Open, Inclusive, Welcoming (and Proud)

It always gives me great joy to march at Glasgow Pride in the company of my Episcopalian brothers and sisters.

Photo: Gordon Smith

Photo: Gordon Smith

Today, I was marching with Changing Attitude Scotland, which is the network within the Scottish Episcopal Church that works for the equal rights of LGBT people within the Church and beyond. I was out there today with people from the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, many of whom were from my home church of St Mary’s Cathedral; but I was also out there with people who had come from across the Province to join us.

Pride is about marching for gay rights, which are equal rights. Pride is about celebrating everything that has been accomplished, and about remembering the work that has still to be done.

A number of us out there today were involved in the equal marriage movement in Scotland. A number of us have now turned our attention to the movement for marriage equality within the Church. Our work is not done.

I think it’s really important for religious groups to be seen at Pride. I’m always pleased to see groups from the Reform Jews, and to have a chance to catch up with the Metropolitan Community Church and Affirmation Scotland. I think it’s important for this face of the church to be public and out there. The group that I march with has grown in size and enthusiasm, year after year after year. There were more than thirty of us at Glasgow Pride today, a far cry from the four wet and bedraggled Piskies who gathered on the Royal Mile in 2008. This year was the first year that our efforts at Pride have been partially funded by the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, and that’s a big thing. We are no longer a fringe movement or a special interest group. We are in the Church and of the Church, and the Church is starting to recognise that. That’s a really big thing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 20.29.18

You think the world has changed, but as I walked through George Square today there were still flashbulbs turning to the priest walking next to me and people nudging their friends as they read out the words on the banner that I was carrying:

“Look! Look! The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You!”

The world has changed. It’s changed because we keep changing it. And every time we do something like this, we change it a little bit more.

As long as our religious institutions are not equal. As long as our youth are rejected by their families. As long as a teenager can be killed merely for being on a Pride march. Our work is not done.

Today was a great Pride. Thanks to Glasgow Pride and to the Scottish Episcopalians who came out to support us.

Advertisement

Are All Welcome?

On Saturday 21st February, Changing Attitude Scotland is holding a Eucharist for Change where we will pray for LGBT inclusion and justice in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Frankly, at the moment it doesn’t feel as if all are welcome in this Church. A sign hangs outside every Scottish Episcopal Church in the land that proclaims, “The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You” — and I’m not sure that it does. In the wider sense of Church, this is become a Church that I don’t much like and that I don’t recognise.

A church cannot be sometimes inclusive and sometimes not. A church either welcomes people who are LGBT every week, or it doesn’t at all. It speaks up for justice issues whenever it sees injustice, or it doesn’t at all. It models diversity all the time, or it doesn’t at all. It recognises the relationships of same-sex couples within its congregation publicly and proudly, or it might as well not bother recognising them at all.

If you want to do justice, do it in the boring and the ordinary and the everyday.

I stayed at St Mary’s Cathedral because the day I came here as a visitor was the same day as two of our congregation had their civil partnership blessed, and their relationship was prayed for in the intercessions as if to do so were no big thing. By treating it as the most ordinary thing in the world, it was the most extraordinary thing I had ever heard in a church.

But it can also be important to do something a little out of the ordinary, and I think that time is now.

I feel as if we need praying for.

I feel that as we come up on the season of Diocesan Synods and the preparations for General Synod that go along with that, we need to pray for change and the will to make it happen. I feel that as we still struggle with the hurtful and harmful things that have been said by the Church this year, we need to pray for those who have been most badly damaged by it. I feel when I look at the hierarchy of the Church that we need desperately to pray for the wisdom and courage that often feels lacking from those who lead us.

This is LGBT History Month, and that’s significant — not only to pray in thanksgiving for those who came before us and got us to where we are now, but to pray for ourselves and for our place in our own history and for what we might do to change the world.

Reflecting on the Cascade Conversations in Glasgow & Galloway

Over the last six months since General Synod, the dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church have been engaging in “Cascade Conversations” . You may remember from what I’ve previously said that this is the process which some senior members of the Church decided we ought to use to discuss same-sex relationships [sic] in the Church.

The conversations in my diocese, which is Glasgow and Galloway, concluded this weekend with an event in Galloway. There had been previous events in Glasgow and in Ayrshire. I have attended all three of them and have engaged with the process as best I was able.

