I have spent much of my time today down the A38 in Liskeard, attending the Presbyteral Session of District Synod. It was, as is the nature of these things, a mixed-bag of experiences, including some boredom and annoyance but overall I’d say it was worth being at. Having come home for a couple of hours, including time for the dog and dinner, I then headed out again, back to Liskeard for another meeting. This meeting was different. This meeting was part of an on-going process the Methodist Church is currently engaging in around marriage and relationships.
I’m not going to talk (sorry, write) in detail about the conversations we had this evening. Those are for another time and place. Instead I want to share just one story I shared with the meeting. It is a personal story, about me, and Mrs Nomad, and Wee One, and the Church. I told it to make clear that this conversation is about far more than sexuality and marriage between people of the same gender, and that it is not simply an academic question but a pastoral one, with pastoral and missional implications. I did not tell it with any suggestion that my story is the same as or equivalent to any other person’s story. The story is this:
When I was a Local Preacher in training I went to preach at a particular chapel in my then-Circuit. Afterwards, one of the members of that chapel spoke to me, indicating he was aware that I was about to get married and congratulating us on our forthcoming wedding. I was genuinely touched by the thoughtfulness. Then the person continued, “Have you found somewhere yet to move into once you’re married?” I explained that, actually, the now-Mrs Nomad and I had been living in the same dwelling together since I had moved down to London. There was a look of surprise and confusion on the member’s face but, clearly keen not to let this stop conversation, they continued to engage me in conversation. “Any plans for a family at some point?” they asked. Again, I explained about the existence of Wee One from a previous relationship of the now-Mrs Nomad and that therefore we were already a family. At this point the member saw someone else they needed to go and speak to.
I further noted, having told this to the meeting, that while the conversation, and the body language, did hurt and confuse me, I was, nonetheless, a committed Christian, confident in my baptismal place in the Body of Christ that is the Church and my journey as a disciple continued. Had I not been, had I been a newcomer to the Church, slowly seeking a way to follow Christ as I had encountered him, I am not convinced such presumptions and reactions would have done anything but send me running for the hills, never to again darken the doorway of a church (notwithstanding the powerful work of God in the Holy Spirit)!
So, yes, let us, as the Methodist Church have a conversation about marriage and relationships, and let us start by being honest that such topics are broad, not narrow, and are not theoretical but practical, pastoral and missional.
And now, with my brain whirring in the wake of those conversations I must seek my bed, for I have another full day ahead of me tomorrow. Whether you’re waking up or lying down, talkative or silent, certain what you believe or questioning deeply: travel well.