Friday, 27 January 2017

More Dust: Personal Response to the Statement on Sexuality

Having read the House of Bishops’ Statement on sexuality, I want to offer a brief update on my ‘Handful of Dust?’ post of yesterday.

As predicted, there were no radical proposals regarding the status of LGBTI people in the church. There’s talk of new documents, a new tone for talking about gay people, or building new bonds of respect, and an indication that intrusive questions directed only at LGBT ordinands and clergy shall be dropped.

But there is to be no pastoral accommodation regarding services of ‘blessing’ for LGBT relationships. Certainly, there shall be no shift in marriage doctrine.

I don’t think any of us expected any proposals regarding ‘gay’ marriage. But there was some hope that broad pastoral accommodations might be made to celebrate LGBT people’s relationships in church.

Reading it was an emotional experience. Not because the language was fabulous prose. No, because for people like me this isn’t a doctrinal or ideological matter. It affects huge swathes of my friends and colleagues. When I read the tense prose of a document like this, I see friends, family and colleagues hungry for affirmation and not receiving it.

I think of LGBT friends – often at the edge of faith and church - who’ve approached me to marry them or bless them.
I think of the many civil partnerships etc I’ve attended and thought, ‘This is marvellous and yet…I want people to know that God rejoices with them…’
I think of the people in the congregation I serve who ask for bread and receive not so much stones as dust that clogs their mouths.

And, yes, I think of myself.
Please forgive my self-indulgence in the next and final point:

It is a great privilege to serve as a priest. And becoming a Christian was the most extraordinary moment in my life. I am not ashamed to say I love God. And – I don’t want anyone to doubt this – I’ve been prepared for sacrifice in ministry. It hasn’t – to quote my old training incumbent – been all beer and skittles.

But what I’m starting to wrestle with is another love, an even more embarrassing love (in our current culture) than saying I love God.

I love the Church of England. There I’ve say it. I love its bewildered, often clumsy way of figuring out what it believes about stuff and how to cherish people.
I love its awkward, often patrician style. I love its combination of the brilliant, the pompous, the grand and the ordinary.
I know no other church. When I came back to faith I headed for the only church I could ever be part of: the C of E.

And now…
Well, today, I feel damaged. Not by the latest cack-handed attempts of the bishops to keep everyone together and speak with an authority the C of E last had in…well…you fill in the dots…

No I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. When I read today's document, I thought, ‘Am I so damaged, so mistaken in my bonds of affection for an institution that cannot offer people like me what we hope for (love, affirmation, rejoicing, joy), that I don’t know when enough is enough?’

I am idiot enough to still love the C of E at a deep level. Mainly because I love the wonderful, the odd, the frustrating and, well, the simply magnificent in congregations like the one I serve. And they love me. They model the love of God. God is known in this fractious, crumbling institution.

But, right now: oh, C of E – the skeins of my love for you are breaking. And I have a question: Can you ever really love people like me?


  1. There is nothing wrong with you, and thanks for cutting through the crap!

    1. Dear Rachel, my thoughts are with you and your colleagues in the Church of England who had hoped for more charity on the part of the bishops of the Church of England in this statement. However, it took a very long time for them to agree to the changes involving Women's Ordination - a necessary reality that we in ACANZP perceived many years before. We outside of the strictures of the dear old Mother Church have been freed to enter into a new understanding of God's love and care for each of God's children - without prejudice - and we will keep praying for your release into the freedom of the Children of God.

  2. Methinks you do protest too much. There are any number of LGBTI folk in the C of E and they welcome you as a sister . The C of E is not all white straights talking down to you: and neither are the Bishops. Of course they do not speak with one voice but so what. They are trying. the acknowlege an interim position. a station if you will.Keep yr end up by al means but fdon't adopt an us and them approach ...

    1. Rachel is not lying (which is what the Shakespeare quote basically means). Yes there are other LGBTQIA+ people in the church, but that doesn't stop the institution's handling of this issue, no these people and their relationships being intensely hurtful.

      Too often we have asked for bread and been given a stone. As an asexual I've been told I don't even exist, except that wasn't even what they were trying to say. But that is nothing compared to what LGBTQI+ people have experienced and one can take only so many stones instead of bread.