The process has followed on from the conference held in Pitlochry shortly after Easter and the presentation which took place at General Synod in June. This “cascading” process has involved series of conversations, which have begun to be arranged and take place in the various dioceses of the Church. The intent was for the conversations across the Province will have broadly the same format as the conversations that were held in Pitlochry, beginning with reflections from invited speakers and then breaking into small groups for further conversation and reflection. The further intent, so we have been told, was for those conversations to “cascade” further into churches and communities. It was thought that the result would be a whole Church conversation.

I have chosen not to speak publicly about my experience of Cascade until the events in my diocese had ended, because I did not wish to prejudice the process. I am going to write publicly about them now.

I know that some of you who were there and others who have heard reports will know that there was a social media embargo. For the first two events, that embargo was only in place for the time we were meeting, and each participant was given guidelines which stated specifically that we were entitled to speak freely about process including on social media. At the third event, we were specifically asked not to discuss the event on social media. I think that is an unhelpful and dangerous embargo and although I’ve respected the embargo while physically in the conversations, I am deliberately disregarding it now.

You may also know that there was a rule of strict confidentiality, specifically that anything said in the small groups and in the room was to remain entirely confidential to the groups and to the room respectively. I am not going to break that rule of confidentiality at this stage. It has been stated on multiple occasions by the House of Bishops and by the Design Group and it was reiterated at the events themselves by the facilitator that the purpose of these rules was to ensure that the process was a safe space.

I have been openly and unashamedly critical of the process since it was foisted upon (not chosen by, not agreed to) a vocally dubious General Synod in 2013. I have criticised it in social media, I have criticised it to my Bishop and to the Primus, and, with considerable support from those both inside and outside of the Synodical processes, I openly dissented against it at this year’s General Synod. I had my doubts from the conception of the Design Group, which arranged the process beginning with Pitlochry. After hearing a little about it at General Synod 2014, I wept tears of anger for myself and shame for my Church as many of my worst fears seemed to be confirmed.

In the end, I did not engage with this process because I think it is the best or the most appropriate process to handle this bit of Church debate, but because it was the process I had been left with and my option was to engage with it or to not be involved at all. In September, at the first Cascade Conversation in my diocese, I was an invited speaker, and I made the terms on which I had eventually engaged very clear to the participants.

But I do confess that despite all of this I did not go to the first event looking to be offended by it. I had heard good things about the event in Pitlochry, and it was clear to me that some participants had found it extremely valuable – some of them people whom I respect and like a great deal. It is not actually in my interests to torpedo what is presently the only mechanism we in the Church have for discussing a subject that matters a great deal to many of us, and I wondered if perhaps by engaging in it I might at least start to see some of the good things that others so obviously had.

It is disappointing that I come away with a sense of having not seen those good things.

I give credit where due to those particular members of the planning committee in Glasgow and Galloway who, having been present for the horrific situation that unfolded at General Synod when the Cascade Conversations were discussed ,worked hard to make this a more positive experience than that. I acknowledge that they were able to do that only within the Provincial framework that they had been given. I acknowledge that some people did indeed have positive experiences at these Diocesan events and say that they have learned valuable things, and I think that that is good and I have no wish to take that positivity away from them.

However, I think it is important that the voices of those who have had negative experiences are not silenced. My experience of this process is that the provincial Design Group and the House of Bishops do not wish to hear from those of us whose experience of this process is that it has been dreadful.

The pitch at the beginning of each event that I have been to has been that there are no outcomes to the day, that there are no decisions being made, that nobody is to take a position, that nobody is to challenge anyone or ask anyone any probing questions. The whole point of the day is simply to listen. The day takes place on holy ground, we were reminded constantly, a refrain that was also uttered in the General Synod presentation about the Pitlochry meeting, and that, while perhaps done with the best of intentions, came across to me as grossly manipulative.

The pitch has also acknowledged equal marriage legislation, but the process has never been said to be about equal marriage – we are, so far as I know and reflected in all of the conversations I have participated in, still having a conversation about issues around same-sex relationships, which, with no definition, cannot be and has not been a cohesive conversation.

