Response to the Primates’ Meeting

With a tiny sigh, I foresee that the coming hours and days will be filled with headlines about the Anglican Communion being “fractured” and the Scottish Episcopal Church being “punished”.

Indeed, first thing this morning, my phone pinged with an email alert:

“Scottish Anglicans face harsh punishment for gay weddings.”

All deeply wrong.

Let’s start by putting things in their proper historical context. The Scottish Episcopal Church can trace its roots back to the arrival of Columba on Iona in the sixth century AD. We have existed in our modern form since 1689. We have been forged over the past four centuries by scarier things than Primates’ Meetings, for goodness’ sake; just Google “Jacobites”.

That headline came before anyone in the Primates’ Meeting had even said anything. And has been proven to be untrue once they did. You’ll forgive me if I didn’t start quaking in my shoes.

So, let’s try to unpack a little what has actually been happening in Canterbury this week.

There is a meeting of the Anglican Primates, which began yesterday and which will run until Thursday. It is a meeting that happens occasionally, and is an opportunity for the leaders of all of the Anglican provinces around the world to talk and listen to each other. The agenda this year is broad-ranging, including issues of evangelism, social inequality, and climate change. There has also been a conversation about the Scottish Episcopal Church, around the decision made at our General Synod earlier this year to change our Canon Law to allow for marriage equality within our Province. That happened today. This conversation has not come as a surprise to us — a similar one took place at a Primates’ Meeting shortly after a similar decision was made by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, with the result that various “sanctions” were applied to ECUSA. That happened in 2016 and our brethren in America remain very much part of the Communion — the service of Evensong held at the Primates’ Meeting yesterday was led by their Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. It has never been in question that the Scottish Episcopal Church would remain part of the Anglican Communion, no matter what was said or done in Lambeth this week.

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Photo: Ruth Richards-Hill, used with the permission of Rosemary Hannah and Sophie Agrell.

The outcome of the Primates’ conversations around the Scottish Episcopal Church has been the application of very minimal sanctions. We are excluded from doctrinal debates, and we may not chair committees within the Communion. These are broadly similar sanctions as those that were applied to ECUSA in January 2016.

They are what we expected. No more. No worse.

We are given to understand from things that have been said to the conservative Christian press that demands were made by some primates for Scotland to be given more punitive sanctions. Justin Welby should be praised for holding a firm line against those demands, but at the same time it’s difficult to see that there was any other pragmatic option.

We take the Primates’ Meeting seriously — as seriously as it needs to be taken, which is somewhat less seriously and with a little more context than the press do.

For one thing, it would have been ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Episcopal Church embarked on the process of introducing marriage equality in the Church with anything less than a full and keen knowledge of the consequences that we might bring down upon our own head. The story of the long campaign to make same-sex marriage possible in the Church is well documented within these pages and elsewhere. Those of us who have been at the sharp end of that campaign have never hung back from talking about what this might mean within the Anglican Communion, and at the same time we have been perfectly clear about what it cannot mean. For it would also be ludicrous to suggest that the Scottish Episcopal Church has not been fully aware of the considerable limitations of the Primates.

The Anglican Communion is not an autocracy lashed together by rules and regulations, with cross-provincial laws to be followed and punishments to be handed out to transgressors . The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, held together by bonds of affection and a shared history and an understanding that even the best of friends do not always agree with one another.

On this occasion, we in Scotland have come to a decision — a decision that was taken after conversation, after consultation, after much thought and prayer.

That decision has been one that not everyone in the Anglican Communion has agreed with. It has been one that not everyone in the Scottish Episcopal Church has agreed with. And we knew going in that that would be the case, which was why we worked so hard to ensure that respect for religious freedom and religious conscience were enshrined within our laws.

If only the same respect for religious freedom and religious conscience existed everywhere.

I am disappointed in the Primates’ Meeting, but I am not surprised. I am disappointed and saddened that a Province that has taken a decisive step forward in equality and justice for all God’s people is deemed deserving of sanctions and a place on the naughty step, while Provinces are allowed to go unsanctioned and unchecked when their leadership supports and defends the state-sanctioned murder of LGBTQ+ people in their countries. And though I praise him for his doubtless moderating influence today, I still believe that Justin Welby could learn a thing or two from Scotland about speaking truth to power and being prepared to live with the consequences.

Mark Strange, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, said to the Primates’ Meeting today: “We will continue to play our part in the Anglican Communion we helped establish and I will do all I can to re-build relationships, but that will be done from the position our Church has now reached in accordance with its synodical processes and in the belief that Love means Love.” His full statement is available on the SEC website.

We are very proud of Bishop Mark here. Do not think for a minute that any decisions taken in Lambeth today make the Scottish Episcopal Church any less the Anglican Communion.

And nor should we make the mistake that the Archbishop of Canterbury did this week in GQ magazine of believing that the differences between Western Anglicans and Anglicans in the global South are a black and white issue.

In my speech to General Synod in June, I reminded Scottish Episcopalians that there are people beyond our borders who have cheered us on, who have prayed for us to shine a light into the places on Earth where our LGBTQ+ brethren and their allies live and too often die under the darkness of systems that oppress and persecute. I told them that we do a disservice to our sisters and brothers around the Communion when we presume that they are of one mind any more than we are of one mind, and that we do them a disservice when we believed that if we kept our mouths shut we would be keeping them safe. I called on them to do better, and do better they did.

