Feedback following a series of ‘Shared Conversations’ on the subject of mission, scripture and human sexuality has been ‘positive and constructive’ according to the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Revd James Bell.
Three special meetings were held in Harrogate in January and February with key national writers and speakers on the subject. They included the Bishop of Birkenhead, Bishop Keith Sinclair, Professor Loveday Alexander, Dr Al McFadyen (Leeds University), Dr Toby Howarth (Bishop of Bradford) and Peter Hart (Durham University). Some of their talks are now published on the diocesan website – see below.
The meetings followed a House of Bishops working group which recommended in November 2013 that, “The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would be best addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level.”
The Conversations in West Yorkshire & the Dales are believed to be the first to be held in the region. Bishop James, who convened the meetings said there was particular appreciation for the speakers. “Appreciation was expressed, not just for expertise of the speakers, but for the emotional intelligence they used in their delivery and interaction with others.”
He added, “Alongside the significant input offered, the conversation in small groups was at the heart of the process allowing for a deeper sharing of experience between participants as levels of trust were built up. The facilitated conversations allowed not only the space to discuss the speakers’ input but equally as important for ‘stories’ to be shared and heard.
“The time and space given to this, as well as the financial investment by the diocese, was appreciated. For the most part people were deeply engaged with it and so going forward there was and a sense that the participants did not want this experience to be lost and would like to see developments from it.”
Suggestions for taking the process forward have included resources such as study material for parishes and deaneries, further conversations at more local level and /or further research supported by the diocese.
Bishop James said these and other ideas could be addressed by senior leaders in the diocese following further debate at national level during the July meeting of General Synod.