Tucked away at the end of this blog is the revolutionary dynamite that was inspired by an article in the Guardian Review on Saturday 18 May 2019. Only a seamless vision of creation, evolution, Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the risen Christ, son of God, can hope to radically transform our relationship with our planet, the universe, our brothers and sisters in every continent of every race and gender and sexuality, overcoming our addiction to the defence of prejudice and difference.
In June 1988 a group from St Faith’s Wandsworth went to St Columba’s Woking for a retreat weekend led by Verena Tschudin. Verena provided us with a number of pictures from which we could choose one. She also gave us a series of questions to help us engage with the image. I offer these journal thoughts from thirty-one years ago as a complementary insight to what was going on within me at the same time as I was writing my reflections about parish life and ministry in the previous blog.
On December 26 1986 I set off on sabbatical, flying round the world for three and a half months. The one condition given was that I should keep a journal. Recently I’ve been rereading the journal. Yesterday I reached the entry for Friday 26 May 1988, written to remind myself of the ideas and ideals that were paramount in my philosophy of life and ministry. Nothing that I encounter now in church on a Sunday morning comes remotely close to what as a parish priest I was seeking to create in 1988.
In the modern West, in Christianity, faith is still primarily about what people believe and how they behave. A person is in a right standing with God when they acknowledge the validity of certain conceptual truths and by living as God wants. The evolution of Christianity from the first to the third centuries and the triumph of Christianity in the fourth century has now become an existential crisis for Christianity. We have endured thirteen centuries of a new kind of religiosity, Nicene orthodoxy. It is at an end, this doctrinaire belief in theological niceties and certainties, the inherited orthodoxy and traditionalism.
In his latest newsletter, James Alison, the well-known gay Catholic theologian, describes what he has learnt through the process of becoming a source of information for Frédéric Martel, the author of In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy. The Church of England has similarities and dissimilarities with the Catholic Church. We do not have a celibate priesthood. We do not describe homosexuality as intrinsically disordered. We do have a problem with systemic abuse. All but one of our lesbian and gay bishops live in the closet. We are having difficulty in processing the place of LGBTI+ people in the Church.
The really big news about invitations to the 2020 Lambeth Conference is that all lesbian and gay bishops are being invited, whether or not they are single or partnered, celibate or “sexually active,” overturning Archbishop Rowan’s refusal to invite Gene Robinson to Lambeth 2008 because he had a spouse. But this time, the spouses of two bishops, one lesbian, one gay, are not being invited. The person to hold to account for this prejudiced injustice is Archbishop Justin, but none of the English LGBTI+ networks, OBOF, the Ozanne Foundation, the General Synod Human Sexuality Group and the LGBTI Mission, has been willing to name the Archbishop and challenge his decision.
My daily faith experience is woven around the always elusive presence in which silence, attention, presence, self-giving, experience, quality, emotions, the unconditional, uncertainty, goodness are ingredients and essences, everywhere. Trusting deeply in what I can’t prove but know is my core, my essence, deep within, touched by, feeling it. The Church faces me with many images of God – homophobic, misogynistic, white bearded, authoritarian, judging, cruel, partisan, rejecting. The disconnect the Church maintains, between an imaginable God for the twenty-first century, and the God of co-dependency, abuse, depression, anxiety, and neurosis, is unsustainable.
The Revd Dr Tina Beardsley has written an article for the Church Times explaining why she recently resigned as one of the five consultants on the Coordinating Group (COG) of the Living in Love and Faith process. Tina argues that not enough attention is being paid to the experiences of LGBTI+ and questions the neutral stance that the LLF process has been taking. When the Archbishops launched Living in Love and Faith, they assured LGBTI+ people that no one is an issue or a problem. Tina’s experience demonstrates how impossibly difficult it is for the church implement the Archbishops’ vision.
This week I discovered that parish ministry for many, lay and ordained, continues to focus on people, their lives and uncertainties, sitting lose to creeds and dogma, but deeply valuing the elusive, the mystery, the not-knowing, the caring, open, energised, playful, deep-down truthiness of lives fuelled by prayer. For me, the idea of being a feral priest, learning a different set of skills and placing trust in the elusive, deeply present God best describes my current experience, where previously the unstated assumption was that I should trust the institution and its leaders.
The question I heard the Church asking long ago in my youth and that I internalised and that continues to haunt me because people are still posing the question, is: “Am I allowed to be who I am, feel what I feel and think what I think?” Am I allowed to be gay, am I allowed to love who I love, am I allowed to feel desire for whom I choose, am I allowed to think outside what still seems to be a narrow, dogmatic, Church-think box?