Sunday, 18 November 2012

Women as Bishops - Waiting to Begin

As something of a professional peddler of bombast and barely disguised foolishness, I'm rarely lost for words. And yet I've spent a fair proportion of this Sunday evening trying to write something sensible, irenic and smart about the forthcoming General Synod vote on women as bishops. Perhaps something will yet emerge in the next twenty four hours. However, for now, I'm conscious that I can barely find words for what I want to say.

Perhaps this just reflects my general tiredness. It has been a busy couple of months and, truth is, I've been really quite ill this weekend. However, I suspect the 'famine of word and sense' reflects something deeper - that the time for smart words and cunning arguments may be done. I know that, over the next thirty six hours, speeches will be made for and against and there will be lobbying up until the moment of the vote. However, at a deep level I feel like the time for horsetrading and talking is done. Now is the time to act and vote. We all know, deep down, where we stand by now. We all know that people are going to be hurt, one way or the other. We all know that there are no magic solutions to be had. Jesus is not going to descend from  heaven in a fiery crown, like a second-rate superhero, to make it all alright.

I am not going to pretend that I don't have a particular voting outcome in mind. It's time for women as bishops. It's time for this piece of Synodical work to be passed. There is no other intelligent option to be pursued that reflects the overwhelming desire of the dioceses. Let's not pretend there is some dazzling piece of legislative alchemy that is yet to be wrought. Let's get it done and move forward, hoping and praying that - through grace - the very many differing groups within the C of E may yet be converted to each other. I still have enough faith to think it's possible.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dazzling Darkness - Launch Night Reflections

‘Only three copies left!’

As the bookseller shouted this twenty minutes into the launch, I realized it was going to be a surprising and extraordinary night. For in truth, I’d expected this event to attract two or three dozen people at most. I’d feared there might even be one or two protesters outside the Cathedral claiming I was unfit to be a priest. Instead, Manchester Cathedral was humming with over one hundred folk. And, to my surprise, they all seemed to be there to take a closer look at Dazzling Darkness.

The vain part of me was thrilled, of course. Authors, inevitably, like to sell books and welcome a crowd. However, this evening was remarkable for me in deeper ways. I am conscious that Dazzling Darkness, as spiritual autobiography, does tell an unusual story.  There are, after all, relatively few lesbian-identified, transsexual, disabled priests active in the Church of England or elsewhere! However, having survived prejudice and fear from both within and without the church I had never imagined that there might be an occasion like this – a celebratory launch in a cathedral attended by so many well-wishers and friends.

Since I embarked on the sometimes bewildering process of changing sex twenty odd years ago, the world has, of course, changed. Nonetheless, in making my story public in the pages of a book, I’ve expected a lot of negativity. That negativity may yet come, but for one night there was grace. Friends like Nicola Slee, a Wild Goose author herself, spoke movingly about the creative 'wound' which runs through the story of Dazzling Darkness. Others suggested that it was the kind of book that might have something challenging and powerful to say to people of all hues of faith and none. I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of the more humorous sections of the book – for, as I suggest in the book’s introduction, it aspires ‘to be a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress with all the juicy bits left in’ – as well as to read some of the poems and talk about the devastating, but revelatory effects of illness. The Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch, closed proceedings by speaking wittily and generously about having someone like me serving as a vicar in Manchester Diocese.

I am – as the author – not in a position to think especially objectively about the evening or, indeed, the book. I am aware that given the story it tells and the unflinching way it tells it, it is a very risky book. Because of the things it says I may yet be invited to leave the church. However, the launch itself was a night for laughter and tears. I was humbled and stunned by strangers saying to me how moving and powerful they’d found the book and it was wonderful to share this evening with family and friends. I want to say a massive thanks to all of you who came along. At a time when the church seems divided about so many things, there was a remarkable sense of unity in the Cathedral. As one friend later said of the evening on Twitter, ‘I loved it. Honestly felt like I’d been to church too but had enjoyed it!’