Open, Inclusive, Welcoming, and Proud: Scottish Episcopal Church Approves Canon 31

General Synod has approved amendments to Canon 31 with a greater than two thirds majority in each of the houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is open for business in all its glorious diversity, and our business is professing the Gospel truth that God loves everyone. I am proud to have been part of this process and will be proud to see gay couples walk down our church aisles. I am relieved that we can move on from long years of squabbling over sexuality, and delighted that have done it in a debate that was so generous and diverse.

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How To Follow Along With General Synod

This is the key information for those who are hoping to follow along with the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

There will be items on the Today programme and BBC Breakfast this morning.

The discussions on Canon 31 are this afternoon (Thursday 8th June). The debate on Motion 6, which would pass the proposed Canon, is is expected to start at about 2.45pm. An hour has been scheduled for the debate. There will be a break for refreshment and the vote to be counted, and we expect to have a result at about 4.20pm.

The papers are available to read here. They include the text of all the motions, the text of the proposed amendments to Canon 31, and a draft guideline from the House of Bishops on how various practical aspects of the new Canon 31 would be dealt with if it passes.

General Synod is held at St Paul’s and St George’s Church on York Place, Edinburgh. The meeting is open, and the gallery is open to the public. It is likely to be busy today. There are security measures in place, so please allow a little extra time to get in.

If you wish to follow along at home, the live video stream of the proceedings is available here.

The conversation on Twitter can be followed and joined in with at #pisky.

The Primus is making himself available for interview immediately following the day’s proceedings, which we expect to be complete at around 5pm.

On The Eve of General Synod, Some Thoughts on Love and Marriage

Tonight, I am preparing myself for the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church which begins tomorrow in Edinburgh.

This is the long awaited Synod in which we may well make equal marriage a reality for those in the Church who choose it, but it is also the Synod in which the Church may equally well choose not to do that. If we were to believe the headlines in the mainstream and Christian press over the last week, we would be forgiven for thinking that it is hardly even up for debate. This is not true. A two thirds majority is a high bar to clear, and the debate in our last two Synods has been robust and thorough, and I am certain that this Synod will be no exception.

But there are things that I am certain of.

There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — that to be a gay person in the Scottish Episcopal Church meant listening to other people talk about issues of LGBT equality as if there were no gay people in the room. There was a time when I struggled to believe that the wider Scottish Episcopal Church would ever wrap its head around equal personhood for LGBT people, let alone equal marriage. And the idea that I would ever hear straight people making speeches in favour of marriage equality in the Church did not exist even in my wildest dreams.

I am certain that those things are not true anymore.

This is a campaign that has changed the Scottish Episcopal Church for the better.

I will believe that, no matter what happens tomorrow.

The headlines are not saying that either. No doubt it doesn’t make such a good story as the one that says we’re on the point of schism, but the version that is being printed simply isn’t the case.

I have made no secret of where my allegiances lie. You know how I want this to go.

I’ve said a lot of things over the last five years, and I have mostly talked about the bigger issues. I’ve said a lot about why I believe this is important for the world and why it is important for the Church, and those things are all true and no doubt I’ll say them again before we’re done here.

Tonight, I want to put my cards on the table and talk about why it’s important to me.

The presumption is that if you are campaigning for marriage equality, you must have someone who you actually intend to marry once you are able to do so.

I have a job that lends itself to odd hours and strange dinner conversation, a cathedral that lends itself to more odd hours and even stranger dinner conversation, and a rather wonderful life that is no less wonderful simply because it does not happen to feature a partner.

And yet — this is something that is important to me anyway.

I already know that God loves me.

I know it because I happened to stumble into a cathedral that would become home, and a few weeks later I happened to hear a sermon that would change my life and change my faith. A sermon that told of the Gospel truth of a God who loves everyone.

That is the business of the Church. To proclaim that God loves everyone.

But here’s the thing:

You can’t just say it.

