Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

Russian LGBT Christian Conference

It is all too easy for us in the West to forget that no matter how much we feel under pressure as queer Christians, things can be that much more difficult elsewhere  (as illustrated currently by Uganda, and others). Still, there is also progress.

One small piece of news to share is that a conference of LGBT Christians was recently held in Moscow, marking a decided first for Russia.  I know of this only because one of our London Soho congregation is a Russian expatriate, who was a participant (and I think organiser). To support him, we were able to make a (very) small contribution to the travel costs of the event.

We have had a letter of thanks for the help, together with some notes on the success of the occasion, from which I think I can share the following report :

The Conference was a great success – this we already can see from the participants responses, friendships built and creativity unleashed. Our email group for the Conference participants and others interested in the LGBT Christian issues is thriving with reflections, questions and new ideas. The participants from Moscow have started weekly meetings for mutual support. Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who joined the Conference are developing their own ministry, keeping us updated on their activities and encouraging our spirit.

God wills we will see abundant fruits of the Conference in months and years to come.

Transgender in Church

Last SupperWhile helping out at our Catholic stall after this year’s Pride parade through London, I was approached by a woman who put a question that left me totally at a loss on how to respond:  What is the Church’s position on transgendered issues? She told me that her own local parish priest was very understanding and supportive, but she wanted to know more. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I clearly knew less than she did – she at least had been discussing the issue with a priest, but I in effect knew virtually nothing, beyond the harsh words of Benedict XVI in his Curial address last Christmas.

Now, we at the Soho Masses are quite explicit  that we serve(or aim to) the full LGBTspectrum (as well as friends, family and supporters), and one of our key people on the pastoral council speaks openly of her own transition.   The matter was raised in our pastoral planning workshop earlier this year, and since then, we have begun exploring ways to be more explicitly supportive, in particular by making provision for at least fairly basic changing facilities for those who want to use such a facility.  But these are essentially merely symbolic gestures, only just scratching the surface. Beyond taking the easy way out, referring questions to Lorraine, what on earth are we to say to people who are attempting to find a balance between authentic gender expression and living with integrity in the Catholic Church?

Many of us have felt anxious, intimidated or jsut plain terrified at the prospect of coming out as lesbians or gay men- sometimes even to ourselves.  Yet we have an increasingly supportive legal and cultural environment, role models and resources to help us.  Even in our struggles with the churches, the publicity over gay bishops and gay clergy, as well as an explosion of books an web resources, makes it easy to see that we are not alone in the struggle.  How much more difficult must it be to face the much greater challenge of dealing with a readjustment of gender identity, without that same supportive environment?  There  are not the same resources, nor are there the same role models and support structures.

This is why I was  delighted to find this report, in the Regal Courier on a Methodist priest who had the courage to tell his congregation about his earlier transition – and the congregation, who responded to his story with strong applause.:

Congregation embraces transgender minister as his secret is revealed

Rev. David Weekley hopes his story will help change United Methodist Church doctrine

Rev David Weekely and wife (pic: L.E. Baskow, Portland Tribune)

Until now, there has been just one openly transgender Methodist clergyman in the U.S. to retain his ordination (That man, Drew Phoenix, 50, had his ordination challenged by members of the church after coming out publicly in 2007 to his congregation in St. John’s of Baltimore United Methodist Church in Maryland.)

Today, Sunday, Aug. 30, Weekley – who leads the congregation at the Epworth United Methodist Church in the Sunnyside neighborhood in inner Southeast Portland – became the second.

Just months after telling his own children that he was not their biological father, Weekley, who is in his late-50s, came out to his congregation of 221 members.

Standing behind his pulpit, Weekley began his usual worship service. About halfway through, he paused to share a personal message he called “My Book Report.”

He told them that in 1984, just nine years after undergoing extensive sex-reassignment surgeries, he was ordained by the Methodist Church without telling anyone of his original gender at birth.

Following his story, the congregation, who had remained silent throughout his talk, broke into thunderous applause. Church members then proclaimed their support for their pastor.

