Shared Conversations – A different attitude to LGBT worshipers

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“Southwark Cathedral houses St Andrew’s Chapel, the UK’s only shrine to the victims of HIV/AIDS.

“This made the cathedral a particularly poignant place for my Confirmation in 2015. The shrine was dedicated in 1991. It is very beautiful. It provides a fitting memorial to the tens of thousands of people who have died of AIDS in the UK. The shrine is found within the cathedral’s retro-choir. This is the most historic and architecturally interesting part of Southwark Cathedral. Dark flagstones, worn by feet and washed by many hands, shine in the sun. The acanthus scrolls and fleur-de-lis finials of Stuart ironwork guard tombs and cast darting shadows into pointed recesses. Blind tracery grows on the walls, a tripartite dance of circles and imploding triangles. The HIV/AIDS chapel is one of three chapels located in this space and is situated at the far left. The altar is clothed in green brocade, watched over by Jesus, who is set against a gilded background. Jesus is accompanied by two angels, triumphantly blowing horns.

“I like to think that Jesus is watching over me, protecting me from the challenges the world holds. Following my Confirmation, I felt more loved by Jesus than ever. I live in the shadow of his burning light.”

Over the last two years the Church of England has been engaging in “Shared Conversations” to break down barriers within the Church of England around LGBT identity. The Shared Conversations took the following question as their basis: “Given the significant changes in our culture in relation to human sexuality, how should the Church respond?” These took place at three levels, firstly amongst bishops in September 2014, regionally from April 2015 to March 2016, before culminating in discussions at the General Synod (the Church’s Parliament) in July. The entire Synod split into 25 groups, debating LGBT identity for three days. This is the most far-reaching internal consultation that the Church of England has done on LGBT identity. The Shared Conversations had no specific agenda with respect to outcome. There were no set goals. They were designed to be expectation and fuss free, seeking to avoid disappointment around this controversial issue.

I attend a church in Waterloo called St John’s, where I have incredible priests, including the inspirational Giles Goddard. Giles is at the forefront of the LGBT movement within the Church of England. He told me that following the Shared Conversations: “it felt as though the atmosphere at Synod changed.” He described a change of tone, towards a more inclusive approach. He went on to say that, while previously LGBT people were perceived as a problem, now they are part of the solution for the Church of England. A different attitude to LGBT people was apparent from Bishops, to the floor of the Synod. Giles said that the Church of England is increasingly aware that they have to move on and cannot continue to marginalise LGBT worshippers. There are a number of Church of England Conservative pressure groups, of which Reform and Christian Concern are two of the best known. Although reluctant to participate in the Shared Conversations, they were unable to derail the process.

Christianity is a core part of my life – The extract at the beginning of this column is taken from the chapter I’ve contributed to a book called The Power of my Faith. In the book I discuss the centrality of Christianity in my life and how my faith helped me overcome my HIV diagnosis. Jesus’ message is one of love. We need to see same-sex marriage endorsed by the Church of England and I would like to see the appointment of an openly gay bishop soon. In the Episcopal Church of Scotland, the Anglican equivalent of the Church of England in Scotland, change on LGBT issues is moving at a faster pace. The Anglican Church of Canada just voted to approve same-sex marriage.

The Shared Conversations are a welcome step in the right direction – Giles’ enthusiasm filled me with excitement. However, for an LGBT worshipper like myself, the Church of England is still not fulfilling its role. I want to fall in love with another man, to marry in church, so that we can celebrate our love for Jesus together.  While the Shared Conversations have propelled the Church of England in a more inclusive direction, my heart yearns for full LGBT inclusion.

Follow Phillip on Twitter @philipcbaldwin

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