Watching and Waiting: Women Bishops, New Job, Pilling, Fulcrum (The Universe and Everything.....?)

It's been a little while since I last posted.  Partly this has been because I've been insanely busy, and now we are at Advent, that is not any less the case, but I have a day off and I also want to update you on my thoughts and news, should you wish to read them.

There have been a couple of important things that have come up for me over the last three months.

Women Bishops legislation - This has been approved for consultation - woohoo - slightly muted optimism as I want to believe that no-one will sabotage the final vote when it comes, but if I'm honest my trust is low on that one, so we shall see.  This is not pessimism, or cynicism, just reality based on the last vote, and the vast majority of encounters I've had with Conservative Evangelicals that have made me sense that they would stop it if they could.  And why would they not - they believe it is an anti-gospel move.  It appears that the Trad Caths are on board and will abstain if not vote in favour.  This seems to be a legislation that they can work with.  So I watch with interest.  There should be a post soon on the Y2WB website unpacking what has been approved, and what the next steps are.  It all gets a bit complicated, and a lot of people are surprised that we could be talking about a final vote in 2014, whereas last year we were saying not until 2015.  This is mainly because the review stage has been agreed to rest with Synod rather than a review committee, and that speeds up the process.  But do take a look at the Y2WB site for updates on that.

Personal news - I'm in the third year of my curacy, and in London Diocese these are a maximum of three years long, so I've had my antennae up for any possible jobs that might be where God is calling me next.  I have been keen to stay in London and in the Willesden Area, where I am now.  I have absolutely adored being in London, the best city in the world, and I've enjoyed working with Bishop Pete Broadbent, who is a straight talker and intentional about including women, so works for me! :) And so it was fantastic news, after prayer and exploration, to be offered the job of Vicar at St Michael and All Angel's in Harrow Weald.  I will begin there after Easter 2014, and I can't wait!  As well as the church being the right place, as a family we feel very invested in Harrow, as that is where I've been for my curacy too, and have a sense that this is where God wants us.  My husband will continue to co-ordinate Harrow Street Pastors and be involved in the community and council work with the homeless that has taken up a good chunk of his time whilst we've been here.

Pilling - And so Pilling has erupted onto our consciousness.  I very much liked Mouse's response to responses on the report :). Mouse is a wisely creature indeed.  Having said that, I would like to tell you about some of my emotional response to the report.  My initial response on reading that we should look at ways of 'marking/blessing' same-sex relationships was that my soul responded 'Yes!' - this is not a logical, thought through response, it was a soul one, and I note it with interest.  I also note the discussions going on around the wording 'mark' or 'bless', but am not sure that's the point - if we 'mark' something in church, I rather doubt it is for the purpose of saying 'look - this is here', it is rather to mark it positively, to somehow celebrate it.

I've often in my conversations indicated that I desire conversation on the subject of same-sex relationships.  Conversations that are open to diversity of opinion on the subject, and certainly that go beyond our positional stances of shouting 'homophobe' or 'heretic' at each other.  I personally think that there must be something more positive to say to gay people other than 'go away you shouldn't exist' or 'be celibate' or 'break up', when they come to my parish asking what God has to say to them about their relationship (especially if there are children involved). Importantly for me, I don't think that the Bible is conclusive.  I am heartened to see David Runcorn as an evangelical engage with this ambiguity in the report.  And the reality is that, whilst I don't think women in ministry/sexuality is exactly the same question, any woman ordained in the Church of England will be VERY careful about taking some verses and using them to exclude/diminish someone else - how many times has that been done to her.... Regardless of whether she is conservative or not on the issue, ordained women I suggest will be rather more wary about certainty on this matter.

When I read God's story with people throughout scripture there are narratives of welcome, hospitality, boundary-crossing, love, soft-hearts, journeying, New Jerusalem, eschatology, complex family relationships, mistakes, legalism, permission to bind/loose, which I think need to be explored - in relation to this subject, but also how we do life with God in general.

So in response to Pilling, I welcome the conversation.  I will watch with interest the facilitated discussions.  In my own ethic I am committed to a Person, Jesus - this means that I am open to an ongoing journey with a rather undefined destination, other than to keep that Person close by.  And for those who wonder how 'evangelical' this is - I am passionately committed to scripture, but the true definition of an evangelical is, I believe, found in the concept of the 'Personal Relationship with Jesus'.  And in that I am unremittingly In Love.