This is impressive.  The United Methodist Church is one of the least supportive mainline Protestant denominations on lesbian and gay people generally, and despite strong pressure to change, voted against modifying their opposition, the last time this came up for discussion.  The strong support from the congregation shows once again that local communities can be far more supportive of individual people in their midst, than official doctrine suggests.  It is far easier to be hostile to an anonymous group, than it is to those nice guys in the pew next to you, or to an admired pastor in the pulpit.  This is why it is so important that wherever possible, we should try to extend our coming out processes (and they are processes, not single events), into our parishes, as well as to our families, friends, and workplaces.  Every such coming out makes it easier for those who follow:  but let me emphasise those words , “wherever possible“.  Quite obviously, sometimes the conditions are simply prohibitive, especially for clergy.

Footnote:  I have responded to my earlier embarrassed ignorance by attempting to track down more information on transgendered issues in the churches, and have started to compile a transgendered booklist for Sergius & Bacchus Books.  This is far from complete, but it is a start, and will be constantly expanded.  I would be very interested in feedback from readers who know more than I do.

You might also like:
An Authentic, Catholic History of Marriage
“Eternal Bliss” – SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th
Catholic and Other Faith Schools and Homophobic Bullying …

A Healing Church

(This comes as a guest post from Irene, a dear friend who is a committed regular at the Soho Masses – travelling long distance to get there.  This is her account of a recent experience attending Mass, on the night when Mass was followed by a musical concert presentd by our own “Schola Assumptionis”):

The REAL PRESENCE.

A few weeks ago a tendon in my left leg became taut and painful to match the one in the right leg that has been damaged. After walking for hours around London I arrived at church early so I could take the weight off my feet before going up to mass. Lying on the chairs was such a relief. I didn’t manage to stand through all the appropriate parts of the service but the pain was less when I was chatting downstairs over tea before the concert. After the concert I helped distribute the wine and walking to Bistro 1 afterwards, I noticed I had no more pain in my leg – and I have had none since. I must have had a spontaneous healing during mass. I am delighted.

Some of you may know that I work as a healer. Once healing was part of the Christian and Jewish ministry but the Enlightenment put a stop to that! Witchcraft!! Healers, however,  have kept going, secretly though, as it is a gift and one which works. In Sarajevo, where there is no NHS  to limit people’s minds, people are open to it and have amazing reactions.Openness to holistic medicine has made it more acceptable but when I talk about it to Christians they are more than a bit suspicious. Now, something has happened to me during Mass, a total spontaneous healing, something totally unexpected and which has never happened during my healing and meditation sessions. Why? A stronger presence of God? I don’t know. I do know that I am no longer in pain and I am absolutely delighted.

(And we are delighted with you, Irene.  Thank you for sharing this.  And may I remind the rest of you, that I am always open to posting guest contributions from any other readers who have something to say.)

Indian Protestant, Orthodox Churches Support Gay Rights.

Still another grouping of churches has now come out clearly on the side of gay rights, declaring that homosexuality is “a natural or genetical reality”.

Last month, the US Episcopalians gave the go ahead to the appointment of gay & lesbian Bishops, and to the church blessing of same-sex unions. (Since then, two dioceses have named four lesbian or gay candidates to the episcopate in Los Angeles and Wisconsin_. Last week, the British Quakers agreed to begin performing religious marriage services, as opposed to mere blessings, for same sex couples, and to formally request the UK government to change the relevant legislation – the first major religious grouping to take a lead on the issue.

Now, in India, there is another church taking a stand in favour of equality. A gathering of protestant and orthodox church leaders has declared that as a homosexual orientation is natural, it is “unscientific” and contrary to human rights to condemn people for something over which they have no control. They have also urged other churches to rethink their position, called for a reinterpretation of Scripture, and said there is a need for a rethink in christian theology on homosexuality .

