An additional meeting of the College of Bishops is being held on 27 January to discuss the report Pilling Report, the outcome of a working party of the House of Bishops appointed 18 months ago.
The College of Bishops consists of all diocesan and suffragan bishops in the Church of England. The House of Bishops comprises the 44 Diocesan bishops and 9 elected suffragans. The College of Bishops meets once a year in September; the House of Bishops meets twice a year.
Changing Attitude learnt about the special meeting of the College of Bishops by chance in conversation with a diocesan bishop. A later conversation with a suffragan bishop revealed when the College of Bishops had been informed about the meeting – 13 May 2013.
The Director and Trustees of Changing Attitude subsequently reflected on the question – is the fact that a meeting of the College of Bishops is being held specifically to talk about the work of the Pilling Group relevant to and of significant interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans?
We are clear – the answer is yes. We think that any event or process which will discuss us and may affect our future in the Church is something we should appropriately know about.
It’s curious. We have met 10 diocesan bishops in the context of conversations about pastoral responses to LGB&T people. Inevitably, the conversations have extended beyond a pastoral because both the bishops and we have wanted to talk about the changes which may result from the work of Pilling. None of the bishops until the tenth thought of telling us about the extra College of Bishops meeting.
I wondered whether the meeting had been formally announced, though none of us were aware of it. I asked Paul Handley and staff at Church Times whether they knew about the meeting – they didn’t.
It will be obvious to many reading this blog that an important question is raised. Is the Church of England an exclusive club for diocesan and suffragan bishops or is it for the whole people of God? Is transparency and good communication important for an organisation which is built on foundations of truth and love?
Organisations and governments in Western societies recognise that open government and good communication of policy and action is important (even if they then go to inordinate lengths, sometimes, to hide things). The Church of England hasn’t yet learnt to communicate openly and transparently. There are many people, both pro and anti-gay, for whom the meeting on 27 January is highly significant and important.
There’s another dimension of Church practice which is unsatisfactory. Martin Reynolds, a priest in the Church of Wales, highlights the matter in a letter in this week’s Church Times. Martin thinks it is amazing that gay people and organisations have been willing to work with Sir Joseph Pilling bearing in mind that his group has no known gay representation. Gay people are thus still viewed as “them” and not as “us”, objects to be questioned and examined, as indeed we were.
In our private conversations with bishops, we have begun to explore how the Pilling Report might be dealt with. Will further work be undertaken by a group which is exclusively male? We know there are gay members of the College and House of Bishops, but not one of them is ‘out” in the House or College. Indeed, for some, there is still acute anxiety about their sexuality.
It seems likely that when the College of Bishops meets on 27 January 2014, no lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender voices will contribute personal, lived experience to the discussion. Conservatives may well think this to be a good thing. Why should gay people be privileged? Why indeed, and why women or black people? Why on earth should the College or House of Bishops change its practice to ensure proper representation of groups with a special interest in aspects of Church life, teaching and practice. Except we do have a black Archbishop and there will be 8 elected senior women and there are 14 gay bishops. But unlike black people and women they can remain invisible and pass as straight.
The Archbishop of Canterbury knows that radical change is needed. Changing Attitude proposes that if (as we hope) a group is formed to propose action as a result of the Pilling Report, the group will include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Any outcome that affects us needs to be arrived at with our direct involvement.