Letter to America, The Morning After An Election

I haven’t slept and I don’t think this is going to be very articulate.

But, first thoughts.

For most of the night I’ve been watching the coverage of the presidential election. This morning, I am scared. I’m scared for women, and for people of colour, and for disabled people, and for poor people, and for people who need hospitals, and for LGBT people, and for the literal planet. I’m scared because of issues of social justice and self determination and the economy and the environment and foreign policy. It’s not just about the presidency; it’s about the vice presidency and the House and the Senate and eventually it’s about the Supreme Court. It’s not just about America; as America goes, so often so goes the world. It’s not even just about last night, it’s about the last two years and the turning political tide that has led us to this point where never in my lifetime have so many people across the Western world held such a fragile grasp on their civil liberties.

I suppose there are people who are not frightened — people who wanted this, or who think they did, and they apparently represent half of the United States. BBC News interviewed a man this morning who represented an organisation called American Muslims for Trump, a first generation immigrant born in Pakistan who loves America and was prepared to swear blind that when Trump talked about Muslims he didn’t mean people like him. He is thrilled; I am terrified for him. I am prepared to believe that some of the people who voted for Donald Trump are not bad people, but are people who have been disenfranchised and lied to and I think maybe he is one of them. I do, though, think some of the people who voted for Donald Trump are bad people. And what’s more important is I think the person they have voted for is a bad person. I don’t believe that he is someone whose ideas are worthy of consideration or whose opinion I happen to disagree with; he’s just wrong.

Today, I live in a world where a xenophobic misogynist with no knowledge or experience, multiple active accusations of sexual assault, a history of multiple bankruptcies, and by all accounts the attention span of a fruit fly is president-elect of the United States. In a world where that man can be pitted against a smart, articulate, qualified woman with a work ethic that I can only gape at, and she still loses that fight. This, in a country that thinks of itself as the most advanced democracy in the world.

I know that there are also people who are not frightened enough. They are the ones who keep saying things about checks and balances, and about him not being able to do that much harm. I think those people are drastically underestimating the power of the executive.

I’ve been thinking about that night, eight years ago, watching that speech in Grant Park, that night when I really believed that the world had changed for the better, and I’m wondering what the hell happened.

It isn’t just about America, and it certainly isn’t just about last night. This election has been a defining moment, for sure, but it comes at the end of two years when right here at home and on a global scale we have seen the rise of the radical right and it is going to get worse before it gets better.

It’s tempting to curl up and lick our wounds, but we can’t do that.

Well, for today we can.

But the sun will rise on tomorrow, and, my friends, tomorrow we’ve got work to do, right across the world. It is time to protect the vulnerable, to speak out for the marginalised, to listen to the disenfranchised, and to fight back against oppression in whatever mask it happens to be wearing on any given day. It’s going to be harder now. It’s going to be more important than it ever has been before.

Every so often this year when I’ve looked at the state of the world and despaired, I’ve come back to something that was posted on social media by Lin Manuel-Miranda on no particular day in July.


Okay. Let’s go.

The Church of England, and The Sex In Sexuality

The Church of England spent this last weekend finding that they have a gay bishop in their midst, and then by turns tearing its hair out about it and pretending to be completely relaxed about it.

Late on Friday, the news broke on the Guardian website that the Bishop of Grantham, the Right Reverend Nicholas Chamberlain, had given an interview to Harriet Sherwood about his sexuality and his relationship by way of pre-empting a Sunday newspaper that had threatened to out him. He is a gay man, and he is in a long-term relationship that he describes in the most positive of terms: “It is faithful, it is loving, we are like-minded, we enjoy each other’s company, and we share each other’s life.” It is also sexually abstinent — a requirement of all clergy in the Church of England in same-sex relationships, although not of clergy in opposite-sex relationships.

And — look, and let me just say this. It’s 2016. We’re post-sodomy laws, post-equal age of consent, post-Section 21, post-anti-discrimination legislation, post-marriage equality, for God’s sake. The fact that a journalist pitched a story whose hook was that a person who has broken no laws and harmed no one happened and by all accounts has conducted himself in a manner that was above reproach happens to be gay is horrifying. Tell me that we’ve won the fight; I dare you.