This follows a court decision to legalise homosexual relationships, which had been criminalised under colonial legislation. My impression is that the court decision has not been widely welcomed, and has been strongly criticised in some conservative circles, so it is encouraging to see that here too, churches are willing to take a lead. Indeed, the declaration makes clear that they believe they have an obligation to teach their countrymen on the issue, proposing a series of workshops in every Indian state to inform and educate ordinary people on the rights of people with a same sex orientation:

“A forum of Protestant and Orthodox churches in India has said homosexuality is “a natural or genetical reality”, adopting a radically different stand from other influential Christian denominations across the world.”

“The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), which represents around 1.3 crore Christians in the country, also said the rest of the Christian world needed to “rethink’’ its stated position that homosexuality is a sin against God.”

“The NCCI said it wanted the Church to take a more “open’’ view. “Homosexuality traits in a person could be genetical, hence natural. It is unscientific to throw stones at some people because of their natural instincts over which they have no control,’’ said Rev. Christopher Rajkumar, the secretary of the Justice, Peace and Creation Commission of the NCCI.”

The NCCI has also issued a document urging its member churches to “accompany the People with Different Sexual Orientation (PDSO) in their journey” and to protect the human rights and dignity of such people. The forum proposed “re-reading and re-interpreting scriptures from the PDSO perspective”.

According to Rev. Rajkumar, it is the duty of the church to inform the common people that homosexuality is a natural process. “Blind opposition to homosexuality amounts to human rights violation,” he said, adding that a rethink is needed in Christian theology to embrace the homosexuals into its fold.

From the Telegraph, Calcutta( emphasis added)

I have noted before that every step forward by one major church grouping puts pressure on the others, as we have already seen in the letter of complaint from some English Bishops to their Swedish Lutheran counterparts. Meanwhile, we are still waiting on the US Evangelical Lutherans (meeting in Minneapolis 17th -23rd August) , who are due to take important decisions on gay ordinations and gay marriage.

The Methodists, it is true, have disappointed by failing to change existing regulations against admitting “homosexuals ” to their congregations – but at least they discussed the issue.

Others will be forced to do the same in the next few years, again and again, until change has come across a wide front.

(See also: Gay clergy making small strides)

 

UK Church Takes Action FOR Gay Marriage!

Here in the UK, there has not been a big  push for same sex marriage, as the civil partnership regulations provide virtually the same benefits as full marriage  This includes national benefits (unlike Washington’s proposal),and really is “marriage in all but name” (an important qualification).  Now, according to the BBC, the British Quakers are to take up the issue.

gay_marriage

The proposal to begin performing marriage ceremonies for same -sex couples is expected to pass  by consensus, without opposition, at their annual gathering in York “on Friday”, even though this could bring them into conflict with the law.  They are also expected to ask for the law to be changed.  (Is “Friday” today…..or next week? I don’t yet know, but will investigate).

(UPDATE:  This has now been approved.  See the TIMES ONLINE)

This is the first time that I know of that a church group is taking a lead on the issue – anywhere.

From the BBC, 30th July 2009:

“Quakers ‘to allow gay marriages’

One of the UK‘s oldest Christian denominations – the Quakers – looks set to extend marriage services to same-sex couples at their yearly meeting later.

The society has already held religious blessings for same-sex couples who have had a civil partnership ceremony.

But agreeing to perform gay marriages, which are currently not allowed under civil law, could bring the Quakers into conflict with the government.

…BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott said the Quakers had been more prepared than other groups to reinterpret the Bible in the light of contemporary life.

Religious commitment

The Quakers – also known as The Religious Society of Friends – are likely to reach consensus on the issue of gay marriage without a vote at their annual gathering in York on Friday.

They will also formally ask the government to change the law to allow gay people to marry.”

The full report from the BBC is here.

***

From TIMES ONLINE, July 31st:

“The Quakers sanctioned gay marriage today and decided to call on the Government to give same-sex couples the same standing as married couples.

Other Christian churches and religious denominations have approved blessings for civil same-sex partnerships but the Quakers have now become Britain’s first mainstream religious group to approve gay marriage.”

