This is the letter we will be sending to the Bishops, having completed the course.
For the attention of the Bishops,
Living in Love and Faith Feedback
This letter is written on behalf of members of the churches of All Saints’ in Weston and St Mark’s in Shavington in the Diocese of Chester who have taken part in the Living in Love and Faith course. We have valued the opportunity to learn together using the LLF resources and wanted to share with you some of the key issues that have arisen as a result of the learning that has taken place. In our final session together, we agreed that we would feedback the following points:
1. We want to welcome everyone with tolerance and sensitivity regardless of who they are.
2. We feel it is important to develop ways of enabling people to gain a greater understanding of the impact that their views have on an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being.
3. We want to accept people for who they are or as they present themselves.
4. We have valued the course but cannot see how two opposing sides can come together in agreement when each side is firmly grounded in the belief that they are right.
5. We believe that the feelings of the existing church congregation are also important so there needs to be mutual understanding and respect on all sides. As a church community, we need to learn to disagree well.
6. We need to develop a much clearer understanding of the issues involved, particularly in relation to a person’s gender and sexuality.
We hope that our feedback is useful as you prayerfully consider the next steps for the Church of England. We wish you well in this difficult task and pray for God’s wisdom and grace to be with you.
In this session we explored what is means for us, as Jesus’ disciples within the Church of England, to live together with truthfulness and integrity whilst having differences, disagreements and diversity.
As for the other weeks the evening was guided by a video which tied the sections together and informed us to help with our discussions.
We started by looking at the fifth pastoral principle of the Church of England: to admit to hypocrisy. We live in a world that is quick to pick up when the church fails to act in line with its stated beliefs and principles. Lying is found at the heart of hypocrisy and it weaves webs of fantasy and fails to tell the true story. This, not surprisingly, erodes both trust and openness between people. We are called to be honest about our failings and truthful about our “ inward being”. Saying one thing and believing or doing another is damaging to both ourselves and others. This applies to many issues in our church life, including identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage, where are actions as individuals and the collective church do not reflect what we say and believe.
We then watched a story film of married couple, Elaine and Alan, who have been married for many years, after what seemed a whirlwind romance. They discussed both their similarities and differences and how they respected each other’s which strengthened their life together. One of the differences spoken about was about Romance. Elaine was a “ great romantic” whilst Alan did not believe in romantic love but love as described in 1 Corinthian 13:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
saying this was the basis for thier marriage.
The Bible study was based on the John 17 which recounts Jesus’ prayer in the Upper Room, just before his betrayal. Over tea and biscuits, a discussion followed about what struck us about the passage and we shared any words or phrases that we felt were speaking to us in our struggles with unity and diversity.
The last story video introduced us to Stephanie and Debbie. They both talked movingly and were quite candid about their experiences and thoughts as a result of Debbie’s gender change from a David to Debbie; from husband to friend. Stephanie spoke of the pain of her loss of a husband which couldn’t be categorised as widowhood or divorce and the feeling that she was in a societal void. She openly described the day that she told her children was the worst in her life. However, what was evident was how Stephanie had respected Debbie’s choice and they had worked together to keep their family together. Although extremely painful for Stephanie they still live together, in a different relationship to the one she expected when they married, and plan to continue to live together as their children leave home.
The final discussion focused around trying to categorise the churches differences over identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage and what new insights, difficulties or possibilities we could take to God in prayer. Those present generally felt that there was quite a diversity of belief with the Church of England itself over identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage and then the diversity of the Worldwide Anglican Church also needed to be considered too. It will not be any easy path as there would seem to be a whole spectrum of beliefs and attitudes to how we address this topic within the Church of England.
The session ended with a prayer:
Grant to your people, good Lord,
the spirit of unity,
that we may dwell together in your love,
and so bear to the world
the ointment of your healing and the dew of your blessing;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Common Worship: Prayer after Psalm 133 (adapted
Everyone was asked to note what they had gained from the session or their thoughts about this or future sessions or any questions they might have. Here are a few :
“ We need to let God guide us to work towards the right way”
“Our parish rejoices in making everyone welcome”
“I don’t feel that there is tension in our church, but in others there might be”
“We are lucky that we have two very welcoming and accepting churches and church families ”
“Feels as if one is being asked to sit on judgement on others. Surely not!
“Importance of unity in communicating the love of God with the world around us”
Want to explore session 3 further?
Download the LLF book* and look at Chapters 7,11,14 and scenes 4 and the Appeal
Some of us arrived at this week’s session feeling slightly apprehensive about the content of the session and what we might be expected to share! However, at the beginning of this week’s video presentation, we were reassured that no one would be asked to share anything about their experiences that we were not comfortable with.
The session began with time to think about the pastoral principle of ‘speaking into silence’ and in particular, what it is like for people whose experiences are met with silence in the church, including those who have been abused. We then watched a story film featuring Mark and Esther who shared their experiences of preparing for marriage and how they came to terms with Mark’s divorce. We then had some teaching about sex and bodies which led on to a discussion about aspects of sexual behaviour and attitudes in our culture that we find worrying and/or liberating, and what form intimacy takes in our own lives, including with God. We discussed these questions in small groups before sharing with one another some interesting issues that had arisen from our conversations.
