As a practising Christian for whom Christmas is special, it seems a good time to reflect on my own faith and some of the developments currently taking place within the Church of England and beyond, as well as looking to 2020.
Many readers will know that I attend St Anne’s Church in London’s Soho. St Anne’s is headed by the Rev’d Simon Buckley. Simon is an exceptional priest, who has made St Anne’s a beacon of inclusion within England.
Simon is gay himself and approximately one-third of the congregation is LGBTQ. The church is at the heart of Soho. Many members are residents of the area, but others travel from Bromley and Cambridge to attend services. It attracts people of different ages, ethnicity, sexuality and gender. Everyone is welcome.
St Anne’s supports community organisations, including the local primary school. This year the church is raising the profile of Centrepoint, which helps homeless people and was founded by one of Simon’s predecessors 50 years ago.
St Anne’s accommodates Alcoholics Anonymous groups (some specifically for the LGBTQ community). Spectra, the sexual health charity and The Sybils, a Christian Group for trans people, also host events.
In April a commemoration service takes place marking the Admiral Duncan bombing of 1999, the worst terrorist attack on the LGBTQ community in the UK. In July there is a special breakfast for Christians and their friends attending London Pride. Opening Doors London, a charity which helps older LGBTQ people, hold their Christmas carol service at St Anne’s.
I am very fortunate to have found St Anne’s. I receive a lot of support from the congregation, LGBTQ or otherwise, as well as from the priests at the church. I often turn to Simon for advice. I leave the weekly Sunday service feeling recharged and ready for the challenges of the coming week.
Sadly, across Church of England churches throughout the UK, we know that LGBTQ people are not always welcomed. In some churches, the atmosphere can be hostile.
A glaring example of this is so-called “conversion therapy”, which continues to be a problem in many churches in England. “Conversion therapy” attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity through psychological, spiritual and – occasionally – violent physical interventions.
The Ozanne Foundation conducted its National Faith and Sexuality Survey, the results of which were released in February 2019, directly linking “conversion therapy” to suicide, self-harm and eating disorders. For me, the most shocking statistic in this report was that 22 respondents had been forced to participate in sexual activity with someone of the opposite gender as part of their “conversion therapy”. How can corrective rape be taking place in a faith context in the UK?
“Conversion therapy” was recognised as a problem in the Government’s 2018 LGBT Action Plan, with a commitment to end the practice. I hope that the new Government turns this policy into legislation as soon as is practicable.
Jayne Ozanne, who heads the Ozanne Foundation, presented the Pope with a copy of the National Faith and Sexuality Survey, as well as her memoir Just Love, which describes her experiences of “conversion therapy”, last month.
The day after, the Pope also likened people who persecute the LGBTQ community to Nazis. Whilst the Catholic Church’s stance on LGBTQ issues leaves a lot to be desired, we should welcome this important gesture from the head of the world’s largest Christian denomination. Progress often takes place in small steps.
The Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference we will be held in Canterbury, in the summer of 2020. Bishops from across the Communion will gather, with LGBTQ issues on the agenda.
The Church of England can be frustratingly slow in taking those small steps towards the full inclusion of LGBTQ people, which LGBTQ Christians so desperately want and need.
It will be interesting to see what emerges from Lambeth 2020 for LGBTQ people in the UK and also further afield. The Church of England has the potential to greatly advance human rights globally, by taking a more assertive stance on the validity of LGBTQ Christians within the entire Communion.
Over the festive period, for any LGBTQ people looking for an inclusive church in London, as well as St Anne’s, I can recommend St John’s and the Oasis Church, both in Waterloo. Outside of London, check out OneBodyOneFaith’s website, which has a partial list of inclusive churches.