At this point, if you can imagine a response, it has probably been made.

There are parts of the LGBT community who are thrilled, and it’s difficult to blame them. There are parts of the Church who are calling for the Bishop’s resignation, and that was predictable.

And then there’s the vast majority of comments that I’ve seen online, and, honestly, this is from people who are trying to be supportive, and it’s a variation on this:

“… but he’s celibate, so it’s okay.”

Now, leaving aside the fact that the Church of England’s parlance of “celibacy” is inaccurate, which is not Bishop Nicholas’s fault, we’ll move onto this:

It isn’t okay.

It isn’t okay that anyone has to declare anything about the intimacies of their private lives to the newspapers before we decide that they’re good at their job, or that they’re a good person, or that we’re going to support them. It isn’t okay that a person goes for a job interview and is asked questions about whether they have sex and what kind of sex they have and they just have to accept that as a normal thing to be asked. It isn’t okay that the hierarchy of the Church of England claims to be supportive of LGBT clergy while also saying that “homosexual genital acts” must be repented of and banning its clergy from, you know, having them with their spouses, and no one calls them out on the hypocrisy. There are also people over the weekend who have said that those who are expressing concerns like mine are condemning Bishop Nicholas for “not being gay enough”, which is not it at all. I don’t condemn him; I am sort of broken hearted for him and for so many others like him. It’s not about his sexual abstinence. It’s that his choice was between choosing that or denying a call to God, and that that is a choice that more people than you can possibly imagine have had to make. It’s that he had to declare it to the papers and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to answer questions that no straight member of the clergy would ever be asked.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you that I don’t care what people do in the privacy of their relationships and their bedrooms, but that would be a lie.

I have a friend who was asked once, by someone who was meant to be respectfully listening at a shared conversation and whose parents never taught them to not ask questions they didn’t want answers to, what it is that gay people even do in bed. (If you were wondering: drink tea and listen to Radio 4.)

I’ve said sometimes that the tragedy of the Church’s obsession with sexuality is that I too want us to stop talking about it. I want us to be done with this conversation so that we can move onto talking about climate change and refugees and poverty and building the kingdom of heaven on Earth, and I do want all of those things.

But there’s something else I want too.

I want us to talk about sex.

You all think that I go away to Synod for three days and do nothing but talk about sex, but we don’t do that. In the Church, sex, particularly between partners of the same sex, is something dirty and something that we don’t talk about. TMI, we shout.

It’s time to stop doing that.

I want us to talk about marriage. I want us to talk about relationships. I want us to talk about what makes a good relationship and what makes a bad relationship. I want to talk about why someone might choose — actually choose — to be sexually abstinent, and why that would be fine. I want us to talk about the things that go into making a life together and go into making up a marriage, and I want us to be able to acknowledge that for a lot of people that includes sex. I want us to be able to talk about good sex and bad sex and sexual compatibility. I want us to talk, in the church, about protecting oneself from unwanted pregnancies and STIs. I want there to be conversations about rape and sexual assault and domestic violence among all kinds of couples.

God bless Bishop Nicholas, therefore. God bless those whom he loves and those to whom he ministers. And may God give us strength for a battle that some days it feels like we’re winning and some days it feels like we haven’t even suited up for yet.

These are the conversations that are important. They are the conversations that we do not have. And until we stop the obsession with what sex a person wants to have sex with, we will never be able to have them.


NB: This post previously gave the incorrect name of the Guardian journalist involved in the initial article, who was Harriet Sherwood. This has been corrected.

Have We All Survived Changeover?

*clears throat*


How are you all doing?

It’s just about a month now since changeover. I hope that’s time enough for you to have figured out where the toilets are, and how to get hold of psych on call in the middle of the night, and which of your seventeen computer passwords is the correct one to make a CT scan happen. It’s not quite enough time yet to have unlearned the learned response for the way to do things in your old hospital, though; your hospital, where you knew everyone’s name and you knew the protocol for prescribing vancomycin without asking a pharmacist, two nurses, and an FY1. It’s not quite enough time for your new hospital to feel quite like your hospital yet, or for you to not still feel just a little bit at sea.

