03 May 2005

The Pilgrimage of Faith - Major report on Homosexuality coming to Methodist Conference

The 2005 Methodist Conference in Torquay will discuss a report on the Pilgrimage of Faith; the Pilgrimage was launched when the 1993 Conference adopted the "Derby Resolutions" on human sexuality. The 2005 report is the response to the 2003 Conference request for a report on the progress of the Pilgrimage.

The 2005 report comes after a lengthy process where the views of the Church were sought out by writing to all ministers in active work, placing advertisements in the Methodist Recorder and asking for comments via The Methodist Church website. The working party also met with groups and individuals who had previously spoken out on the subject, or who were able to contribute theological insights. All comments were received under conditions of strict confidentiality.

The report shows a church that expresses a wide range of opinions on homosexuality, yet also one that is willing to engage in seeking a way forward. It also showed that there is agreement in the Church that it should be an open, welcoming and inclusive body, and will not turn people away because of their sexual orientation.

The Revd Jonathan Kerry, Coordinating Secretary for Worship and Learning, and the convenor of the working party, said "Even though the Church still encompasses many differing views on homosexuality, we are moving forward towards a greater understanding of each other's opinions, rather than allowing our positions to become fixed. The language of 'Pilgrimage' is important - it is about travelling along with other people who share the same underlying faith, but who have differing experiences and perspectives - and learning from each other. Diversity of opinion is something to be celebrated rather than feared, as long as people feel free to express themselves in a positive way."

"Some of the responses came from people who feel that the Pilgrimage is not achieving its aims" says Jonathan, "but the fact that people answered the call for comments shows that Methodist members had contributions to make and trusted the working party and its work."

Margaret Parker, co-chair of the working party and a former Vice President of the Methodist Conference, says "we found that some of those who responded said that their opinion on homosexuality had moved in one direction or another since 1993. This is an on-going process, but I am pleased to see that people are taking it seriously, and are keen on honest, constructive and frank dialogue, even with those whose opinions differ. This means more than just 'agreeing to disagree'; it means finding ways to move forward as a Church, and to respect, love and encourage one another as fellow Christians even though we do not agree on everything."

Jonathan Kerry says that efforts of the working group have enabled the Church to move forward on the topic without any group feeling that its voice is not being heard. "I don't claim that this is a perfect way of discussing a difficult topic like this," he says, "but it is working well so far. This report is not the final word on the matter, and part of what the Pilgrimage means is for us to monitor the process itself, so that it remains relevant and representative of the whole of the Church's opinion."

Ann Leck, co- chair of the working party and a former Vice President of the Methodist Conference, said, "the pilgrimage of the Methodist Church is about listening to one another and feeling listened to, about accepting and valuing one another and about trusting one another. Many people hold very strong views about the subject of sexuality: for some their views relate to the very being of themselves or of somebody they love. People are now beginning to share deep feelings and longings in an open way and there are affirming stories, sad stories and angry stories. It is people and their relationship with God that is at the heart of what we were exploring. The working party reflected the spread of views on sexuality that there is in Methodism as a whole, and it is I believe something to rejoice about that our Church embraces people with widely different views on these matters - that we are all one in Christ Jesus."

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