My main trouble all along with a broadly defined listening process is its existence as the only process. If it were happening alongside a Synodical process, or in the context of (defined) equal marriage legislation and the (defined) processes of the Church, or even with a sense of general timeline and an idea of what might happen next, I would probably think that a listening process in which the whole Church can participate was a good idea. But absent those things, what results is a roomful of people who aren’t really certain what they’re meant to be talking about. It leads to people sitting around in their small groups not knowing where to begin, or leads to entirely separate conversations about different things with no common thread and not really getting anyone anywhere at all.

We were told at General Synod that the diocesan Cascade Conversations would be over by the end of November, which was later altered to the end of the year, which has been further extended as we know now that one Diocese is not holding its events until the spring of next year. And once these events actually are over, we will have “further conversations” in Diocesan Synods. And what will happen after that? Bishop Gregor spoke briefly about plans that the Faith and Order Board have for options that might be offered to Synod, but no suggestion as to what form those options might take or what timescale they might take place over.

A few weeks ago, I was at a meeting where someone asked about the timeline of the process and when it would end. This was not a Cascade event – this was a different meeting, public and minuted and with no expectations of confidentiality, all of which means I am allowed to say that a member of the provincial Design Group was present and their response was that the process will never end because the Church must always keep talking about lots of issues. I acknowledged the truth to this but said that, as I had been told by the Province and by the Diocese and by the House of Bishops that nothing else could happen until the Cascade process, as it had been pitched to us, had ended, it must end. I have still not been given an answer as to when it will.

The best thing I can say on a personal level about the Cascade Conversations in this Diocese is that on one occasion I found them blandly inoffensive and lacklustre, and I left wondering what it was I had just wasted my Saturday on.

Now, let me return to this idea of strict confidentiality and let’s talk about the principle of safe space.

For when it has been worse, the worse has been created by this wilful misunderstanding of the difference between confidentiality and secrecy.

I was one of a number of people at the Diocesan Synod in Glasgow and Galloway, long before even the Pitlochry event, who tried to educate the original Design Group on what a safe space actually is and why an imposition of confidentiality on a group that is on the wrong side of a power imbalance is dangerous and abusive.

That word, “abusive”.

I do not use it carelessly. I do not take it lightly when I say that a harmful thing has been done wilfully, but in this case a harmful thing was deliberately included in a process after multiple people who have some experience in this matter had tried to talk about what a safe space is and what it is supposed to be, and were ignored.

In the course of the Cascade Conversations that have taken place in this Diocese, a number of offensive and inappropriate and factually inaccurate things have been said, each one of them about LGBT people, and none of the LGBT people there were allowed to talk about them afterwards.

We are not allowed to talk about them to each other, or at Synods, or in public, or online. And when the Province tells me how wonderful this has all been and I tell them that it hasn’t, I am not allowed to say, “and this is why.” I think it is harmful that when offensive things were said to me in my small group, I was not allowed to tell the rest of the room what had been said. I think it is harmful that I was not allowed to challenge those things and that I was expected to receive them with “respectful listening”. I think it is harmful that I am not allowed to report them at Synod or talk about it online. I think that telling me that I am not allowed to speak about any of those things or repeat them to anyone else, ever, is a harmful process and is the very opposite of what a safe space is meant to be.

And don’t forget, I’m not the one who has the most to lose in all of this.

I could lose my church, and that’s not nothing.

But I have friends who could lose their careers, their homes, and their relationships over this, and that’s a lot more.

If a process which was designed by a power structure to talk about a minority group has as one of its core principles that members of the minority group must be silent on the matter of what was said about and to them, that is abuse.

It is my understanding from a member of the provincial Design Group that this Cascade process and how well it has gone has been informally reported to bodies outside of Scotland and outside of the Anglican Communion, and they are so pleased with how well they are being told it has gone that they are considering adopting the process for themselves.

This is not being done in my name.

Dear England

It was with interest and a smidgen of what I recognised as hope that I watched some of the statements coming out of the General Synod of the Church of England earlier this week. From the Synod as a whole on the matter of bishops who happen to be women, from the Archbishop of Canterbury on the matter of the blessing of marriages between same-sex couples. It seemed, for a bright flare of a moment, that the Church of England might finally be nudging, slowly but inexorably, towards the advent of social change for which so many of us have longed for so long.

