(Vatican Radio) Among the 253 participants in the Synod on the Family which will conclude here in the Vatican on Sunday are eight delegates from different Christian Churches who are sharing insights from their own communities and traditions. Among them is the Anglican Bishop of Durham Paul Butler who has specialised in children and family ministry within the Church of England. As a husband and father of four children, Bishop Butler also brought his own experience to the Synod and especially to those working in one of the English language groups this week.
Bishop Butler sat down with Philippa Hitchen to talk about his impressions of the two-week meeting and about the struggle within the Anglican world of reaching out to people in same-sex relationships while upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage and family life…..
“One of the things is the length of time (a Synod) goes on and the depth of listening that takes place….obviously in England we have a lot of clergy and laity present, active and voting, in a way they’re not here, but I think the length of time, the depth of listening and the seriousness, especially in the small groups, with which people are engaging with the document…..
There are eight of us as fraternal delegates and hopefully we’ve been able to offer insights from our own confessions, sometimes as outsiders looking in, but also on what we share in common across our Christian faith…
We can only make suggestions, but my group has been very generous in responding to suggestions….the tone is the biggest thing to me, about being as positive as we can to families of all make ups, recognising that marriage is a sacrament, but how can we be as welcoming as it is possible to be to those whose family life is not the ideal….
I honestly think that being welcoming is a way of offering hope to people and introducing them to the Christian doctrine. If we’re seen as completely negative people won’t come near us and they’ll just dismiss the Gospel, whereas if we’re offering care and concern, we’re opening up people to the Gospel and the hope that it offers…
One of the things I hope comes out in the final document is an absolute commendation of families who are living out as fully as they can our Christian family life….large numbers of marriages do stay together and that needs to be offered as a sign of hope..
I think the deepest insight (on same-sex unions) is that you have to keep wrestling with it…..there’s no easy answer, we have clear teaching about marriage, so how do we wrestle with some of the reality of peoples’ lives without distorting what we see as truth, but how do we show love and welcome…I don’t think we’ve resolved it at all yet ….there are divided opinions in every country, in every part of the world……that is something that we are all facing and from the evidence of the Aula and the small groups, that wrestling is happening within every continent and every setting….
I love being married and having a family, it’s joyous and it brings lots of experience and lots of insights… but I’m not here to try and persuade Rome to change its teaching on that…..
One of the things I’ll be taking back is that I’m very aware I’m here as the outsider….so how do I make sure I’m listening to the voice of those on the outside when I return. I also take back the really hard work that has gone on and how do we mirror that, in the Church of England and in the diocese, in terms of really respectfully listening to one another and seeking to come to a consensus at the end.
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