Into This World, Morning Is Breaking

I woke up this morning with a melody running through my head, the melody from the hymn that we sing at the beginning of our Easter Vigil every year. The hymn that we sing as a people who have gathered in the darkness that comes before dawn and who find that the light has broken back into the world.

Into this world, morning is breaking,
All of God’s people, lift up your voice.
Cry out with joy, tell out the story,
All of the world rejoice!

Yesterday, the Scottish Episcopal Church did an astonishing thing. A loving thing. A generous thing. A thing that has taken years of work and prayer and soul-searching.

A thing that I have dreamed of for so long that when I did get out of bed this morning, I had to check the news to make sure I hadn’t actually dreamt it.

The moment I think I will remember from yesterday afternoon was not one that took place in front of the cameras and microphones. I made my way back from the podium, having made a speech in which I told the great and good of the Church that love is love and that love will turn the world upside down, and having also given a heads up to my cathedral Director of Music that one day I am probably going to be asking him for the trumpets from the Verdi Requiem as a wedding processional. The ecumenical delegate who has been sitting next to me during this Synod removed my speech from my hands, turned the paper over, and wrote on the back, “You can’t have the Verdi trumpets, they’re too scary.” And after it was all over, leaned over and said, “You can have the Grand March from Aida instead.”

There was no questioning that I as a gay woman was going to someday walk down a church aisle to something operatic and over-the-top — but, perhaps not the Verdi, she said.

It’s just marriage now.

It is now the policy of this church that same-sex couples who choose to be married can be married in the eyes not only of the law but in the eyes of God and in the presence of his congregation.

It is the policy of this church that priests whose conscience and commitment to equality has meant that they felt unable to perform marriages in church for as long as they were constrained from performing them on an equal basis for all couples, whether gay or straight, can now say to everyone, yes, yes, we do do weddings here.

It is the policy of this church that anyone who is called by God to ordained or lay ministry can explore their vocation certain in the knowledge that it will not be denied on the grounds of their sexuality or marital status.

And it is also now the explicit policy of this church — always true, before never written — that the conscience of any priest who does not wish to marry anyone for any reason will be protected. And any attempt to circumvent or disparage the clergy for whom that is their decision, they will be defended as passionately as all the rest of this was fought for in the first place. A decision to respect religious freedom does not, after all, count for much unless our commitment is to respect all religious freedom.

We have changed the world.

We have changed the world by being a Church that has chosen to stay together over the issues of sexuality and same-sex marriage.

And we will do it again — the decades of squabbles over sexuality will surely still rage across other denominations and provinces, but we are a church that can change the world because we can start talking now about all the other things that are imperative to the world in which we live. I woke up this morning to news of political chaos, but, more significantly, to news that the tide of the alt-right is finally turning and that the values of social justice and radical common sense seem finally be making their way back to the Britain. It is time for the Church to start making its voice heard in areas of economic justice, climate change, and global peace; the protection of education, healthcare, and social care; the protection of the poor, the vulnerable, and those who come to these lands seeking refuge; and the business of building the city of heaven here on Earth.

We changed the world yesterday, and surely, surely, that means we can do it again.

On my way into Synod yesterday morning, wearing a badge that displays the Scottish Episcopal Church’s pub sign on the background of a Pride flag, someone said to me, “If this happens, what will we do if busloads of gay couples start arriving who want to get married?” Well, if busloads of gay couples want to start making their way to Scotland to make their marriage vows, they may come and with gladness in their hearts, and there I will be, waiting with the confetti and an open door, for in the Scottish Episcopal Church all are welcome at Christ’s table.

Christ be our light,
Shine in our hearts, shine through the darkness,
Christ be our light,
Shine in your Church gathered today.

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Marriage in the Scottish Episcopal Church – Turning The World Upside Down

This is what I said to General Synod today:

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Chair, Members of Synod.

Gosh, aren’t there a lot of people interested in what we have to say today.

You would think we were about to turn the world upside down.

For all the talking I seem to have done about it over the last few years, my love life truly isn’t that interesting. I’d like to believe that when I leave here today, it will return to being a matter for my parents, asking why I haven’t yet provided them with a daughter-in-law; my friends, nudging me towards the terrifying prospect of Internet dating; and, maybe, someday, when I’ve found the perfect woman, for the Director of Music at my cathedral as he tries to persuade me that the trumpets from the Verdi Requiem do not a wedding processional make.

But today — maybe we are trying to turn the world upside down.

And if we want to build the kingdom of heaven here on Earth, maybe that is what the world needs.

The question of our place in the world — our responsibility to the Anglican Communion — is one that has come up over and over again, the whole way through this process. The question of repercussions that any decision we might make today might have on our sister provinces.

Synod, the Anglican Communion is a very broad church indeed and it works in a very wide world.

As hands are wrung over the fate of the Anglican Communion, we so often forget that there are many people beyond these borders who cheering us on, praying for us to shine a light into places on Earth where our LGBT brethren and their allies too live and, often, die under the darkness of systems that oppress and persecute.

We do a disservice to our brothers and sisters around the Anglican Communion when we presume that they are of one mind any more than we are of one mind, and we do them a disservice when we presume that by keeping our mouths shut we are keeping them safe.

We can surely do better than that.

I want to be part of a Church where everyone can flourish. I want to be part of a world where everyone can flourish, too.

My learned friend from Aberdeen and Orkney feels that what we are doing today has broken the Church, but, with the greatest of respect, I feel that the amended Canon 31 can make the Church more whole than it has ever been.

Today, we have the opportunity to say that this is a church where there is room for everyone, where all are welcome, and where there is enough and more than enough love to encircle all of God’s children.

To get here — it’s been a long road.

I am so proud to have walked it with so many of you.

To have walked it with my brothers and sisters who agree with me. To have walked it with my sisters and brothers who profoundly disagree with me. This has been a journey. In the words of our marriage liturgy, a journey in which we have grown and been transformed. I believe that is true for every single one of us. And I believe that in the wording of this Canon, there is room for us all to flourish.

The thing I am most proud of today is that at this moment, here we are, all of us, hand in hand, walking together.

If we do this, the Church will become a more welcoming and more inclusive place for people like me. I can go to my cathedral on Sunday and say to members of my congregation, “Yes.” And should I find that perfect person, I will be able to say to her, “Yes.” I want you to not understimate the importance of that.

But today is about so much more than that.

Because today is also a chance to show all of this to all the world.

To say, you can do it like this. You can find enough room for everyone. You can do anything, just as long as you remember to love one another.

And love is love is love is love is love.

And God is love.

And love will turn the world upside down.

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.