You have to live it.

My coming out story isn’t particularly unusual, nor did it go particularly badly, or, at least, not in the larger picture of what happens when people come out and it really does go badly, but I did grow up knowing that what I would come to understand was my sexuality was something that wasn’t quite okay, wasn’t quite normal, and put me on the outside.

This is why civil partnership and then equal marriage legislation has been so significant. The wave of equality and love that seemed to sweep across parts of the globe over the last decade. The day they passed equal marriage in England and Wales. The interns running across the steps of the Supreme Court. The day the parliament in New Zealand broke out into a Maori love song, a moment so profound that I still cry when I watch it. The day it passed in Holyrood and the man who was trying to sell me a car while I watched the vote on a cracked iPhone screen thought it was all wonderful but also utterly unremarkable, and that it was that, the fact that he thought it was unremarkable, that was absolutely astonishing to me and more than anything else made me realise how far we had come.

These things are important not only because they legitimise our relationships, but because they legitimise who we are.

Tomorrow, that’s what Synod will be saying to me if we pass this.

That you, and you, and you, and me, are exactly who God intended us to be.

That you, and you, and you, and me, are included in the circle of all that is holy.

That the Scottish Episcopal Church is open for business, and that that business is telling everyone that they are loved by God.

It’s Time – Marriage Equality and the Scottish Episcopal Church

In eight days time, I will be in Edinburgh at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

A significant piece of business that will be done at this Synod will be to vote on proposed changes to Canon 31, the law that governs marriage within the Church.

I am aware that I have been banging on about this for — well, for a very long time now. It is truly my great hope that I will return to the General Synod of 2018 and get up to make a speech about refugee welfare or clergy education or the budget or anything at all that isn’t about marriage, but this is what we’re doing next week.

There is a lot of detail that I could go into about what exactly it is that we’re doing. If your memory does need refreshing, I’d start with the equal marriage tag on this blog.

A few specific starting points:

The main thing to say about the proposed change is that this is the vote that, if passed, would make marriage equality a reality in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

The main thing you need to know, though, is that, if passed, this vote will enact something that is written in such a way as to be the thing that will enable the Scottish Episcopal Church to be kept together: all of us. Those of us who are straight and those of us who are LGBTQI. Those of us who are single and those of us who are married. The most conservative traditionalists and the most liberal progressives, together in a Church where we will be able to finally sing with truth that all are welcome in this place.  

We will need a two-thirds majority — 66.7% — in each of the houses of Bishops, Clergy, and Laity.

I am a child who grew up under Section 28. In the last thirteen years since the Civil Partnerships Act, I have seen the most astonishing seismic shifts in the way LGBTQI people are spoken of and viewed by society, and in the civil rights legislation that has followed, and never more so than in the way things have changed in my last four General Synods.

I am hopeful that we will do the same thing in eight days time in Edinburgh, but, make no mistake, I am taking nothing for granted.

Yes, I have been talking about this for a very long time and I will continue to talk about it and I will not minimise how important it is.

Because — it is important.

To me, on a personal level.

To the Church, because I truly believe this is something that will be good for the whole Church and the whole Communion.

To the world, because when I got into this in the first place it was because I wanted to be in the business of making a better world — and make no mistake, if we do this in our little corner of the globe, our little corner of the Church, then a better world is what we will have made.

I remember that day, that wonderful day in 2014, when marriage equality became the law of the land in Scotland, when an impossible dream came true, and surely, surely, we can do it again.

It’s time, I think, to give this one a dusting off:

What’s Next?

You may remember that not too long ago — it feels like forever ago —  I was being admonished by my emails to prepare properly for a job interview and spending evenings being grilled on clinical scenarios by long-suffering friends.

It is with something beyond joy and no small measure of disbelief that I tell you that this afternoon I was offered a job as an ST3 in Acute Medicine in the west of Scotland. I am a bit terrified, and a bit gobsmacked, and a bit weepy, but I am mostly just really bloody happy.

