Next week there is to be a meeting in Pitlochry - a Cascade Conversation called Listening across the Spectrum. Cascading I understand - I was once sent on a course on managing stress, on the understanding that I would share with my colleagues in school the insights gained over four sessions. Perhaps it was my failure to induce a hypnotic trance in my cascadees that rendered the cascading less than fruitful; I did enjoy the afternoons away from the weans, and found the experience of being almost-hypnotised fascinating but that wasn't really the point. But this conversation won't be about stress, and I shouldn't imagine it will be facilitated by a hypnotherapist. No, this is part of the process for discussing same sex relationships throughout the Scottish Episcopal Church.
What - again, do I hear you ask? Well you might, especially if you have nothing to do with church circles. But I'm saying it too. I was invited to attend this conversation, and part of me is deeply scunnered that a standing commitment prevents my going - but part of me is cheering quietly. Why? Because it's years - yes: years - since I asked the previous Bishop of Argyll when we were going to begin the so-called "Listening Process" in our neck of the woods; it's years since the powerful day of intense conversations in Oban led to a province-wide day in Stirling. It's almost two years since our Synod threw out the Anglican Covenant. I don't think I can bear to pussyfoot around the same elephant in the room again. What are we playing at?
This is what it says in the most recent online Inspires: The Cascade Conversation is being held because the subject of human sexuality is one on which there are differing views and because it raises controversial and challenging issues not just for the Scottish Episcopal Church but for all denominations. During the Cascade Conversation, it is hoped that participants will engage with the subject, and with one another, in a way which synodical procedure does not always permit. In trying an alternative way of addressing a complex subject such as human sexuality, it is hoped that the Church as a whole will both learn and benefit.
And that sounds just fine, doesn't it? Or does it? What do we actually mean by "trying an alternative way of addressing a complex subject such as human sexuality"? I shudder to think. In my no doubt naive and thoughtless fashion, I long ago reached the realisation that the faith I had come to well into my adult life meant that I was going to have to get away from the comfortable and the customary and do things that part of me shrank from - like lying down in the road in front of a foreign power's nuclear sub base, for example, like standing up in a court of law and saying yes I was a Christian and that yes in moments of extreme provocation I would use bad language to a police officer (the Sheriff thought that was perfectly reasonable, since you ask), like making political speeches from the back of a lorry, like going on telly. And it meant also that I was going to have to stand up for justice and truth and fairness in society - and in the church.
I have to confess that I've shed much of the respect for form and authority that I had half a lifetime ago. So any injunction that what transpired in the confines of an assembly was to remain secret would tend to have the opposite effect on me - because I've had enough of hugger-mugger discussions and decision-making. People find it difficult to accept that some of their fellow-Christians are different from themselves? Tough. I find it difficult to accept that some of my fellow-Christians are narrow-minded bigots. I find it really tough to keep a civil tongue in my head when provoked. And I really, really struggle to love people who behave in an unlovely fashion - and that includes myself. But I look at congregations and I see in them gay people, with and without partners, and I see people like me who have been a part of the conversations in the wider church, and I wonder: why are we ignoring this elephant in the very rooms it currently inhabits? Why do we need to wait till conversations between carefully selected people have taken place before we learn more and learn to be more whole? Are we so terrified of the real struggle that loving and understanding will involve?
And it's that struggle that matters. If this Cascade Conversation is going to pour over the church (see - I'm expanding the metaphor) in such a fashion that it will sweep away complacency and sheer bloody ignorance and will in its place bring understanding and a sense of shame for the awfulness of our past attitudes and an urgent desire to right the wrongs done to LGBT Christians over the years, then it will be a joyful flood indeed, and I shall be deeply sorry not to have been a part of it.
I'm not holding my breath. But I'd love to be proved wrong.