    2. Its a very lovely thing to feel the way you do about the church. But its also worth remembering that its a human institution, and subject to human anxiety regarding power. It has been, for a very long time, anxious and attached to its power, which lies solely in the authority it takes to discern the "mind" and "will" of God. How can it ever say it got it wrong ? Its a very laudable thing to love the church, but the call is to love God more. And you know when this love is real, because you can love those whom the church cannot. Including, and most especially, your beautiful divine self.

  3. Just keep in there Rachel. Your passion and faith are such endearing qualities despite endless disappointments. Thanks for helping the LGBTI Community understand and digest what is going on. We will not go away

  4. You, and those you love, are loved by God. That is all you need to hang on to..........

  5. I too love the CofE, but feel angry and frustrated today by the lack of integrity in this document. Let us hope and pray that General Synod will see through the prevarication and express it's mutual disgust at it's content and the damage that it has done to so many, the hurt, pain and hope dashed by a cack handed attempt to maintain a wavering line that is near breaking point.

    Keep witnessing, because the power of your and others witness is enough in time, to change the hearts and minds of new Bishops as they join the college - and the current cohort won't be there for ever.

  6. I belong to the Catholic Church, and I feel your pain and heartbreak deeply. I too, often feel rejected by the Church I love so much. For me too, it's the only Church I've known, and it pains me deeply that it cannot fully accept it's lgbt members..... But I feel that that pain is important. It shows me what's lacking yes, and hurts deeply, but somehow it unites me more fully with all those on the edges, both of the church and of society at large. And I cling to the belief that if Jesus is present anywhere, then he will be found most fully in the margins and the edges, and so this is where I belong. It's not a comfortable place - far from it - but it is where I find God, and myself, and the most beautiful people. You are beautiful, and precious, and beloved. Thank you for all you say and do.

  7. Thank you for giving voice to those of us who don't have the ability to get the leaders of the C of E to listen to our concerns.
    For various reasons, I've not been able to attend the church that I'm part of for some time but I have been reaching the point where I am ready to venture back. I know that there are people there that will have me there with open arms as they've known me for a long time. There have been times where I've not felt as welcome and times where I’ve wondered where God is in my life, and this has led to me struggling with my faith. Reading this report has left me wondering where I fit within the C of E.
    My wife and I are in a same sex marriage but that wasn't always the case. When we married, we met the Church's view on marriage being between one man and one woman. Since then we've gone through the changes that come with one of the couple being transgender and transitioning with both of us wanting to stay married. Something that, thankfully, we have been able to do because of changes in the law.
    Reading the report I find myself wondering where families like mine fall within the views of the C of E. Will marriages like ours be recognised by the Church as falling within its view of what a marriage is because they don't recognise that one person has transitioned, therefore denying who that person is, or will they disavow that marriage as falling within the Church's viewpoint because one of the partners has changed how the world sees them.
    I know that clarifying views like this is complex and that situations like ours are going to be rare. It would be nice to feel that the Church acknowledges our existence and has given consideration to how they see us.

  8. You and me both.... at least you have a ministry; I'm still struggling to even get an NSM licence!!

  9. Don't forget the C of E was set up to fulfil a kings sexual ambition and free him to marry. Can you see a parallel today in another sexual issue. It seems hypocritical to me.

  10. The Bishops’ Statement begins with

    ‘We want to begin by reaffirming the key Christian understanding that all human beings are made in the image of God’.

    But there is no explicit mention of the other great truth about ‘all human beings’ that, as Article 9 puts it, we are all born with a corrupt nature inclined to evil. This omission is unfortunate because this doctrine is an essential context for this whole disagreement.

    My view is that faithful, loving Christian heterosexual sexual married relationships are acceptable to God whereas faithful, loving Christian homosexual sexual relationships are not acceptable to God.

    But people like me, who hold this view, have to be aware of beams in our own eyes. I mean this: the picture of mortification which Christ uses, of plucking out an eye and cutting off a hand, warn us of the excruciating experience when we try, really try, to resist temptations to behave in a way that the Bible says is sinful. Have I tried, really tried, tried to the point of agony, to resist the temptation to disobey the command to be content with food and clothing and give the money saved to those in need? The Bible says much more about such sacrifices than about homosexuality.

    Phil Almond