In the early hours of this morning, the House of Bishops of the Church of England released a pastoral guidance on same-sex relationships.

It says, among other things, that:

  • Issues In Human Sexuality is still a thing.
  • The Book of Common Prayer has scriptural authority.
  • The Church of England grudgingly acknowledges the existence of non-ordained LGB individuals who consider themselves to be gay and who reject the notion that this requires them to acquiesce to a life of celibacy. Grudgingly.
  • Individuals to whom the above applies are Other.
  • Two people of the same sex who have chosen to get married or who are planning their wedding cannot seek pastoral input or conversation from their priest without being required to be lectured at about their deviance from Church teaching.
  • Same-sex marriage is unwholesome and lacking in integrity.
  • An ordained person who is in a same-sex relationship cannot get married.
  • A person who is married to a person of the same sex cannot seek ordination.

And that:

  • The entire House of Bishops, all of them, which is fifty two people, agree that marriage is between a man and a woman.

This is a lie. It is a lie that by the very telling of it it shoots holes into what is left of the moral integrity of the Church. It is such a transparent lie that I’m moved to ask why the Church of England, which historically has admitted to the existence of shades that are neither black nor white, why divergence of opinion is allowed — encouraged, even — on every topic under the sun, but not on this one, on the matter of gay people and the kind of sex they may be having, the Bishops and the Church must speak with one voice. Why?

I was asked, prior to the publication of that pastoral guidance, to appear in my capacity as one of the convenors of Changing Attitude Scotland on the BBC in a debate about Christian unity, in light of disagreements around bishops who happen to be women, priests who happen to be gay, and marriages which happen to be between people of the same sex, and particularly in light of some of the things that were said at General Synod this week. I declined (and I’m far from the only one to have done so), principally because I don’t think it’s an appropriate conversation to be having in Scotland, where, because of the choices we have made and the issues that we have already resolved and the advantages we have by not being the established Church, that conversation would be a very different one, and also because I don’t presume to speak for the Church of England. Indeed, I consider it my great privilege, and, today, reading the deep and genuine pain that is evident all over my Twitter timeline, my great relief, that I am not a member of the Church of England.

If the invitation that I declined yesterday evening had been issued after the guidance from the House of Bishops had been published, it might have been that I’d have been tempted to accept it and to get very angry indeed, but that wouldn’t have made it the right or the appropriate thing to do. I do not speak for the Church of England.

None of this is to say that the Scottish Episcopal Church is perfect. I live in hope and perhaps a little bit in fantasy. But the battles that I’m steeling myself for in our Synod later this year are not the battles that are being fought by my friends to the south of the Wall.

I do not speak for the Church of England. I do not speak for the Scottish Episcopal Church, and, in this space, I do not speak even for Changing Attitude, but I do speak for myself and I suspect for others here too when I say to my LGBT friends and our LGBT allies to the south of the Wall that they are not alone, and that we share in their heartbreak and we extend to them our love and our communion.

(The full text of the guidance from the House of Bishops can be read on the Church of England website. Many thanks to Jeremy for suggesting inclusion of the link here.)

Thank You…

1003872_139900856219866_610650980_n

To everyone who came to Pride.

To my LGBT comrades and our straight allies.

To our friends from other churches.

To everyone who carried a banner, or gave out a card, or folded a leaflet, or talked to us or talked for us.

To every single person who is working towards a better Church and a better world.

There’s a reason they call it Pride.

The Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You

As we have tried to do in recent years, the Scottish Episcopal Church will be turning out to Glasgow Pride tomorrow. There will be a group of Episcopalians walking together in the march. Meet at the fountain in front of the People’s Palace at 10.30am if you want to come with us — we don’t bite and we have fabulous banners this year. Afterwards, there’s a stall at the Pride marketplace on Glasgow Green with leaflets and cards to take away and you can talk to lovely people about inclusive churches in Scotland, how to sign up for Changing Attitude Scotland, where to find the best cope in Glasgow, and how you can have a civil partnership blessed in church.

If you want to know why Pride is important to me, I wrote about it last year.

If you want to know why Pride is particularly important this year, Kelvin wrote about it in the Herald this week.

Pride Posters

All are welcome tomorrow, come rain or sunshine.

(We’ll be praying for sunshine.)