In the next few days as I read the stories that a scandal-hungry media will produce about the gloomy portents and doomsday scenarios for the Anglican Communion, stories that will no doubt be fed into by some clergy who ought to know better, I’ll think of the Anglican Communion that I know and that it’s convenient for them to be blind to. I’ll think of the baptisms that took place in my cathedral this weekend, Scottish babies and African babies together. I’ll think of the marriages that have taken place before our altar and in the sight of God. I’ll remember the great group of the Nigerian community, many of them first generation immigrants, who have become part of our community, and who gathered together joyfully on Sunday with their families on that same altar for a blessing from their gay, fabulous, Scottish priest.

We are the Communion. We are the people of God and the living, loving, world-changing body of Christ. As we have been called in our task to the Church here we will still be, tomorrow and tomorrow and unto the ages of ages.

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Photo: Beth Routledge

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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.

Changing The World

It was good to be back home on Sunday.

It felt good to walk back into my cathedral, into a place that has become very much my home, and to be asked the questions that I have always been asked when I’ve returned to it from Synods and for my answer, this time, to be, “Yes.”

The Provost, the Vice Provost, and I held a Forum conversation after the Eucharist on Sunday morning, to try to explain what precisely it was that happened in Edinburgh last week, and a large number of the congregation were interested in hearing about that. The short answer is, something more complex and with a great deal more nuance than you’ll find in the newspaper headlines. The longer answers are contained in the following video:

I suspect I have not yet said my last word on the subject. I have a lot to reflect on, about the journey the Church has been on, the extraordinary journey that I’ve been on and the extraordinary people I’ve been on it with. This campaign has changed me in ways that I can’t yet begin to explain. In time, there will be more work to do, a new chapter — the business of changing the world goes on and it is business that I intend to be part of for a very long time indeed.

It will take time to reflect on all that. For now, I’m taking a little bit of time. To unpack. To let all the emotions of the last week and indeed all the emotions of the last eight or nine years settle. To allow the significance of this enormous thing that we did to sink in.

And to think about what’s next.

Because at the end of everything that had happened, Jesus said to his disciples, go, go and change the world.

The video content of this post is copyright St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow: http://thecathedral.org.uk.

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.

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:

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.

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.

Reforming Canon 31 – What Kind of Church Do We Want To Be?

This is what my speech to General Synod said this morning. It was curtailed slightly in its delivery due to reduction of the time limit for speakers.

Chair, Members of Synod.

The world’s media thinks that we are voting today on whether a gay couple in Glasgow, or Aberdeen, or Dumfries, or Edinburgh, or Stornoway should be able to walk down the aisle in their Episcopal church. That this is a vote on whether, when I meet the perfect woman, the one who will share all my laughter, wipe away every tear, empty the litter tray, and not mind too much sharing me with a cathedral, that I will be able to marry her in the sight of the God who I truly love.

And it is a little bit about that.

But it is also about things that are bigger than that.

This is about the kind of church that we want to be. It is about whether we are a Church where there is room for everyone, a Church where the words “all are welcome in this place” are true. It is about whether we believe that we really are all God’s children. It is about our attitude towards minorities in the Church, to people who are a little different from ourselves — our attitude towards gay and bisexual people, yes, but also our attitude towards ethnic minorities, to refugees, to the poor, to single parents, to single people, and to people of diverse gender identity. It is about how we behave when faced with issues of social justice, and whether we are willing to play our part in dismantling systems that have traditionally kept the oppressed oppressed.

He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.

We have before us a motion that represents a great deal of work by the Committee on Canons, and that I think really does represent who we are as a Church. I don’t actually believe that it says anything radical. I think it says that we are a church where there is space, and respect, and love, and love, and love, and that because we have that we have the ability to accept more than one idea. And here’s the thing: that is all already true.

We are not a homogenous people. We do not speak with one voice. How dull would that be? And the Scottish Episcopal Church is lots of things, but you couldn’t call it dull.

We are not doing anything radical.

But it feels like we are doing a big scary thing.

Because change always feels like the big scary thing. Synod, I beg you: do you not fall into the trap of believing that the path of least change is the one that will do the least harm. Do not let yourself think that sticking with the status quo means sticking with comfort and familiarity. The status quo will not mean that there is no pain. There is already pain. Do not underestimate the pain and hurt and confusion that will be felt. If this motion is rejected, we will be saying that perhaps there isn’t room for everyone after all — perhaps there isn’t room for people like me.

We have heard from the Primus and the Acting Convenor of the Faith and Order Board about the steps that have been taken during the last year to try to hold us all together as a church, to soothe and heal the pain and hurt and confusion that has been felt in the last twelve months by people who hold a different view to my own. Those are efforts that I applaud, and I hope that the measures taken will bring comfort and acceptance to people in this room and people out there in the world. I want this Church to be a place that can hold everyone together.

And it feels like we are doing a big scary thing because the eyes of the world are upon us. In light of revelations made yesterday, perhaps more specifically the eyes of the Communion are upon us.

What do we want to say to them?

Go, make disciples of all nations, Jesus said. We heard that in our opening Eucharist yesterday morning.

If we leave here today as people of diversity, as people of respectful difference of opinion, as a body of Christ for whom more than one idea can be accepted and honoured, I believe we will indeed have said something to the world. I believe we will be saying that we can be leaders, that we can be brave, that we can be models for Anglican fellowship and love to the Anglican Communion throughout the world, and if we say that then that is something of which I will be very proud.