FY1s, have you stopped needing to suppress giggles yet when you tell people that you’re a doctor? Are your seniors being reasonable and helpful? Are you getting to teaching? Are you remembering to eat and drink? Are you okay? If you are not okay, have you found someone to talk to about that?

I am sort of aware, FY1s, that it would be comforting if I let you believe that the confusion and weirdness of August changeover is inversely proportional to seniority and that it gets less weird and confusing after you’ve done it a couple of times, but, for many many reasons, that would be a lie.

In August, there are new medical registrars who have never had to be the med reg before. FY2s have just completed their first month of being the SHO, and that’s a big step up. All over the NHS, junior doctors have started new training programmes and been given new responsibilities and some are doing it in new Trusts or Deaneries that are entirely foreign to them and where their support networks are not. August is scary as hell. This is why we all walk around the whole month looking like Sputnik just landed on our heads. And for the record, I’ve been working in my Trust for four years and I’ve been working mostly at an SHO-equivalent level for those same four years, and August is still scary as hell. I’m a quarter of the way through this rotation, and I still have not learned everyone’s names or the intricacies of my very specialty-specific and very new-to-me computer system or how a kidney, you know, works.

FY1s, let your comfort if you need it be that every year from now until the end of time we are all in this particular period of weirdness together.

So, therefore, how are the rest of you doing? Are your seniors being reasonable and supportive? Have you found your educational supervisor yet? Have you worked out who exactly it is that you’re on call for? Are you even as we speak lost in the rabbit warren of interventional radiology in a hospital whose layout you still do not quite understand and need one of us to come let you out? (Is that one just me?) Do you need a hug?

Welcome. Pull up a patch of floor. We’ve got cookies and coffee and mutual terror and spare copies of Cheese and Onion.

Blessed Are The Fabulous

The word came down the long parade of singing, dancing, cheering people, spreading amongst the crowd of rainbows: “There are religious protestors up ahead.”

We raised our eyebrows. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an honest-to-God protester at a pride march in Scotland.

I was walking in Glasgow Pride with a group of Scottish Episcopalians yesterday, our numbers and enthusiasm undampened despite the best efforts of the steely Scottish sky to drown us all. I was holding an enormous banner that proclaims, “The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You.” I was standing with two priests, and behind us were a mass of Episcopalians, young and old, dogs and humans, men and women, bisexual and gay and straight, clergy and laity, veteran Pride attendees and Pride virgins, all wearing badges that say “Love Wins”, and, dashing about among the spectators lined along the pavements, a priest with a rainbow plait in her hair distributed invitations to come to church on Sunday morning.

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Photo: Vicky Gunn

I think there was a time when I’d have said we were a fringe group, in the Church. The first time I did Piskies at Pride, there were five of us. Yesterday, we were at least 25 of us and we were there with the blessing and the endorsement and the funding of my Diocesan Bishop. The world has changed. The church is changing. It has been slow and painful and bloody hard work, but it is happening and its truth is never more clear to me than when we all show up at Pride.

As we rounded the corner onto Saltmarket, the quality of the noise changed. The shouts which had been joyful became angrier, darker. The protestors we had been warned about came into view. A ragtag miserable looking crew, and a street preacher who was waving his bible in the air, and screaming about sodomy and sin and hellfire and damnation. None of it was about a God that I believe in or would have any time for if I did.

My experience of being a Christian who walks in gay pride marches as part of an identifiably Christian organisation is that people are generally quietly pleased to see us there. I’ve always felt welcome at Pride. As a group, we’re always kind of noteworthy — I walk beside someone who goes to Pride wearing a clerical collar and a badge identifying him as “Real Priest”, which is the sort of thing that still perks up most photographers. I’m not sure, though, that our presence has ever been actively cheered.

As we passed that ragtag bunch of protesters, we turned our banner on them.

The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You.

And a roar went up from the crowd.

“Why do you do Pride? Aren’t we a bit past all that? Why is Pride even still necessary?” I’m asked sometimes. And then they remind me: “I mean, you’ve won.”

