CofE spends thousands of pounds on private events discussing gay marriage

Sat 11 Jul 2015
By Desmond Busteed

The Church of England has spent well over a quarter of a million pounds on retreats to discuss homosexuality, with conflict resolution experts.

The Church has been trying to diffuse, in particular, the question of same-sex marriage by carrying out internal consultations for two years on the issue, called "shared or facilitated conversations", in which those of opposing views have the chance to share them with one another in a "safe space".

Details of the budget for the talks are disclosed in papers circulated to members of the Church's parliament, the General Synod, which is meeting in York this weekend.

In written questions Rosemary Lyon, a lay member from the Diocese of Leeds, and the Rev Stephen Pratt of Lichfield asked for details of how the discussions on "human sexuality" are being funded.

Answering on behalf of the House of Bishops, the Bishop of Norwich, the Right Rev Graham James disclosed that the events would collectively cost £360,000.

He said that the Church's financial arm, the Church Commissioners, had agreed to set aside £300,000 of the money it normally gives the Church in rent relief for its Westminster headquarters towards the cost of the shared conversations.

"This was precisely to relieve what would otherwise have been a major call on diocesan funds and the parish share," he said.

"In addition a further £60,000 is being funded by a direct charge to dioceses for the expected 600 participants."

It is understood much of the money is being spent on conflict resolution experts who attend each meeting.

"They are the same sort of people who did a lot of the work in bringing communities together in Northern Ireland. They're sort of a combination of a referee slash judge and they get people together and they help the conversation to progress," said Synod member Revd Canon Jonathan Ford to Premier.

If it's done well it allows people to say what's in their hearts without it leading to a breakdown in the actual dialogue between the various groups there, it is a skilled post," he added.

According to Canon Ford there is widespread support among Synod members for the meetings, despite the cost, which is predicted to escalate to half a million pounds: "It's a big sum of money....but the Church is slightly more nervous if we have to sort this out through the courts.

It's going to run to millions of pounds, so perhaps £500,000 is well-spent now... if we can avoid litigation later on."

The "facilitated conversations" were set up after a review of the Church of England's teaching on issues such as homosexuality chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling in November 2013.

It recommended introducing special blessing services to "mark" and "celebrate" permanent same-sex relationships for the first time.

The Church of England's 90 bishops released a joint statement at the time stating the best they could hope for was "good disagreement" on the issue.

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