Discussion: Will ‘facilitated conversations’ lead to good disagreements within the church?

Notes from the discussion held in St Mary’s Garsington on 25th October 2104

The Church of England is about to enter a period of ‘facilitated conversations’ around the issue of same sex relationships following the publication and recommendations of the Pilling Report earlier in the year.  The Archbishop’s Director of Reconciliation, Canon David Porter, worked with the College of Bishops recently to test out the process, which is now being refined prior to regional conversations at which our diocese will have 24 representatives some time next year.  This is part of a Synodical process, and we need to decide separately how any other conversations will be offered to deaneries or interested groups in the rest of the life of the diocese.   The Bishop’s Staff will be working on this.

1.    What is a facilitated conversation?

Facilitated conversations provide a voluntary process in which a conflict management practitioner guides participants in reaching acceptable solutions to the issues they face. The process aims neither to erase what happened in the past, nor to determine who is right or wrong. It provides individuals with an opportunity to step back and engage in a respectful and confidential discussion where they can, for example:

*  * Re-establish trust and engage in meaningful communication;

*  * Speak freely and openly about their needs, interests and opinions, and understand the other’s point of view;

*  * Propose viable and lasting solutions to a conflict; and

*  * Negotiate the terms of an agreement.

2.    This form of mediation was used to great effect by Archbishop Welby to take forward the issue of women bishops.  Will it also work with the issue of same sex relationships?  What could be the reasons for its failure?


3.    Would St Mary’s wish be involved in this process of conversation and to what extent?


4.    The Bishop’s staff felt it valuable to start the process with some work of their own in order to tease out some common themes that they wish to commend to the diocese.  They all wrote two pages on their own journey in relation to this area of sexuality and to share these confidential documents with each other beforehand.  They then spent a morning with the help of a trusted consultant and came up with the following themes:


God’s faithfulness

Handling of Scripture

It’s broader than ‘gay’ and ‘straight’

It’s about being human and how to flourish in our humanity

We aspire to be moral people – but that means being real

Society is in complete confusion about sexuality

Covenanted relationships are essential

This is a justice issue

Time is not on our side


5.    What does good disagreement look like?