Report from the Circuit Open Meeting on Human Sexuality and Equal Marriage contributed to my local church magazine.
34 people from across the circuit met. After a brief act of worship David Walton, an ex-Vice President of Conference talked about the Same Sex Marriage Act, which the government passed last year, and its implications for the Methodist Church. The Act allows religious organisations to choose whether they will conduct same sex marriages or not. This means that Methodist Conference, our Church Council and the presiding Minister would all need to agree before such a marriage could take place on our premises.
At present Methodist Standing Orders state that ‘…marriage is the gift of God and it is God’s intention that a marriage should be a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of one man and one woman’. Our Church cannot, therefore, hold same-sex marriages unless it changes its Standing Orders first. The church responded to the government consultations on the Act from this position. At the last Conference, however, a working group was set up to “to consider whether the Methodist Church’s position on marriage needs revising in light of changes in society, undertaking this consideration with reference to scripture, tradition, reason and experience”.
David also gave us a short history of how Christian attitudes to marriage have changed over time which I found particularly interesting. Did you know, for example, that it was only in the 1215 that the Church decreed that marriages had to be carried out in public in the presence of a priest? Before then many marriages were either informal (for the poor) or a form of legal contract (if money was involved).
We then broke into small groups for discussion of six questions that guided us through some of the issues that our church faces. Within my group were people with the widely different views which I’m sure characterise most congregations. The questions led us through these, however, in a way that allowed us to explore how we had all come to hold those different views. I got a real sense of a community joining the “pilgrimage of faith” that had been advocated by Conference when human sexuality was last discussed in 1993.
After that there was time for us to come together and reflect jointly on the conversations that had been held separately. Again there was honesty and openness in that sharing and a willingness to listen respectfully to people who had different opinions.
As we’d started in a short act of worship, so we ended in a short act of worship. For me, however, the whole morning had been a deeply moving act of worship. It was worship as I imagine the early church worshipping – sitting around in small groups, talking to each other of the things that deeply concerned them and, through that shared experience and in the presence of the Spirit, trying to discern how God wanted them to respond to a changing world.
Those of you who weren’t able to be there might like to draw into communion with those who were by reflecting on the words of the two hymns we sang: “Sacred the body that God has created (StF 618)” and “Let us build a house where love can dwell (StF 409)”. Think about how God speaks to you through the words first to affirm what you believe and then to challenge it. Then imagine a fellow Christian with different views to yours on human sexuality. How would God speak through these words to both affirm and challenge what they believe? Then pray for yourself and then for your imagined friend.