Fulcrum - In light of the above on Pilling, and in long conversation with my friends and colleagues at Fulcrum, it has been with some sadness that I have made the decision to leave the team.  Fulcrum has been incredibly important to me over the last 8 years, and I have been on the team for 6 of those years.  It is fair to say that we have had much laughter, and a few tears together in that time.  I have great affection for the team and our work together.  The subject of sexuality has been one which we have gnawed on over the last little while and whilst there is some room for discussion, Fulcrum, as has always been the case, will be approaching Pilling from the position set out in their statement .  I found that I needed a little more room for manoeuvre in the upcoming conversations that will be happening.  I also, as you know, like to be able to think aloud on my blog, and wanted to have the freedom to do that without undermining what Fulcrum as a group want to be able to say and do.

It is somehow fitting that in Advent we are being called to a time of watching and waiting.

May you be blessed as you do so.


David Runcorn said...

Thank you for what you have shared.
I have always valued your voice and advocacy in Fulcrum. I am sorry it will not be there now. I know you will not have taken your decision lightly.
God bless you unfolding vocation too - as someone who has enjoyed rich years of minister in the Willesden area.

Jody Stowell said...

Dear David
thanks, and yes, not an easy decision.

I am very much looking forward to my next move and working together with the congregation in my new parish. I think we will partner well together.

And thanks again for your own contribution to the Pilling report. As I said in the post, I was encouraged by its inclusion and I think there is much within it that has been within my own mind about how we engage with the bible and sexuality - particularly in the God who chooses to work 'outside' seemingly even God-ordained boundaries.....

But that, as they say, is a conversation for another day - or perhaps a meeting in real life! :)

Roger Hurding said...

Dear Jody,
Many thanks for this sensitive piece. Like David, I am sorry to lose your voice on Fulcrum but empathize with your reasons for stepping aside.
David, I and others have sought to bring an alternative voice on same-sex relationships on Fulcrum and have been grateful that that voice has been allowed there.
Every blessing to you as you take up your new post and thank you for your wise voice on Fulcrum.

Jenny Petersen said...

Dear Jody

Thanks for all you've done with Fulcrum, especially having the courage to think and act independently with good grace.

The good news is there are 6,999 others.

Best wishes

Jenny Petersen (more of a reader than a contributor)

Chris WillIams said...

"my soul responded 'Yes!' - this is not a logical, thought through response, it was a soul one, and I note it with interest."

Fortunately the Holy Spirit is not confined to our thought and logic. I am certain he more often works through the 'Yes!' and the 'No!' in our soul. That's my experience - and my response to the inclusivity of Pilling was the same as yours.

I have struggled with the official Fulcrum line for some time - but will miss your contributions.

Jody Stowell said...

Hey Chris

how's it going?

Yes, I think that being attentive to those moments is part of a living discipleship.

My sense is that there are a number of open evangelicals who would value being able to have a genuinely open discussion on sexuality without fear.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

My view (again) is that Fulcrum is not a position but a dividing point. When it chooses to go one way, others nearby go the other - there is a contradiction between it as 'open' and as 'evangelical'. Your journey is not surprising. I'm now a complete outsider, but I share your caution regarding the vote on having as well female bishops; prospects have improved for a 'yes' but it is by no means a done deal yet.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Jody, as an Anglo-Catholic, ministering (in retirement) at another St. Michael & All Angles parish in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I bid you welcome into the angelic firmament.

I welcome your openness to the reality of same-sex monogamous relationships being blessed by the Church. And I agree with you that it seems the Holy Spirit is much more preoccupied with our 'Yes' than our decisions to say 'No'.

The Gospel message is surely more about empowering human relationships than breaking them down - especially when the ideal of God's redeeming Love is at stake.

God bless you in your new pastoral situation.

Anonymous said...

I found your comments very interesting - I think that increasingly the two consistent positions are 'yes' to both the 'women' and 'gay' issues, or 'no' to both - it's the Fulcrum 'yes' to one, 'no' to the other that will be the centre that will not hold.