Friday, July 6, 2012

The Listening Process Compared

By the Rev. Dr. Christina Beardsley of Changing Attitude

This afternoon I attended the hearing of the Ministry Committee considering Resolution D002 which would add the category ‘gender identity and expression’ to the non-discrimination canon for the ordination discernment process, and D019 which would add the same wording to the Episcopal Church’s canon on access of the laity to all levels of church participation and representation. These additions, as one speaker remarked, were a necessary enhancement to the standard of welcome - at policy level at least - in the Episcopal Church.

Forty-five minutes was set aside for testimonies, with each person assigned two minutes for their contribution. No one had signed up to oppose D019 and only one person spoke against D002. Indeed, so many people had signed up to testify in favour of D002 that the forty-five minutes was reached before everyone had a chance to speak. I had signed up to testify about the Church of England context, which is not that different from that of the US, and I’ll append the testimony I had prepared below (in italics).

The testimonies over, I stayed on in the committee room to hear the discussion by the deputies and bishops and to await their outcome. The process is entirely open, not behind closed doors. I’m merely a visitor to the Convention, from another Province altogether, but I could have testified had there been time, and was, with others, privy to how the decision was made. It was very easy really. The deputies and bishops were appreciative of the courage of all who spoke – including the individual who spoke to the minority position - and there was a commitment on both sides to mutual listening. When it came to the vote there was hardly any discussion – the rightness and justice of full inclusion for trans people was almost unanimous. Now the Resolutions must go to the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies where there is likely to be much more debate, but this is a wonderful start.

What a contrast between my experience today and what happened to Colin, Keith, Jenny and Rob in their meeting with the Pilling Committee at Church House. I wasn’t there so I don’t know the tone in which the chair’s comments were made, but this is a working party that is supposed to be reviewing the listening process in the Church of England. Ought it not to be modelling listening to LGB&T people rather than lecturing them about how things are done in the Civil Service? Or was this intended as avuncular advice to an organisation that was once considered safe by the church establishment, but that now, in the face of an intractable culture, has become increasingly edgy, radical, and ready to say exactly what we think rather than what people would prefer to hear? Whatever the motives it sounds quite bruising for those who were there.

Changing Attitude, England, like the other organisations which have been called so far by the working party, has had its allotted hour. What happens next? I’m sure we won’t be privy to the discussions of the working party as I was to those of the Ministry Committee at General Convention today. As a delegate to the Triennial Women’s the Triennial Women’s Convention – which runs parallel to General Convention – observed to me this afternoon, the protocols of General Convention are modelled on those of the United States Senate and Congress. The model for the central bodies of the Church of England, as Sir Joseph reminded Colin today, is the British Civil Service. Excellent as that may be for purposes of government, in the context of the listening process it doesn’t seem to be creating a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people to be heard. So, London or Indiana? I know where I would rather have given my testimony today, and here it is:  

My name is Christina Beardsley.  I’m a visitor from the Diocese of London, England. I’ve been a priest for thirty-three years. I transitioned eleven years ago so I’ve spent a third of my ministry as a trans woman working throughout that time as a hospital chaplain. I’m now the Head of a Multi-faith Chaplaincy team and manage more than twenty people. 
I’m aware of seven trans clergy in the Church of England who have transitioned – exactly the same number as in the United States. Two are parish priests, one has an active ministry in retirement, three are in secular employment but involved in their parish and diocese, and I am in a sector ministry.
An English House of Bishops working group’s reflections on trans people in the life of the Church, including ordination, were published in 2003 as Chapter 7 of ‘Some issues in human sexuality 

In 2002 the English House of Bishops discussed the discernment process for trans candidates and the outcome can be found in the Handbook for Diocesan Directors of Ordinands, Section 2.16, which sets this out in detail.

You might expect me, as an English person, to say that it was ‘time for t’ but by that I don’t mean time for a cup of tea: I mean it is now time for the letter T -  for Trans -  and I urge you to add ‘gender identity and expression’ to your non-discrimination canons.

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