CAPTION: Mother Elizabeth Burke at Holsworthy livestock market

Living in Love and Faith as Relevant in Devon’s Rural Parishes as Anywhere Else

Posted: 26th July, 2021

A Devon vicar says questions around human sexuality, gender and relationships covered by the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith course are as relevant in her rural parishes as anywhere else.

Mother Elizabeth Burke is the Rector of Holsworthy Benefice in North Devon, which includes the small market town of Holsworthy and four villages.

She said, “Rural might be stereotyped as backward or more traditional but the reality is, that this is a subject area that is affecting people locally and people want to engage with.

“The ratios of LGBTQI+ people growing-up are the same in rural area as in a city. It’s just that the populations are smaller and dispersed.

“I think it is harder for those of the LGBTQI+ community in rural areas, because there is a lack of support or places to meet.”

The Holsworthy parishes serve a traditional farming community

14 people from across the Mission Community took part in the five-week course on Zoom, this was out of a total congregation of around 100.

Lizzy Flaherty, a student church member who did the course, said “As a young person growing up in a rural church as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, taking part in LLF was an incredibly valuable opportunity (although difficult at times!)

“It was great to talk about these topics on which there is often silence, speak about my experiences of both inclusion and discrimination, and be listened to, listen to others, and most importantly listen to the Holy Spirit.”

Another participant, Katie North, said “I just enjoyed the course and was very glad to be able to talk about the issues raised.

“I was very sad/angry/shocked that some of the people who featured in the course story videos had had negative responses from their church members.

“Our churches were all open and honest.”

The Living in Love and Faith course videos feature lots of different kinds of relationships

Elizabeth said she found running the course “very positive.” She added, “There was lots of healthy open discussion.  Even the shyest of people joined in and contributed.

“People were very respectful and listened to each other.  For the first time I heard people’s views.  People also said how lovely it was to be able to discuss these subjects.

“There was a sense of a relief that we were talking about these issues and they found the materials really helpful.”

The Living in Love and Faith Course is part of the Church of England’s discernment process over whether there should be a change in the current laws around issues like same-sex marriage in church, which is currently prohibited, and same-sex clergy relationships, which are currently required to be celibate.

People who have done the course are invited to feedback and share their views via an online survey. This will be open until the end of April 2022.

Feedback will then be collated and feed into discussions at the Church of England’s House of Bishops and General Synod in the summer of 2022.

“If we don’t engage, if we don’t seek to listen, learn and understand, then we can’t expect our position to be taken into account when decisions are made going forward.” Mother Elizabeth Burke

Elizabeth said she had a few tips for churches which are planning to run the Living in Love and Faith course:

  • Stay neutral so that all different views are able to be shared.
  • Make sure that everyone has a chance to speak if they would like to and encourage good listening
  • Help people to unpick generalisations and stereotypes and to own what they are saying.
  • Be prepared for someone to come out during the course.
  • Have lots of pauses so people have a chance to reflect and allow time for in depth discussion near the end of the sessions.

Elizabeth said she felt it was important for churches to engage with the LLF process while they had the chance:

People can fill in the survey about the Living in Love and Faith process until the end of April 2022

“The LLF process is a way of listening to the Holy Spirit through the people.

“The body of Christ has this opportunity to listen and learn from one another, understand more about tradition and unpick the Scriptures together.

“For those churches either nervous or against the process ask yourselves why?

“If we don’t engage, if we don’t seek to listen, learn and understand, then we can’t expect our position to be taken into account when decisions are made going forward.”

If you would like more information about the Living in Love and Faith process and how to run a course, please go to the Church of England Living in Love and Faith hub or email the Diocese of Exeter.