Celebrating LGBT people in faith
Publish Date: 11/07/2008
Manchester however is making sure it shows support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community having hosted a special service aimed at sending out positive messages of an inclusive church that welcomes people from all denominations.
The work of the Lesbian & Gay Foundation and the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people were celebrated in a service of prayer, remembrance and commitment in Manchester Cathedral on Thursday 12th June. Over 200 people attended the special service to hear The Bishop of Manchester Rev Nigel McCulloch reaffirm his commitment to recognising and including the cities LGBT communities.
The Bishop began by expressing gratitude to Lesbian and Gay Foundation, Manchester Cathedral, and the members of his Advisory Group on Sexuality for enabling everyone at the Celebration service to be together in worship; and appreciation for the Cathedral Choir and Manchester's Lesbian and Gay Chorus.
The text of his address follows:
Years ago, when I was a student, I joined an obscure organisation (as one does) called the Gypsy Lore Society - my curiosity about Gypsies having originally been awakened by a verse I'd been taught as a child: "My mother said we never should play with the Gypsies in the wood". It was, I suppose, my first inkling of people being marginalised, suffering discrimination, simply because of who they are.
At school in Liverpool, I got to know several Jews - and I remember being puzzled one day to pick up in conversation that, although we all lived near to a golf club their parents weren't allowed to join it, simply because they were Jews. These were people whose families only fifteen years earlier had died in the holocaust - a holocaust that, as I came to learn (for this was never said to me at all in my first twenty years) included the massacre of not only of Jews but also of others who didn't fit Nazi norms of race, of mental or physical ability, of sexuality. And all this happened - the slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, Gays within the context of a Christian culture.
Today, among the nearly 80 countries where there is often violent persecution of lesbian and gay people, there is something especially abhorrent, unacceptable and unjust when promotion of homophobia and acceptance of discrimination (of whatever kind) takes place in so-called Christian societies. And that includes our own nation - where over 3m people face huge barriers of prejudice and suffer bullying because of their sexuality.
Thank God then for the Lesbian and Gay Foundation whose outstanding service to the vulnerable and distressed we celebrate, as we pray that God may continue to strengthen them in their ministry of counselling and support. But we can not leave the complete responsibility for coping with the consequences of homophobia and prejudice just to LGF. What is the Church doing?
The Church's duty, to which I note this service points, is to help us all to understand where God is in this - and to show and celebrate that God can surprise us on life's way, by being very different from what many people imagine. He can be the victim of prejudice and stereotype too. There's a Puritan streak in Christian culture, also present in some other faiths, that encourages the image of a fierce and angry God who always threatens hell-fire judgement. For probably most people in the world that's the divine picture in their mind's eye.
But the God I find revealed through the New Testament is different - though no less awesome. He certainly can not be fooled by us. To him "all hearts are open, all desires known; and from him no secrets are hidden" As the opening hymn put it: "Well our feeble frame he knows". That doesn't mean we'll escape the moment of judgement, when each of is will have to give an account of our life's journey. God knows us, all too well! But God is Love. Again, as the hymn put it: "In his hands he gently bears us". This is God for whom "tout comprendre, c'est tout pardoner" - to understand all is to forgive all - and he understands us and he forgives us, precisely because his love is so great that many waters can not quench it, nor the floods drown it.
The 19th century Christian priest-poet Father Faber wrote of this God of Love and the wideness of His mercy; and he contrasted that with what is often the Church's portrayal of God:
"But we make his love too narrow by false limits of our own And we magnify His strictness with a zeal He will not own."
So many people who've been pained by experiences of rejection by the church, who've seen God portrayed in such judgmental terms, need to experience the surprise of God always loving, gently cherishing us whoever we are, whatever we are.
Another duty of the Church, which the authors of this act of worship highlight, is to help us to know that, however alone and rejected we may at times feel, we are never alone. LGF know better than most how lonely lives can be, how lacking in self-esteem. Tonight we celebrate the companionship of Christ Jesus who assures us: "I am with you always to the end" - the promise of his warm presence of His love beside us; the patience and kindness echoed in that reading from Corinthians - the very opposite to the arrogance of prejudice and the rudeness of discrimination. And when we know we're loved we begin to blossom, we become radiant. Love really does transform people: "Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be".
And, incidentally, in its task of conveying that Jesus is with us on our pilgrim journey through life, the Church needs to remember that Jesus does not seem to have said anything about homosexuality. But he clearly was very tough about the need for his followers to give away their possessions to the poor. So, as I have said before, when I hear certain verses from the Bible being bandied about as if they were litmus tests for Christian allegiance, I am tempted to announce that I will no longer licence clergy, or allow Holy Communion to be given to laity, unless they all do what Jesus said: and give away all their possessions to the poor. How many bishops, clergy, laity would be left then?
The duty of the Church in supporting LGF's pastoral ministry among the often bruised and broken, among those who are feeling down and defeated is to do as this service does: point to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Tonight we celebrate that Spirit, for it can lift up our life, our hearts, and really make a difference.
That's why we are including anointing for those who would like it in this service - with prayer and the oil of gladness asking for the Spirit to empower each of us to fulfil the purpose for which we were created - relating to one another, serving one another, loving one another, building bridges not creating barriers, praying, believing, knowing that love is stronger than hate, and life stronger than death.
And we do not forget those we love but see no longer, who celebrate with us but upon another shore and in a greater light; and who, with us, are enfolded in the breadth, the length and height of God's deep and eternal love.
It is the Church's joy to celebrate that place to where our pilgrim journey on earth leads us - where God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes; that place where for ever good is stronger than evil; where there are no more divisions, no more prejudice, no more bullying, no more discrimination.
May God grant the Church and all of us the penitence and the will to echo, as Scripture, Reason and Tradition enjoin us, that joy of heaven - resolving to serve one another as Christ, sharing our joys and sorrows, till we've seen this journey through.
At the end of his address, and before the hymn "Brother, Sister, let me serve you", Bishop Nigel expressed his wish that in churches of the Diocese of Manchester there will be a welcome for everyone whoever, whatever, wherever they are - including Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered - and undertook that, during his episcopate, he would make every effort to ensure that.
His pronouncement of God's blessing upon the congregation ended with words that summed up the theme of his address:
"May the Holy God surprise you on the way, Christ Jesus be your company and the Spirit lift up your life"