The truth is that we do Pride because of stuff like that, and because of what that kind of thing represents about the world in which we all live. Because when forty-nine people living at the epicentre of the land of the free and the home of the brave can be killed for being in a gay club, we haven’t won yet. Because when there are parts of the world where people are killed for being on a Pride march, we haven’t won yet. Because when being LGBT is still a criminal act in 72 countries and carries the death penalty in 13 countries, we have evidently not won yet. There are fights that still need fighting.

This weekend, I’ve been thinking about the day Gene Robinson came to Glasgow.

It was a summer day in Glasgow very much like yesterday — dark and dreich and very very wet. It was the year he had been barred from attending the Lambeth Conference and from celebrating Communion in England, and he came to Scotland instead. I remember that I was running very late for church that day, and that I was thoroughly taken aback when I opened my taxi door onto a bedraggled group of protesters and a couple of folk who pounced on me, trying to hand me bible tracts, as I stepped onto Great Western Road. And then from nowhere an arm descended around my shoulders and a voice told me to come inside. Inside, where there was warmth and light and joy and love.

A place where God is love.

The rain thundered down on us yesterday. The preacher ran alongside us with his megaphone, outraged and incoherent and drowned out by the sirens of the Scottish Ambulance Service doing it on purpose. A forest of rainbow umbrellas danced up the street. The people of Glasgow turned out onto the streets and hung out of their windows to cheer us on. Just over my left shoulder, a priest began walking backwards and conducting an impromptu rendition of Dancing Queen. And through the black clouds and pouring rain, the Holy Spirit shimmered and shimmied over our heads, boogeying ahead of us into that better world that we seek to create, where heaven has been built and truth that is Gospel has spread unto the ends of the earth.

God is love. God is love. God is love.

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Photo: Beth Routledge. Artwork: Audrey O’Brien Stewart.


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I reckon there’s a market for these.

I arrived at church this morning in a whirlwind — filled with caffeine, hair everywhere, glasses wonky, dashing into the sacristy to do the most rapid of changes, from scrubs to cassock, before the service started. The clergy and the rest of the congregation are well used to this by now. A raised eyebrow and a murmur of, “So what time zone are you in today?”

Today, though, I was presented with the latest offering from the Cathedral badge stall (not yet available online).




A Requiem for PACES, and Alleluia

In my third year of medical school, I volunteered to help with the running of the PACES exam at one of the big Glasgow teaching hospitals. It was an opportunity to spend all day dinging a bell, to eat an heroic quantity of Quality Street, and to, between circuits, be shown some clinical findings more complex than those we were usually given in our medical school OSCEs.

In June, I sat PACES.

You may recall that the last time I wrote, I had put myself into some kind of fugue state refreshing the results website.

I passed.

And, you know, saying that, it still doesn’t feel quite real, even two weeks later.

I passed.

And — well, let me explain this, a little bit.

In the UK, one of the criterion for progressing in a medical career is to complete the necessary postgraduate qualifications to become a member of the relevant specialist “College”. There is a Royal College of Surgeons, and a Royal College of Emergency Medicine, and a Royal College of General Practitioners, and so on. The membership qualifications for the Royal College of Physicians come in three parts, of which PACES is the final part. In all, they have taken three years, untold hours, and a significant amount of actual money spent on exam fees, revision materials, and all the caffeine in Glasgow. I also have less hair than when I started.

The first two parts are multiple choice. The first part is six hours long (with a break in the middle), and I have previously described it as being not unlike spending six hours having one’s brains kicked in by a rugby team. I took it four times. The last time was in the Newcastle United football stadium, one of the stranger places I’ve ever been in the name of my medical education. The second part is nine hours long, and I sat that only once but in a room that contained no air during the hottest two days there have ever been in the west of Scotland. After 27 hours worth of multiple choice exam, I had lost the will to live but had grown very comfortable with colouring in boxes in 2B pencil.

The third part is not like that.

I think the thing that will perhaps best describe PACES is for me to say that even while in the middle of actually taking it, I was aware that I was muttering frantic karmic apologies to every single doctor at whom I had dinged that bell back when I was a third year medical student.

“You will be fine,” my consultants had been saying to me in the week leading up to it. “You’re a good doctor.” This was kind of them, but I kept reminding them that being competent at my job and appearing competent in this exam were two very different kinds of competent.

