A group brought together by Integrity USA, the church's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) affinity group, spent June 27-28 telling the facilitator of the Anglican Communion's Listening Process about their experience of being homosexual or transgender, or having a family member or friend who is.
In addition, the group, meeting at the General Theological Seminary with the Rev. Canon Phil Groves, discussed how to work with Groves to tell stories such as theirs throughout the Communion.
The Primates Meeting at Dromantine, Ireland, in February 2005 asked the Anglican Consultative Council "to take positive steps to initiate the listening and study process" which has been the subject of resolutions at Lambeth Conferences since at least 1978 (Lambeth 1978, Resolution 10).
The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, appointed Groves as the facilitator of the Listening Process in November 2005. His task, as defined in a portion of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, is to establish "a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion" and to help the communion listen to the experiences of homosexual persons.
His office asked every communion province to supply summaries of the work it has done thus far to the entire communion for study and reflection. Those summaries are available here. A description of how the information was gathered is available here.
At their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, the primates asked for a study guide (paragraph 13) to assist Anglican Communion bishops who will gather next year at the Lambeth Conference. Groves is collecting contributions to be used in writing that guide.
Anglicans whom Groves has recruited from throughout the communion will facilitate the compilation of each section of the guide. It is expected that the bishops at Lambeth will use the study guide for reflection and will then "go away and contemplate in their own place and with their own people" to discern the course of their future engagement, he said.
The collection of material gathered for the study guide and the accumulation of the provinces' work on human sexuality "is going to have to be on paper," Groves said, because in some instances that is the only way some voices from some provinces will be heard. The guide will be backed up by a larger collection on CD-ROM.
Lyn Headley-Deavours, justice minister for the Diocese of Newark, urged Groves to ensure that the process quickly involves people across the communion actually listening to each other. The Rev. Dr. Cy Deavours, co-director of the Oasis LGBT ministry in the Diocese of New Jersey, told Groves he'd like some assurance that the listening will actually happen.
The Rev. Susan Russell, Integrity's president, noted that the promise to listen to the stories of LGBT people in the communion was first made 30 years ago (Lambeth 1978 Resolution 10).
Groves said he is committed to ensure that LGBT voices are heard with the co-operation of groups such as Integrity, as he's commissioned to do by the Instruments of Communion.
Groves outlines his role as facilitator
At the opening of the General Seminary meeting on June 27, Groves explained his overall role.
"If I am perceived as being on any side, I am worthless to you and the entire Communion," Groves said. He also characterized the process as "mutual listening" that will hear from as many voices as possible, including some "that you believe have caused intense damage."
The hoped-for long-term result of the Listening Process, he said, is that with the inclusion of as many voices as possible, "we will know the gospel better." He asked the Integrity-organized group to support the process by contributing papers and other resources by mid-August of this year.
Group's conversations range far and wide
The June 27-28 meeting followed the study guide's eight sections: the mission of the church, the witness of the Bible, the witness of tradition, homosexuality and science, homosexuality and culture, sexuality and identity, sexuality and spirituality, and developing skills in listening.
Roughly 20 people participated over two days in the conversations that ranged widely as the group examined the implications of including LGBT people fully in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
For example, during the first conversation about the mission of the church, the discussion quickly centered on a sense that many people, and especially those who are youths, young adults and many LGBT people, don't consider the Christian church a place that will help them live their lives in a holistic way.
Russell suggested that the Episcopal Church should declare sexual orientation "morally neutral" and then call all people into "a holy life and wholeness." The church came close to doing just that at the 2000 General Convention, she said, when it passed Resolution D039, acknowledging that many Episcopalians live in life-long committed relationships that are not bound by marriage and setting out the church's expectations of the quality of all committed relationships.
Donald Whipple Fox, a Dakota Episcopalian who is executive director of the Diocese of Minnesota's Indigenous Theological Training Institute, said the conversation reminded him of his grandmother being told she had to stop being an Indian to be a Christian.
"I wish we'd had this conversation 200 years ago," said Fox, who pointed out that the notion of "coming out" as LGBT has not been common until recently in Native American communities because it seems to value the individual over the community.
Native communities traditionally regard homosexuality as "a spiritual calling" and thus "coming out" is not so much a declaration of identity as acceptance of a sacred responsibility to the wider community.
During the discussion on homosexuality and culture, the Rev. Michael Hopkins, past president of Integrity and rector of St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene in Rochester, New York, questioned how the culture of listening in the Anglican Communion is being "managed," adding that he's "desperate just to sit down with other people in the communion to talk about Jesus and the Bible" and how his faith influences his life and work.
Groves told ENS that he was excited by his time with the Integrity group. "They are a group of people who are delighted to be involved with the wider communion ... and they are a group of people committed to talking about Jesus and the Gospel of Jesus Christ," he said. "Not everyone will agree with them. They don't always agree with one another, but their voices are committed to the wider church."