From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – February 2019

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear friends

I write this on the eve of the ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons, and as the deadline for this letter is today I am in the tantalising position of not being able to reflect on the outcome. I gather it is even possible that the vote on the Prime Minister’s ‘deal’ may not take place at all if one of the amendments is approved.

How we discuss thing together as families, communities and nations is important. I am not convinced that the debate over our relationship with continental Europe has been conducted in a thoughtful and civilised way.

When the then Archbishop of Canterbury called the bishops of the Anglican Communion together for the 2008 Lambeth Conference he asked them to meet for discussion in indabas. He said this:

“We have given these the name indaba groups, groups where in traditional African culture people get together to sort out the problems that affect them all, where everyone has a voice and where there is an attempt to find a common mind or a common story that everyone is able to tell when they go away from it: ‘This is how we approached it. This is what we heard. This is where we arrived as we prayed and thought and talked together.’ “

Good relationships are characterised by a deep process of mutual listening and learning, like a dance – a two-way partnership with neither side dominating. Likewise, conversations need time and room to grow. It’s helpful to see every conversation as a potential learning experience. Very often we react far too quickly to what we hear. You make a point and I react. Responding, rather than reacting, has a different quality to it. It may only take a nanosecond longer, but the person who is responding has taken a moment to process what is being said and can reply from a more considered place. What is going on beneath the surface? What else do I need to know that might help me to understand why this person is thinking or behaving in this way? Can I learn anything from their body language? Do I need to ask for some clarification? Do I need to think about timing? Is what I am about to say helpful/necessary? Am I owning my own feelings? Am I aware of my own biases? I suppose what I am saying is ‘Listen to the music as well as the words.’

In the conversations about our nation’s future, I hope that, whatever the outcome (and we might know it by the time you read this!), we will try to listen to one another more attentively. It’s easy for people to feel left out, or patronised, or misunderstood when others assume a monopoly of truth or insight. This applies not only to nations, but to families and village communities as well.

Several people commented to me how hard they had found being together in large family groupings over Christmas. That is sometimes not only the hardest, but also the best place to practise some of these skills.


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