Resurrection

It is 5.45am.

My eyes are gritty. My brain feels smothered in cotton wool. The ache in my arms and legs goes down to my very bones, the exertions of the last three days making themselves felt already, and we’re not done yet.

The pilgrimage made by the women to the tomb on that Sunday morning two thousand years ago was not in a small and luridly coloured Renault travelling across the Clyde. I reflect wryly that if I had been part of that small group of loyal women on that day all those many years ago, I would have been the one begging to be allowed to inhale coffee before we went out. I would have thought, a little irreverently, that the body of Jesus, dead and cold as we expect it to be, would do no harm waiting a few minutes more for its embalming for me to be properly caffeinated. The sky is still mostly dark over Great Western Road as I slip into an empty church.

This is a place that feels of home. I know every corner of it, and standing here in the darkness and stillness I am entirely content in my own soul. On this dark Sunday morning, this place bursts with the remembered footsteps of all the people who have walked through it and memories of all that has happened over the last week.

Here, where just seven days ago a crowd gathered together with their palms and their shouts of Hosanna. A mighty Glaswegian rabble that packed in tight and then walked and sang with the Lord.

Here, where a labyrinth laid in the Nave on Monday and Tuesday, where people came to walk and pray and meditate, taking a moment of peace before the rollercoaster of the Triduum began.

Here, where water and suds were splashed as the feet of so many disciples were washed, and where we shared the supper that started with friendship and feasting and ended with betrayal.

Here, where there is a wax stain from where the great Paschal candle was smashed on the altar steps by bandits who had turned against their Messiah, and here, where I ran the length of the aisle to snatch away precious things from the back of church as the words of Psalm 22 rang in all our ears. Do not be far from me, for trouble is here and there is no one to help.

Here, where we waited that long long night in the garden. There was a point on Thursday night when I understood how the three who had fallen asleep must have felt.

Here, where the cross stood on Friday morning, and here, where so many people waited at the foot of it for hours, waiting and waiting and not leaving even when it was clear that nothing more could be done for him.

Here, where we cleaned and polished and shone on Saturday, putting everything back to rights, just in case, just in case there might be a resurrection. There are two thousand and seventeen Easter eggs hidden around the wood and stone, and cases of Prosecco waiting patiently under tables. There has been a rumour and it is said that miracles do happen, sometimes.

Here, where the murals of Gwyneth Leech show everything that has happened this week, the crowd with clubs and swords, the tree, the people passing by with their heads turned away, all of it taking place just around the corner in Kelvingrove Park. This week is not something that we can separate ourselves from by time or by place. This is something that has been real and close and true.

The sky has begun to lighten. There is a gentle spatter of Glasgow rain. Gradually, over the last hour or so, we have been joined by everyone else, our friends with whom we have grieved these last days, all arriving for what may be one final journey, one final service — or may be something else entirely. We gather together away from the sanctuary that we all love. We make our pilgrimage outside to the memorial stone where the dead of our congregation are remembered, to the place where they buried him.

And here, in the place where they buried him, a fire burns and a tomb is empty and the Gospel truth dawns that he who we loved and lost is with us now.

Christ is risen from the dead. Alleluia.

Yours Are The Hands

It’s all over.

The light of the world has gone out. For all of us who loved him and lost him and stayed with him, we stand at the foot of the cross and all I want to do on Friday afternoon is scream into the wind about the unfairness of it all. The great temptation today is to think that, in the end, there was no point to any of it. To bury our grief. To pretend that he never existed. To shuffle our feet awkwardly and avoid conversation, but, when pressed at cocktail parties and around our relatives’ dinner tables, to agree that that bloke who was executed in the foothills of Jerusalem today probably was a bit of a nutter and then to change the subject in a hurry.

I am not one of them, said Peter.

