Glasgow Pride 2017: Changing The World

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Photo: Beth Routledge. Badges: Kelvin Holdsworth.

One ordinary Thursday in June, my friends and I went to Edinburgh and we changed the world.

I’ve spent a great deal of time these last two months thinking about that day when the General Synod voted for marriage equality in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

This weekend, I’m going to be part of a great and glorious delegation of Scottish Episcopalians marching in the Gay Pride parade through the centre of Glasgow. I’ll be marching with clergy and laity. I’ll be marching with my LGBTQ brethren, and with the many allies who turn out to support us. I’ll be marching with people from around the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, and from across the Province, and from the General Synod Office. I’ve been sent with messages of support from the congregation that I represent, as well as friends around Scotland, friends from other provinces, and ecumenical and interfaith friends. This year as I march, I will remember particularly that we march with the personal blessing of the Primus and of each and every Bishop in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

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Photo: Gordon Smith

The world has changed so much since the first time I went to Pride.

It is not quite a decade since I met up with four other Scottish Episcopalians on a damp Edinburgh afternoon to march at Pride Scotia, our first one. It was just the four of us, and a couple of umbrellas that were losing the battle, and a vague notion that the Scottish Government might be persuaded to introduce legislation for what we then called gay marriage.

A few months earlier, I had got myself involved with the petition for that legislation. A group of people from St Mary’s Cathedral had taken clipboards and gone up to the University and told people that we were campaigning for equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and we had been a little taken aback when everyone wanted to sign up. A friend and I had said to each other, “It won’t ever happen, but we have to try anyway.”

In 2008, there weren’t a lot of countries that had even thought about what we now call equal marriage. I have this idea that one day when I’m old and grey I’ll tell this story to people who aren’t born yet who simply won’t comprehend that, but it is the truth. It simply wasn’t a thing.

But as the law went through the process of being debated and voted on in the Scottish Parliament, the idea started to take hold on an international level. My involvement in this campaign in Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church has spanned a time that saw the New Zealand parliament singing a Maori love song, and all of Ireland going home to vote, and the interns delivering the news on the steps of the US Supreme Court, and the day it was made the law of the land in Westminster in the country I was born in. It was a time that felt as if the beacon of equality and justice was lighting up the world. It was also a time when we started to notice that Pride seemed to be getting bigger. We were still a ragtag group, but a larger one, and now we had our own banners. The first year we had banners, I made them with felt tip pen and sticky tape on my floor on the Friday night.

And it was during that time, while it was still being debated in Holyrood, that the time seemed right to start making some noise in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

We still didn’t believe it would happen in the Scottish Parliament, mind you, but the Church was being asked to give its opinion and we thought that if we were giving opinions then we might as well be honest about it. If marriage equality were to become the law of the land in Scotland, there were members of the Church who would want it to be possible in church. That was our truth. And so it began.

Said the same friend and I to each other, “This won’t happen, either. But we have to try anyway.”

I still believed that in June. I still believed it in the coffee break between the vote and the result on that ordinary Thursday, and I still believed it as the votes were announced and I did frantic maths. I believed that this day would never come.

Why am I telling this story on the evening before Glasgow Pride? Why am I dwelling on a time when I thought we were going to lose?

I’ll march at Pride this weekend, and I’ll be proud of who we are, and proud of what we did, and proud to stand behind a banner that proclaims to all the world that the Scottish Episcopal Church Welcomes You, and proud that I can say, and mean it, “Yes. Yes. You.

But the thing I will be proudest of all is that we thought we were going to lose, and we did it anyway.

It is a thought worth holding onto, in these days.

Because nothing that means anything comes without risk.

Because the victories worth having are never in the sure things.

Because the losing battles are the ones that need fighting most.

And because changing the world is not in the winning, but in the knowing you might not and then trying anyway.

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

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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.

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.