Weekly Reflection – 19-25 July 2009

Posted on: Sunday 19th July 2009

“We are family: new thinking for the twenty first century”

I shall be speeding through Leicester (or past it) on my way to Yorkshire this weekend to preach at the Ryedale Festival, but had I time to stop en route it would have been interesting to eavesdrop on the annual conference of QUEST, a group of gay British Roman Catholics. Not always noted for being either affirming of ‘alternative’ lifestyles, nor in the vanguard of progressive social change, parts of the Catholic church are responding – at least at a national level – creatively to changing social norms in our day. The title of the conference is “We are family: new thinking for the twenty first century”.

Had I had time to stop on my way to hear our former Director of Music, Justin Doyle, directing the music at Malton Priory at the Annual Festival Service (…with distinguished guest preacher, blah blah…), I would have enjoyed listening to Terry Prendergast the Chief Executive of Catholic Marriage Care tell the assembled delegates (in a heavily trailed speech – but you read it here first!) that “the Church has often built up a romantic image of a golden age of the nuclear family which has not found expression in reality, often with unwelcome consequences for those who “do not fit.” These include single parent families and also co-habiting and same-sex families. He says that often “those individuals… want to live good lives according to the precepts of the Gospels. They are an advert for the Church, an advert that the Church often ignores, or consigns to the waste bin.” He will say that in all relationships, the institutional aspects are less important than the sacramental qualities: “The presence of God mediated through commitment, consent and covenant. The move from the institutional to companionship, choosing for love, has been marked, possibly more deeply, in co-habiting and same-sex couples.”

I think that – while wanting as we do here to continue to affirm those who chose to live, and do successfully live, in ‘conventional’ relationships – there is a lot of truth and good sense in that. It is, after all, not a question of either/or. And it is the sort of honesty we perhaps need in a week in which the attempt of the American Episcopal Church to say something similar at their General Convention has been met by cries for schism and the breaking of our communion with them. There may well be institutional anxieties about the manner in which they have chosen to advance the agenda (poor Rowan Williams, who would have his job, this week especially?!), but I suspect that ECUSA is simply slightly ahead of the game in saying something most sensible and thoughtful people are thinking, and one day we will look back on Anglicanism’s reactionary outbursts with not a little shame.

Fr Alan Gyle, Vicar