to Chris and his colleagues in Lancaster, to those of the Sybils who travelled to support, and all in synod who spoke, stood to speak and supported one another. Thanks too, to all who engaged with Synod members before the debate, whose conversations and prayers opened hearts and minds and made change possible. And thanks be to God, whose Spirit is moving powerfully and creatively, to transform and renew His church, even in the most unlikely and unpromising of circumstances. Change is coming; Aslan is on the move.