You wake up too early in the morning. You try to eat breakfast. You travel to a hospital that is not your own, and may not be exactly in the back of beyond but certainly feels like it. I went off to the conference suite of a hotel that is attached to the national specialist cardiology centre — a place that I have spent a lot of time on the phone to, but, despite nine years of living in Scotland, had never seen for myself. “This is Dalmuir, where this train will terminate,” said the Scotrail tannoy, which felt ominous. You sit in a room where time stops, making nervous small talk with the other four people who are taking the exam with you, filling in your name and candidate number on sixteen separate pieces of paper and flicking frantically through Cases for PACES as you try to remember the indications for liver transplant.

The next two hours pass at warp speed.

The basic structure is the same for everyone: assessments of communication skills and ethics, examinations in the four major body systems, and a final station two-case grab-bag of can-be-absolutely-anything. The patients are sometimes actors, but are mostly real patients who have been recruited in for the day. In my version of the exam, I was asked to take a history from a woman who I promptly blanked on half of her presenting complaint, I was asked to counsel a young man who was angry with my boss, I struggled to find anything at all wrong with the patient whose abdomen I was examining, and trying to listen for heart sounds I briefly wondered if my stethoscope had turned itself off. In the middle of telling me about his syncope, one patient, who had also mentioned that he was on a blood-thinning medication, said that he had hit his head on the ground when he had fainted. “I haven’t really,” he said when I started trying to look for a head injury. “I’m allowed to tell you that I haven’t really.” The whole time, there were two examiners, watching, scribbling things on those pieces of paper that I had painstakingly filled in back in the room-where-time-stopped.

As each of my examinations was completed, I turned to them, tried for a winning smile, and began, “Mr Jones is a fifty seven year old gentleman. He is comfortable at rest…”

In this exam, stage fright is a real thing.

A week earlier, in Edinburgh, I had sat down after making a speech to the great and the good of the Scottish Episcopal Church and said that if failing my exam was the price I had to pay for being there, it would have been worth it. (I could, after all, have sat it again in the autumn, which would have been a pain but hardly the end of the world.) Now, on the other side of it, it’s not that I’d necessarily recommend spending three days at General Synod as a revision strategy for PACES, but the experience does throw a person’s whole idea of what counts as an intimidating room into rather harsh perspective.

They go on to ask questions. I said things like, “I would want to get an abdominal ultrasound,” and, “I would expect the left hemidiaphragm to be raised on chest x-ray,” and, “Oh, hell, I’m sorry, I totally forgot to ask him about that,” and, at one point, “Well, on a SPECT scan you’d normally see, uh — ” and, screwing my nose up as I tried and failed to articulate it, drew a picture of what you’d normally see on a SPECT scan with my fingers in the air.

And then that bloody bell dings and you get the hell out of there while shouting through the door, “I’d do an ESR and a CRP, too!”

Forget having your brains kicked in by a rugby team.

“I think I’ve been smacked in the face with a baseball bat,” I said, collapsing in the car.

It wouldn’t have been the end of the world, of course, to take it again, but am I ever glad that I haven’t got to.

(Im)patiently Waiting

My job is all wait and hurry up.

It’s about waiting for the patients to roll in the door from ED and waiting for the urgent labs to come back and waiting the two minutes for the next rhythm check.

Once, waiting for the gas machine to finish an uninterruptible calibration cycle so that I could process the blood gas that I’d run across from a different building at 2am. The clock said it took about fifteen minutes. I still think it took about three hours.

And then it’s about the hurry up and the spaces between the waiting: the three patients needing sorted out all at once, the electrolytes with numbers that trigger a very particular on switch in the brain, the flurry of activity that happens at metronomic two minute intervals during a cardiac arrest.

The last two weeks, I’ve been suffering through a different kind of waiting.

It is two weeks ago today that I sat PACES, the clinical and final part of the exams for Membership of the Royal College of Physicians.