And no doubt that would be the easier path to choose, the way of least resistance.

If he’s gone — and I can’t, in these dark hours that stretch from Friday into Saturday, I can’t believe that that’s not true. If he’s gone, then what good does it to anyone to keep banging on about him?

Except, it does. Somehow. It can.

My soundtrack for the last forty days and nights has been Christ Has No Body Now But Yours, the anthem by David Ogden, based on the words of St Teresa of Avila, who is the patron saint of, among other things, people in need of grace and people ridiculed for their piety. A saint who has been with us on this pilgrimage to Jerusalem these last few days.

One of the Evensongs early in Lent, the choir of St Mary’s Cathedral singing it in my ear. It surely wasn’t the first time I’d heard it, but it was the first time it had penetrated like that, and I sat, spellbound, as suddenly it wasn’t the choir singing it the words into my ear at all but God whispering them to a place deep in my soul.

They have remained there for the last six weeks: a motet, a whisper, a shibboleth, a howl into the vast unrelenting wilderness.

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on Earth but yours.

There is no light today and nothing good in the world. Standing in the middle of a place that was holy and well beloved and now rings in its emptiness, I keep thinking of WH Auden, too. The stars are not wanted now, put out every one. But a new day will dawn, for it always does. The sun will rise again, and when it does we will need to decide who we are now. To decide if, after all, the measure of our experience was something meaningful.

If I can find inspiration anywhere in these three days, it’s in a belief in a God who came to change the world and did, and a belief in his people, in the body of Christ left on Earth, who will carry on changing it even now that the man we knew is dead and buried and gone.

Even if that is the end of the story.

The world is a cold and dark and inhospitable place.

In these days, just as much as it was then, it is a revolutionary act to be a people who say that we love everyone, and that we welcome everyone, and that we will care for everyone. In these days it is the talk of radicals to say that everyone should have enough to eat, that everyone should have access to healthcare and education and clean water, and that no one should go to bed at night afraid that bombs will fall on their house while they sleep. In these days, if you defend the rights of the oppressed, work to raise up the downtrodden, and speak out loud of peace and justice and inclusion and radical Christian hospitality, they call you a socialist and a liberal and a radical.

In our liturgy on Maundy Thursday, we are reminded, every year, that if the world hates us, it hated him first.

The God who I believe in was a socialist and a liberal and a radical.

And today, they crucify him for it.

But that doesn’t mean his truths are not truths worth telling.

From his cross, he leaves behind a legacy and he trusts to us a world that is broken and bleeding and crying out to be turned upside down.

I do not find God in the slamming closed of borders. I do not find God in a society that lets the poor become poorer and the hungry become hungrier. I do not find God in power and greed and violent retaliation. And I do not find Christ in the actions of Christians who wish harm to God’s people and claim that it is in His name. God is not in those things, but those actions are in His world, and here he is too. I’ve found Christ in amongst the lawyers gathered on the floor at JFK Airport through a long cold night working to bring people home. I’ve found Christ in the footsteps of people who have risen up in their thousands to protest the rise of brutal and fascist politics. I saw Christ on Westminster Bridge when emergency service and healthcare workers ran without hesitation towards danger because people needed help. I find Christ in the work of a church that welcomes everyone, that loves everyone, that cares for everyone, even as the world screams hate and anger to us for daring to.

Today, he is gone.

But here we still are.

And if this was the end, the truth of Good Friday is that it is up to us to make the promised truth of the Gospel a reality for the whole Earth.

Yours are the eyes with which he sees. Yours are the feet with which he walks. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. 

And That Was Wednesday

I woke up this morning, got dressed, got on the bus to work, and sat down in what I am almost positive was urine.

That was 8.15am.

Thankfully, I work in a job where no one is going to think it’s all that inappropriate if I go about my day dressed in blue pyjamas. So en route I went into the theatre changing rooms and borrowed a pair of scrubs.

