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.
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?