First, there was the waiting around before the exam. The waking up far too early and pacing the kitchen. The nervous twitching on the train out to the hospital in Dalmuir. They ask you to arrive an hour early, so obviously you arrive two hours early and have nothing to do but sit, looking at the walls, trying and largely failing to recall the causes of cerebellar syndrome and making desultory small talk with four strangers whose faces are all different shades of green.

And, then, finally, the hurry up: the two hours that ended before I’d properly registered that they’d started.

I beg of you, do not ask me how it went.

My colleagues mostly think that it will have been fine.

I mostly agree, but the reason I mostly agree is because I think I’ll be fine either way. I’ve taken this exam comparatively early, and I have plenty of time to take it again.

This incredibly sensible way of looking at things has not stopped my hairline slowly receding every day that passes with no result, or, for the last thirteen days — and, remembering how patient I was with the gas machine and its calibration cycle, you will be unsurprised to learn that this is a time period that I have come to perceive as my entire life — my main extracurricular activity being the act of hitting refresh on the MRCP website.

A person can go a bit mad. “I’m sure I sat it,” I said to a colleague today. “I don’t think it was a delusion.”

I am not good at this part.

After Orlando

It is difficult to know where to begin.

This has been an uncomfortable week to occupy space in the world.

As a person whose identity is bound up in being female, being LGBTQ, believing in liberal democracy.

A little over a week ago, I gave a speech in which I called upon people to play their part in dismantling systems that have kept the oppressed oppressed. I was speaking particularly about the place of people who are gay and lesbian in Scottish Episcopal Church, but I was also speaking about all people of all races and religions and nationalities and sexualities and gender identities and all differences that have led to the Church as seeing them as Other.

I did not know when I said that that less than 48 hours later, there would be a massacre of the LGBTQ community in Florida. In the supposed land of the free and the home of the brave.

And nor did I know when I said that that this week there would be a political assassination on a British street, of a woman of conviction and principle who died because she believed in justice and equality and the possibility of a better world.

Why do I think that marriage equality is important? Why do I still think in the face of death and destruction and chaos that this is something still worth fighting for?

Because every time we declare that marginalised people of any kind are less important, are less than fully human, are not equal but are equal but must be separate, every time, that voice lends legitimacy to racism and misogyny and small-mindedness and homophobia.

And every time we say fuck that, that voice makes the world a little bit better.

In church this morning, all three people on the altar were LGBT. It wasn’t on purpose. It isn’t the first time. It probably wasn’t noticed by three quarters of the people in the congregation. It wasn’t a statement, but it felt like one anyway.

I am aware that I speak from a place of extraordinary privilege — a place of being white, being Western, being middle class. I am aware that when I say it has been an uncomfortable week, I am also saying that I cannot conceive of the ten thousand times anger and pain of my lesbian and gay sisters and brothers who are Muslim and Latinx nor of the real fear of migrants and refugees in the UK that they now have a target painted on their backs.

It’s only politics, they tell me.

Except, we know — we have always known — that “only” politics is “only” a matter of literal life and death.

This week, in all the confusion, in all the not knowing what to say, I’ve been looking for God. For a God who doesn’t exist in the ephemeral or in the thoughts and prayers and best wishes. For a God who exists in the helpers. In the emergency services and the bystanders. In the people and voices that have taken this week onto the street and the airwaves to say that hate will never ever win. In my own queer family. In the voice of Jo Cox, and the creed of decency and humanity that she died for and that I hold to be Gospel truth.

We remember and hold before us the legacy of people who swore to change the world — from Birstall to Orlando, from the Stonewall riots to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the saints and martyrs who have gone before us.

It’s up to us now.

Prayer for Orlando

As I spoke giddily to friends who welcomed home the weary travellers from Edinburgh. As I sat with Kelvin so that we could try to unpack for those who had not been there all the events and accomplishments of the last three days. As my voice caught at the joyful lump in my throat when I sang the Alleluias.

As all these things happened, a different story was unfolding across the Atlantic.

50 people are confirmed dead after a mass shooting in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida, with another 53 people injured. It has been the deadliest terrorist attack to take place on American soil since September 11th.