And then got in the lift to go up to my ward and stepped in the puddle of vomit that was on the floor of the lift.

I found a packet of the big alcohol wipes and wiped off my shoe.

And finally started my ward round and made a theatrical gesture and sent a patient’s full glass of Irn Bru flying.

There are days when you just have to call it good and try again tomorrow.

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Sitting in ill-advised places. I’m blaming it on the Bossa Nova.

How The Light Gets In

Today, we will step onto a road that will lead, painfully and inevitably, to a hill just outside Jerusalem and to the witness of a political execution that we do not understand.

There is a busy week ahead. There are feet to be washed, and a mob coming, and a church to be made gleaming, and I am actually working all seven days of it, too, and if I were to look closely around the cathedral I’m sure I’d find that all manner of loveliness has been stashed away, in case, in a week’s time, just in case, we might wake up early and find that an impossible thing has happened.

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Photo: Gordon Smith

I can’t think about all of that too hard. This is a week where at least trying to take things one day at a time is the only way I can keep from going mad. One of the qualities that I least understand but most admire in my clergy friends is their ability to write an Easter sermon before the Easter Vigil.

I was told nine years ago that if I kept Holy Week and the Triduum at St Mary’s Cathedral, it would change my life and it would change the way I experienced my faith.

And I didn’t believe it.

Easter Day is Easter Day, a festival filled with joy and light and wonder, and, where I celebrate it, Prosecco. The events that led up to it were just something that happened — they happened two thousand years ago, and I knew the story and I understood generally what had gone on and I truly saw no reason to get mixed up in it any more than that. I knew what had happened, and my dwelling on it was hardly going to change that, or me, or the world.

But the following year I was around and I was a server by that time, anyway, and I thought I might as well see what this Holy Week business was all about.

“If you keep Holy Week and the Triduum in this place, it will change your life and it will change your faith,” he said, again.

Still, I didn’t believe him.

Imagine how taken aback I was four days later to taste the hot salt of tears streaming down my face as I sat on the cold tile by the Garden, as the foot traffic of a bank holiday weekend in the west end of Glasgow clattered by outside the walls and his friends all ran away and left him. And to taste them again in the empty echoing hollowness of a sanctuary that come Friday morning has been desecrated. The pain of realising that I hadn’t understood anything — and that I still don’t, not really.

The events of the next eight days are raw and real to me, every single time. The thing I didn’t understand, back then, was that the story of the events leading up to Easter Day were a story of the world we live in and of right here and right now. The thing I still don’t understand is how we keep ending up back here. That’s what I keep asking myself. That’s what I’ll spend long hours over this week thinking about: how the world keeps ending up here, and how we can make the world a better place.

And as for that thing about Easter Day and its joy and light and wonder?

It turns out I hadn’t understood that either.

That the ecstasy is nothing without the agony. That the Hallelujah Chorus is only notes on a page unless its set against the backdrop of the wail of the blues. That you can’t properly savour the Prosecco until it’s washing away the bitter taste of hyssop. And that the crack in everything is how the light gets in.

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Photo: Gordon Smith

That promise was true. It has continued to be true. It will be true again this week, and its truth will be in ways that I cannot possibly begin to know yet.

It did change the story, and it did change me, and, yes, if we let it, it can change the world too.

This Is My (Wonderful) Life

‪I’m sitting on my back steps, watching the sun go down on another year. ‬

I’ve spent the day running around my cathedral, and the evening running around in the glorious light of a spring evening in Glasgow, and in between I read a book and a cat went to sleep on top of me. Tomorrow, there’ll be fabulous music, and the waving of palms and cries of Hosanna — what do you mean, they don’t do that for your birthday? — and laughter and roast chicken and my people.

My thoughts will eventually turn to the year ahead and all that I hope to accomplish during it.

But for this weekend, I’m simply breathing in the air and giving thanks for this, my improbable, blessed, wonderful life.