Talking of Marriage and Relationships : Summary Report for N&D District
Within the Church, people have many views about human relationships and the nature and purpose of marriage. A major change to the law in 2014 enabled the introduction of same-sex civil marriage. Following wide consultation, the Methodist Conference in 2014 agreed that more time was needed for careful reflection before deciding whether to look again at our understanding of marriage. Same-sex marriage is not the only consideration. There are wider issues in relation to human relationships in the modern world which may or may not lead the church to reconsider our definition of marriage.
The Conference in 2014 urged the Methodist people to engage with each other honestly, prayerfully and graciously in a process of deep reflection and discernment about matters relating to marriage and human relationships. This process is led by a Task Group and one of its actions was to help Districts engage their members in conversation and discussion in ways that were appropriate for that District, and to collect feedback on specific questions.
In our District, we would like conversations to continue in local churches, home groups, staff meetings, and anywhere that Methodists meet as part of our mission in our communities. We held conversation sessions around our District to meet the request of the Task Group.
The resources we used are on the District website for your own conversations. Information about the whole process and additional resources are on the Methodist Church website here:
Where and when were the conversations?
Nine ‘roadshow’ sessions were held in eight Circuits with a range of days and times – see below. We tried to spread evenly around the District but not all Circuits offered to host.
|19th Oct||Monday||7.30pm||Bridge St, Mansfield||Sherwood Forest||22|
|4th Nov||Wednesday||7.30pm||Life at the Centre||Nottingham City Mission||14|
|21st Nov||Saturday||10am||Melbourne||National Forest East||15|
|23rd Nov||Monday||7.30pm||Hawtonville||Newark & Southwell||39|
|10th Dec||Thursday||7.30pm||Kingswood||Nottingham Trent Valley||35|
|13th Jan||Wednesday||10am||Winshill||Trent & Dove||14|
|17th Jan||Sunday||3pm||Sherwood||Nottingham East||46|
What happened at a roadshow session?
A separate room and chaplain were available at each session for anyone who wanted prayer, a listener, or other care. The chaplain closed the session with a prayer of blessing.
Sessions were led from the front aided by powerpoint slides and a video clip, interspersed with individual and group activities to give background and prepare us for discussion, culminating in 25 minutes of the main conversations in table groups. We covered:
• opening worship based on ‘Roots’ magazine (special edition) – listened to Amazing Grace to a different tune; a reading from Acts 11:1-18; a prayer of approach
• explaining what is required and what is not required plus ground rules and expectations
• watching a clip of Revs Sam McBratney and Paul Smith living with contradictory convictions
• a marriage quiz in tables; the answers gave the history of marriage
• a review of the seven views of Biblical authority, then space for each person to reflect on their view and whether it had changed over time
• an activity linking particular Bible verses (intentionally out of context) to how we approach them in daily life, done individually then shared in tables
• review of the Methodist Church’s marriage definition and resolutions from 1993 and 2014
• answering three questions as individuals through conversation in table groups
The questions were:
1. What do you think and feel about revisiting the marriage definition, or not revisiting it? Capture the reasons for revisiting or not.
2. What opportunities could there be for our mission and pastoral care?
3. What challenges could there be for our mission and pastoral care?
People were encouraged to write their own views resulting from the conversations in table groups, especially where there were differing views at the same table.
The Task Group wanted an indication of the breadth and inclusiveness of the conversations and so we asked each person to complete an EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) monitoring form in private. We also collected the names of the churches represented (separately).
Thank you to everyone who was able to participate. The comments collected demonstrate a range of theological (and other) views and opinions.
274 people attended from 61 churches and 14 Circuits, plus one from a non-Methodist church:
• 55% female, 43% male; 88% heterosexual; 91% White British
• 16% aged under 50, 23% aged 51-60, 32% aged 61-70, 28% aged 70+
Several people gave feedback in conversation and ten people sent emails. Any comment from this input that answered one of the questions was added to the collection.
Comments about process – what didn’t work – were reviewed and adjustments made to the following sessions where appropriate. Thank you to all who helped in this way.
What did we write?
A lot! All comments were grouped and given headings. The complete list (18 pages) was sent to the Task Group and here are the headings. The number of comments under each heading is indicated (n) but note that one comment may represent 2 to 10 people who agreed with it.
|Revisit the definition||Don’t revisit the definition|
• To have the discussion (19)
• Consistency and clarity (31)
• Society and legal change (18)
• Inclusion of all people (19)
• Equality (4)
• Family life (3)
• Cohabitation (7)
• Life-long union (6)
• Terminology (6)
• Human sexuality (4)
• No need (29)
• Revisit 2014 resolution instead (6)
• Concerned (revisiting would be worse) (6)
• “For the Bible tells me so” (25)
• God’s intention (5)
• Church order – how we do things (3)
• Society (5)
• Terminology (9)
• Other reasons (3)
|Missional and pastoral challenges
• Welcoming all people – those ‘for’ and ‘against’ same-sex marriage (26)
• Hurt / Difficult to accept outcome – whatever does or doesn’t happen (20)
• Unity of the Methodist Church (19)
• The wider Church (6)
• Our beliefs and values (14)
• Church order – how we do things (11)
• Relevance to society (14)
|Missional and pastoral challenges
• Exclusion of some people (12)
• Hurt / Difficult to accept outcome – whatever does or doesn’t happen (6)
• Unity of the Methodist Church (5)
• The wider Church (2)
• Our beliefs and values (12)
• Church order – how we do things (12)
• Pastoral care (13)
• Relevance to society (12)
• Legal (2)
|Missional and pastoral opportunities
• Welcoming all people (29)
• Affirmation of equality (10)
• Outreach (25)
• Our beliefs and values (9)
• Life-long union (3)
• Society (11)
• Other comments (3)
|Missional and pastoral opportunities
• Clear values (7)
• Welcome all people (6)
• Other comments (6)
The Task Group has its next meeting on 11th April. Please pray for the Holy Spirit’s gifts of grace, wisdom and discernment to continue to be given to the Task Group members.
The Task Group will report to the Conference of 2016 including “whether to revisit the question of embarking upon a process of revising the Methodist Church’s definition of marriage.” We will share their report when it is available.
Thanks again to all those who engaged in our conversations, and to our chaplains.
Facilitators – Ruby Beech and Rev Gareth Higgs (who have contradictory convictions)
Co-ordinator – Sue Draper
on behalf of the Nottingham & Derby District Executive
During the sessions we used the following resources that you can download for your own use, perhaps in your home group or in a special meeting:
- ‘ROOTS’ special edition entitled Challenging conversations – a worship resource to support Living with Contradictory Convictions
- a quiz about the history of marriage
- a summary of the seven views of Biblical authority set out in the Conference report ‘A lamp to my feet and light to my path’
- an activity sheet about the Bible and daily living – note the verses are intentionally out of context (and one reference contains a typo). The first three columns are to consider to whom the scripture applies. The other five columns ask us how we apply the scripture in our lives – do we obey it? Follow the spirit of it? Know we should follow it? Ignore it? Or are we actually against it?
- the Methodist Church’s current definition of marriage from Standing Orders
Further resources are available from the Methodist Church website here.