I think you might think that because we’re talking about marriage, everything else is okay now. But the truth is that in 2016 we still live in a world where lesbian, gay, and bisexual people can legally be imprisoned or executed, where people of non-cis and non-binary gender identities are under increasing, not decreasing, attacks, and where LGBT people out for the evening in a place that was meant to be safe for them can be shot dead. For as long as these things continue to be true, the kingdom of God has not yet arrived on Earth. The truth is, on days like this, it feels like marriage is the easy part.


Almighty God,

We pray for Orlando,
and for every place on Earth it that has been tainted by violence.

We pray for all your children, made in your glorious image,
who face discrimination, suffering, criminalisation, and death because of their sexualities and gender identities.

Give rest to the weary,
comfort to the fearful,
strength to those who mourn,
and courage to those in authority.

Loving God, we look to you in our confusion
and we ask you for the endurance to meet hate with love, and violence with peace,
and for the perfect rage and perfect strength to continue our work,
seeking justice and equality for all,
and completing our task to build your kingdom of heaven on Earth.

Into The Light Of Morning

Yesterday, the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to pass the first reading of our amended Canon 31, the canon that governs marriage within our Church and that in its amended form would allow us the possibility of marriage between couples of the same sex.

The result was 71% in favour from the House of Bishops, 69% from the House of Clergy, and 80% with three abstentions from the House of Laity. The goal for this year had been a simple majority in each house.

I think the media would have liked us to schism over it, for a Diocese to renounce our Episcopal oversight or a Bishop to storm out — after all, that makes for a better headline. Instead, the media got a reasonable, respectful, measured conversation among a room full of adults who weren’t interested in creating drama but whose priority was to find common ground. The manner in which we did our business and the way we modelled that to the world was almost more important than what that business was.

As recently as two years ago, we could not have had that debate in the way we have had it.

I told Synod two years ago that it talked about LGBT people as if we weren’t there in the room, and I believe that that was true. It isn’t true anymore. The people who stand up at Synod these days in the belief that they are talking to a room full of straight people are vanishingly few. There has been a seismic shift in the way the Church thinks about these issues and the way in which we talk to each other about them.

In our two most recent General Synods, I have witnessed a ministry of healing and reconciliation that has happened right there on the Synod floor.

I will never forget the man who, in the middle of our debate in 2015, got up to bear witness to the extraordinary transformation that had taken place in him during that very debate. He had come to Synod with the belief that marriage between people of the same sex was wrong, and he had been prepared to vote against a process for canonical change, but, that very day, as he listened to the discussion whirling around about, his heart and mind were changed by the people whose testimonies had been given and whose truths he had heard.

And this week I have watched in awe as person after person from the evangelical tradition has come to the podium to tell us that while they believe as a point of principle that marriage is between a man and a woman, they do not disagree entirely with the proposed changes to canon law. The Scottish Episcopal Church are a diverse people, and my evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ say that the amended Canon 31 contains a way of expressing our difference of opinion that they might be able to live with. Even for those who did not feel able to vote for it, they recognised that this had been done in a way that allowed them not to walk away from the Church.

It is not always easy to discern the hand of God in the business of General Synod, but in these conversations the work of the Holy Spirit has been a real presence.

This has always been about how we meet in the middle to create a church where we live out the Gospel truth that we are all all blessed. I have the sense now that that is a place we are moving towards.

As we prayed together as a whole people after the results of the vote were announced, I wept. I wept tears of joy, and of relief, and of pride in my belonging to a place that can do its business with such compassion.

God most holy, we give you thanks for bringing us out of the shadow of night into the light of morning…

Of course, there is work still to be done. There are voices on both sides of the issues who have not yet been heard. There is hurt in people on both sides of the conversation that has not yet been healed. There is a second vote next year that will require a two thirds majority in each House before the amended canon is ultimately accepted into canon law. Yesterday, pacing around my hotel room at five in the morning and even during morning coffee as we waited for votes to be counted, I did not know if we were going to succeed in what we were trying to do. There is work to be done before Synod comes back together in a year’s time to vote on this again.

I stood yesterday outside the General Synod with a friend, both of us trying to absorb all that we had seen and heard — not only in the past few days, but in all the work that had brought us to this place and this day and this defining moment.

“What are you thinking about?” he asked.

I’m thinking about what’s next.