Progress report from the LGBTI Anglican Coalition on the Shared Conversations

Simon Sarmiento and Keith Sharpe, the Co-chairs of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition, briefed members of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition at a meeting in London on December 13, 2014 about the Mutual Conversations in the absence of David Porter who had to cancel at the last minute owing to a family bereavement.

Keith outlined the history of the Coalition’s contact with David Porter. Six members of the Coalition first met David at Lambeth Palace on March 5, 2014. Also present were Revd Helen Dawes, the Social and Public Affairs Adviser and Revd Canon Chris Russell, Evangelism and Witness Adviser.

David invited the Coalition to submit nominations for people who might be included in the Design and the Resources Groups which were to be created to prepare for the Shared Conversations. Names were discussed by the Coalition and submitted on March 31.

The Coalition appointed the two new co-chairs and arrangements were made on May 5 for them to meet David Porter on June 24. David explained the purpose of the Mutual Conversations as finding ways of living together in the Anglican Communion. David was then optimistic that bishops would be open with each other when they gathered in September.

The Shared Conversations document prepared for General Synod was published on the C of E web site on June 7, 2014.

On August 7 an email was circulated to the Coalition informing us that four people had been invited to talk to the College of Bishops’ meeting in September. This action was taken because it had been recognised that gay bishops especially were unlikely to be open with each other. The four were asked to arrive at lunchtime on the Monday to address the College for an hour in the evening. They were not allowed to join the bishops in the opening afternoon session which focused on change in society despite one of the four having written extensively on the subject.

The process booklet and the resources book were both available in draft for the College meeting. The people nominated by the Coalition whose names were on March 31 were never contacted.

A report of the College of Bishops’ meeting was posted on the C of E website on September 17. On September 24 David Porter agreed to meet the Coalition on December 13. I am clear that David has been overwhelmed by other demands on his time and is hampered by a lack of resources and has always had the best O intentions in his engagement with the Coalition.

The Coalition Co-chairs met David again on October 28 for an up-date. The next day David chaired a review of the College of Bishops’ meeting and planned a further roll out of the Shared Conversations.

On December 8 the Co-chairs received in confidence copies of the Resources used at the September College of Bishops’ meeting with the proviso that they can be discussed by the Coalition but not circulated.

The next day, December 9, David notified the Co-chairs that his father had died and he would be unable to meet the Coalition on December 13.

At the Coalition meeting on Saturday we were told that we are not allowed to read or report on the current version of the Resources because they are still subject to revision. The Resources were described to the Coalition but I am not allowed to report what we were told.

The Coalition discussed the brief bibliography attached to the Resources document and recommended some additions, including Keith Sharpe’s book The Gay Gospels and Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian.

As I said, I’m clear that David Porter is in no way to blame for what has been a shockingly badly handled process. He is organising Shared Conversations involving some 2,640 people in every diocese over the next 18 months, culminating in a two day exercise at the General Synod in July 2016.

David has been asked to undertake this work with grossly inadequate resources, an impossible brief, and a challenging time scale.

On Friday the Church Times revealed information about the Green report, a key report setting out a programme of “talent management” in the Church. The programme has been allocated a budget of £2 million over 5 years.

If the allocation of resources is a guide to the value placed by Lambeth Palace and Church House on the comparative merits of the Shared Conversations and the need to train bishops and a “talent pool” of 150 “high potential individuals” then the latter are clearly far more important.

The Church of England might just be far more effective in mission and evangelism and communicating God’s infinite, unconditional love to the nation were it to persuade the nation that is genuinely welcomes LGBTI people and is dealing with its systemic homophobia.

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