In a letter to the people of the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, written earlier this month, and to be published in the Diocesan Magazine next weekend, the Bishop, Dr Paul Colton, requests lesbian and gay people, their friends and families, to advise him on how best to put in place ‘the listening process’ for the Diocese.
The listening process is a core element of the national approach, adopted by the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, to the sexuality debate within the Church. Regional conferences (involving groups of three dioceses) are planned. First, however, each bishop has been asked ‘to initiate a respectful listening/dialogue process in his/her diocese.’
‘One element in this listening/dialogue process,’ says Dr Colton, ‘is that the “stories and views of a spectrum of gay and lesbian people, and their families, should be heard.”‘
‘How to do that?’ is a key question said the Bishop:
We have to confess that the Church has been complicit for centuries in making life intolerable for many lesbian and gay people, even their persecution and victimisation. Careless words have fed homophobia. Many, understandably, as a result have turned their backs on official religion. Even in more recent times, it seems that so much of the debate has been happening without lesbian and gay people being involved: talking about people rather than with them. Nonetheless, I, and those who with me are planning this process in this part of the Church, feel it is vital that we ask lesbian and gay people themselves here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross how they feel we can create a safe and respectful space in which they can be heard as our fellow church members. I recognise too that it is especially difficult for gay and lesbian clergy to join in this listening process, as so much of the recent debate has been personalised and acrimonious. Many, as a result, feel more vulnerable than ever.
The relevant portion of the Bishop’s letter to be published next weekend is:
Each bishop has been encouraged ‘…to initiate a respectful listening/dialogue process’ in the Diocese. Small groups have been recommended ‘as the best way to ensure “a safe space” for participants.’ The purpose ‘is to enable participants to become better informed’ and to highlight the priorities for each diocese that can be fed into the inter-diocesan conference.’ The study of Scripture is to be a focus.
In particular, the proposal asks that ‘… the stories and views of a spectrum of gay and lesbian people, and their families, should be heard.’
It is in this connection that I request your help. As your Bishop, I wish to facilitate that listening and dialogue process in this Diocese. My questions to gay and lesbian people, and your families and friends, in the Diocese are: do you wish your story and/or views to be heard by the Church? If so, how best can I, as your bishop, help that to happen?
There has been a wide diversity of responses to this debate (some feel vulnerable and targeted, others angry and concerned, and still others have moved on). I know well that many gay and lesbian people, and their families, have been wounded by the Church and, in my Christmas sermon in 2003, I asked forgiveness for that.
I do hope, nonetheless, that advice and assistance will be forthcoming about how this listening is best to happen here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross. Please email me or write to me, in strict confidence.