Enhanced by Zemanta
You might also like:
Henri Nouwen, on Andrew Sullivan and the “Blessing” of …
Coming Out, as an Act of Faith
Lutheran Bishop’s Advice to Catholic Counterparts: …

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Marriage Equality & the Church: Take 2

Back in May, I wrote that the growing international acceptance of civil marriage for same sex couples would inevitably nudge the churches to rethink their own positions, nudging them to greater acceptance.  (See “Marriage Equality and the Church“ ). Some recent news stories illustrate the point.

gay_marriage

In the UK,  the change in Swedish law is already having a direct imact on the Anglican church, which has close ties to the Lutherans.  The resonse described here is about two English bishops who have written to the Lutherans to express their “concern” that the change in Swedish law will ut pressure on the English church to accept same sex marriage:

From the Daily Mail online:

“The Church of England warned last night that it is under pressure to accept gay marriage.

…….The concerns were raised in a letter from Bishop of Guildford Dr Christopher Hill and Bishop of Chichester Dr John Hinds to leaders of the Swedish state church which has close and formal links with the Anglicans.…….

Their letter was a response to moves in the Church of Sweden to offer gender neutral marriage services which could be used for either brides and grooms or for same sex couples.”

I would agree that their concern is well founded, but speaking for myself, I would change the  description from “concern” to “delight”.

Also in the UK, the strongest opponents of marriage, led by the Bisho of Rochester, are now formally leaving the Anglican Church, thinking that they are leading a groundswell movement of resistance.  Independent observers think otherwise, and the departure of the bigots will simply make it easier for the rest of the chuirch to make real progress. See:

The Independent LeadingArticle:   The bishop is embracing a lost cause.

The Daily Telegraph There’s no pride in bashing gays, bishop

The Times Online The spiritual battle for the soul of Anglicanism

Ekklesia Backlash grows against Nazir-Ali’s call for gay “repentance”

In the US, the Southern Baptist Convention is probably the most hostile of the bigger churches.  But even here, there are signs that a rethink is coming.  In a leading article in the Baptist Standard, the editor write that it is Time for A Rethink on Homosexuality. He continues to believe that revelation, but at least concedes that there is no reason to be harsher on this “sin” than on others:

Small consolation, I know, but movement none the less.  In New Hampshire, meanwhile, a columnist for another Baptist publication, the Manchester Examiner, makes explicit the connection between the NH marriage law, and its inevitable result of pressure on the church for a rethink:

“In New Hampshire, the Southern Baptists have planted a number of new churches in the recent decade. … How will the Southern Baptists react to a changing landscape where homosexuality is becoming more tolerated and accepted in mainstream New Hampshiresociety? People outside the church are less likely to view it as wrong or different, just as they view other things considered sexual sin. Churches have acclimated and adjusted to cohabiting heterosexual couples,divorce and remarriage (once considered adultery by many Baptists), and many other things once considered anathema.

Where once homosexuality was considered a disease or psychological disorder, it is now becoming better understood. And even if a church believes that the Bible teaches homosexuality is sin, should it be distinguished from other sexual sins? If churches are going to be opposed to homosexuality, they must be opposed to all sexual sin equally. Is there a bias against homosexuals that needs to be overcome to reach them effectively? And if so, can churches overcome it?”

How, indeed?

Faith at London Pride

4th July – and in London, the parade was for Gay Pride. These pictures, taken by Martin Pendergast, show the participation by some Catholics in the march and Trafalgar Square celebrations, as well as how we marked the occasion at the Soho Mass next day (our Pride Mass is always a highlight of the year.) I still plan to share further words and pictures of the rest of the march and festivities, especially of the many other faith-based participants. These will follow later.

Proudly Gay, Proudly Catholic: London Pride, 2009

Our Information Stand at Trafalgar Square

Pride Mass

Rainbow Flag for Pride Mass

Rainbow Flag for Pride Mass

A Rainbow Cake After Pride Mass

A Rainbow Cake After Pride Mass