Living Reconciliation: Nothing about us without us

I’ve begun to read Living Reconciliation, written by Canon Phil Groves, Director of the Continuing Indaba project for the Anglican Communion and Angharad Parry Jones, who was the Communication and Resource Manager for the project. The book has a Foreword written by the Archbishop of Canterbury: Reconciliation is the heart of the gospel. The book is good, essential reading for everyone involved in working for the transformation of lives in the church and the world and for the transformation of Church systems and structures.

I couldn’t resist jumping ahead to chapter 8, Sharing the Vision, where I noticed a section entitled Nothing about us without us. The book describes the way in which the Continuing Indaba project is being worked out in practical ways in many different parts of the Anglican Communion. Chapter 8 describes pilot conversations in the Diocese of Saldhana Bay, South Africa, where the effect was revolutionary. The diocesan team discovered what they described as ‘a new way of being’.

The bishop, Raphael Hess, says collaborative leadership needs to be inclusive, which means slowing down and asking who needs to be present and who is not being heard. Indaba is something that all come to on an equal footing. It is when perceived and real power is consciously and genuinely relinquished and people feel that power is shared, that all are in this together.

It is vital to intentionally design the process, says the book. Whatever process is undertaken has to be owned and designed by the people who are going to be involved. That brings us to the section entitled Nothing about us without us.

“The youth of the Diocese of Saldhana Bay designed their own process, inviting participation from the wider Church. For them there could be no decision on their inclusion without their full participation. The change in power from the decision-making body inviting youth to the youth inviting those representing the structures is an example of the radical change required. If the focus is on youth, young people need to be involved.

“The members of the design group must be able to ensure that design of the process is inclusive. People from all sides must be present in developing the process. Design needs to include all”

Now, I know that the Shared Conversations process has been through a difficult process of gestation. David Porter, responsible for the process, has been overwhelmed by other demands on his time. At the start of the process last March six members of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition met with David and two others at Lambeth Palace. Following this meeting we submitted names for people to be included in both the Design and the Resources group. None of them were ultimately involved. One of the people who did write one of the four resources papers is Canon Phil Groves.

There has been a mantra amongst LGBTI Anglicans for a long time now: No conversations about us without us. Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral Glasgow and founder of Changing Attitude Scotland has warned me time and again to be cautious of any process in which we are not fully involved from the start.

We have not been involved in the design process or the preparation of resources for the Shared Conversations, the first of which begins in the first half of 2015. The co-chairs of the LGBTI Anglican Coalition have had two private meetings with David Porter. David is to meet the Coalition for only the second time on January 20th. By then the design and resources will have been finalised.

Both David Porter and the Archbishop of Canterbury need to explain why the design of the Shared Conversations has taken place without the direct involvement of LGBTI people. Phil’s and Angharad’s book states clearly that the members of the design group must ensure that design of the process is inclusive and people from all sides must be present in developing the process.

It’s too late now to change what has happened. The process has been profoundly flawed. We are left with the option of participating in a process designed without our participation. It is going to be difficult to secure trust from all sides now. This is one of the most important initiatives being taken both in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion, key to the successful reconciliation of profound differences held with integrity. I wish I could be confident of an outcome as revolutionary as that witnessed in the Diocese of Saldhana Bay.

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