After the group discussion, we watched a second story film featuring Andrew and Gerhard, a gay couple in a civil marriage worshipping in a church where views about same-sex relationships are mixed. They both spoke very movingly about their experiences of being ignored and overlooked by some members of the congregation but also of the way in which they had remained worshipping at the church and had found within it a good support network. This led on to this week’s Bible study on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. We reflected on the similarities that exist between Christians today and the Christians in Corinth and thought about what difference it makes to know that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The session finished with a final time of teaching on sex and relationships and we discussed what questions other people might raise about sexual relationships that we find particularly difficult to respond to. We also thought about how, in practice, our parish shows the radical welcome of Jesus, while upholding Christian convictions about sexual relationships.
Here are a few reflections that were shared at the end of this week’s session:
‘How do we answer the questions of those who don’t share our views on sexual relationships?’
‘Work towards accepting individuals who are different; it must be acceptable in the body of the church.’
‘Try to accept each other as we find each other.’
‘I welcome open debate and the discussion of difficult issues.’
‘It’s hard to believe that the church isn’t welcoming to all in this day and age.’
‘We need a parish policy on inclusion. Need to understand how to manage ‘difficulties.’’
‘Help! Making rules and having policy is generally divisive.’
This week’s session took place at St Mark’s and it was good to welcome some new people to the course. One of the benefits of the course is that each week has a different focus. So it doesn’t matter if people are not able to make every week and there is always the opportunity to catch up with the video sessions via the Living in Love and Faith website (llf.churchofengland.org).
This week, the session was divided into three sections. In the first section, we listened to some teaching about identity via the video presentation and then we watched two story films, Alex and Jo (a married couple, Alex is trans) and Luke (who is gay but has chosen to be celibate). We then talked together about words that we might use to describe ourselves and then shared what we have learned about what it means to be human that brings us both joy and pain. We also thought about how our own church might respond to someone whose sexuality and gender identity might be different from our own.
The second part of the session involved looking at two Bible passages, Genesis 1:27 and Galatians 3:28. We reflected on how the verse from Genesis helps us to understand our different experiences of being gendered. We also discussed what it means to have a new identity in Christ that is more important than other identities. At the end of the session, there was opportunity to share our thoughts and reflections with the whole group although there was no pressure for people to say anything if they didn’t wish to.
The final part of the session involved listening to some more teaching via the video presentation about how questions of gender and sexual orientation are complex and there is still a lot of learn. In our small groups, we discussed how we understand the connection between sexuality and identity and shared some of our own thoughts and feelings about these issues. A common theme was an acknowledgement that language around gender and sexuality is often new and unfamiliar, and we might need to look up what some of those words mean!
Here are some of the reflections that people shared at the end of session 2:
‘Wonderful to have safe debates and different viewpoints, ALL accepted with laughter.’
‘I haven’t walked in these people’s shoes. Jesus help me to understand.’
‘I am learning.’
‘How can we welcome all to our church?’
‘Identity is personal but shock or surprise causes fear. Fear for the future perhaps.’
‘Accept people for who they are.’
‘Allow people to be themselves.’
‘Age affects how you deal with the issues. Younger people don’t have a problem with the issues raised.’
On Thursday 3rd February 18 people from across the parish were welcomed to St Mark’s Church for the first session of the Living in Love and Faith course. Many of us were not absolutely sure what to expect of the evening!
The sessions are in the format of a video introducing the different sections of the evening, which is then stopped to allow for small groups discussions prompted by a series of questions or for periods of individual reflection.
This week we explored what it means to learn together as followers of Jesus, making commitments to each other which would enable a safe learning environment and ensure that everyone was listened to and had a voice. We also were introduced to the 6 Pastoral Principles of the Church of England which we will look into more detail in each session.
After a short break with coffee and biscuits, we studied Matthew 7:24-29 (The Wise and Foolish Builders) together and discussed what we thought it told us about learning and about life as a follower of Jesus. The video then introduced us to people from the LGBT+ community, who will contribute in later sessions, as they gave a short insight into their experiences when engaging with church communities. The session ended with a prayer.
Everyone was asked to note what they had gained from the session or their thoughts about the future sessions or any questions they might have. Here are a few :
“It wasn’t as scary as anticipated……”
“ A firm foundation of faith helps us to get through and overcome the tragedies of life.”
“Listen, don’t judge”
“Lots about LGBT+, what about other discrimination?”
“Looking forward to the next session…”
Want to explore session 1 further? Download the LLF book* and look at Chapters 4,5,6,7,15,16,17 and Encounters or watch Podcasts 1,3,5 and 15.
Living in Love and Faith (LLF) is a six week course during which we will explore issues relating to what it means to be human and ask ourselves the question, how we can live lovingly and faithfully alongside people whose identity, relationships or sexuality might be very different from our own? The course is open to everyone and will be a safe space in which to share, reflect and learn together. We hope that it will enable us as a parish to understand more fully what it means for us to live out our strapline ‘Sharing the love of Jesus with all.’ The sessions will last for an hour and a half with opportunity for a break for refreshments half way through. They will include videos, case studies, Bible study, discussion and prayer. The topics for each week are as follows:
Thursday 3rd Feb
St Mark’s church
Thursday 10th Feb
St Mark’s church
Thursday 17th Feb
St Mark’s church
Thursday 3rd March
All Saints’ hall
Thursday 10th March
All Saints’ hall
Thursday 17th March
What have we learned?
All Saints’ hall
Each session is stand-alone so if you can’t make them all, don’t worry. You can also access all of the resources online for any sessions that you miss. Details of how to access the resources will be shared in a weekly blog on our website (www.allsaintsandstmarks.com). If you have any questions, please speak to Rachael or Gaynor. We look forward to learning together!