by Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry and Chair of the Living in Love and Faith project
I am very grateful to be asked to contribute to Via Media and to share some thoughts on Living in Love and Faith shortly after its publication.
I’m writing this a week before the launch itself and, perhaps as you can imagine, my anxiety levels are steadily rising. By the time you read this, LLF in its several forms – book, course, films, podcasts and online library – will have been released, with all sorts of assessments in its wake. You may well have formed your own view, though I’m hoping people will hold their final judgement until they’ve engaged in some way with the range of material in its different forms, and also given the whole lot a chance to do the work it’s intended to do. I certainly don’t want to try to sell LLF to you or to cover over any of its faults that you’ve spotted already, and all of us will be able to find many, I’m sure. Rather, I’d like to share something of my experience of living with this project over these last years, and trying to so with love, faith and – yes – hope.
I had a load of mixed emotions when I was asked to chair LLF’s Coordinating Group back in 2017. As much as I sensed, in fear and trembling, the scale of the challenge that it would involve, there was something about it that struck chords with me and the experiences that God had led me through. Academically, I’ve long been interested in how different people and perspectives can be held together by seeing that which is of Christ in each other and hearing that which is of the gospel in each other’s position. In ministry, I’ve been called to Coventry to share its remarkable story of peace and to live out something of the prophetic words spoken by the then Provost in the BBC’s 1940 Christmas service broadcast to the nations from the ruins of the Cathedral’s bombed out remains.
‘What we want to tell the world is this: that with Christ born again in our hearts . . . We’re going to try to make a kinder, simpler, a more Christ-child-like, sort of world in the days beyond this strife’.
Well, although I soon discovered that simplicity was a virtue LLF would find difficult to embody (everything we discussed together was layered in complexity), I came to see that it was a very great opportunity to build a kinder and more Christ-child-like Church for the sake of the world; and that it would need to be rooted at every moment in the simplicity of the Coventry prayer – ‘Father, forgive’.
About mid-way through the project, I encountered the work of Hartmut Rosa, a German sociologist who contends that our relationships in the modern world have become mute and that we have become deaf to each other, indeed to the world itself. He describes the need to overcome the alienation many people experience that can lead to a sense of ‘every day despair’ or even hostility. He proposes that we can do so by engendering resonance between people in their deep identity and dearly held views, and so be at greater peace in the world. These are the final words of Resonance, his weighty book on the subject:
‘A better world is possible, and it can be recognised by the central criterion, which is no longer domination and control, but listening and responding.’
That helped me to understand better what I’d seen happening as around forty very different people with diverse life experiences and various – and often conflicting – views and beliefs met and worked, spoke and wrote, ate, drank and prayed together over many demanding days. I could see that a deep listening was taking place in each of us and that we were responding to each other, to what we felt, thought, believed, hoped and prayed for, listening and responding together to scripture and the theological tradition. Listening and responding to God. And that seemed to me to be the responsibility of LLF – to allow us, difficult as it can be, and it was really difficult most of the time, to listen to each other, to ensure that we had heard well and that we had truly allowed each other’s voice to be heard, and to respond in love, faith, and with hope.
I’ve learnt a lot about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage over these years, and my prayer is that the LLF resources will help those who make use of them to travel their own long and rich journey of learning through them. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as well – about, as the Pastoral Principles put it, my ignorance, prejudices, hypocrisy and fears, as well as my failures to give silence a voice and attend to my own use of power. But it’s been the opportunity to come to know other Christians more deeply, to see into their lives and to understand better their strongest convictions and highest hopes that will have been the abiding gift of these last years for me.
Those colleagues are too numerous to name but I will – if I may – mention three: Alex (a gift to LLF from the URC), who is trans, Giles (a contributor to Via Media and Vicar of St John’s Waterloo), who is gay, and Jason (an Adviser to the Bishop of London and former curate at Christ Church, Mayfair), who is straight. As members of the LLF Coordinating Group, we’ve worked closely together. We must have spent hundreds of hours in meetings together right up to the launch. I know they have given many more hundreds of hours to our common task, shaping texts, framing films, creating podcasts, arguing and contending, listening and responding. I also know something, though only the surface, of the cost they have had to bear in our endeavours, and I worry that the price they have been asked to pay will have risen since the launch. I have seen Christ in them and heard the gospel through them.
Yes, we have further to travel along the way of Christ’s truth. We are not done with our listening to God and discerning how we faithfully respond to God. But this I know: we belong together because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.