I don’t know whether I am being a bit petty but I really am peeved to been left off the list of those writ large on your wall of name and shame. It is a good list, made up of some good people and, good friends. It really is good, as far as it goes. By the way I assume that you asked my friend’s permission to publicly name them; just out of human decency and, kindness. Did you?
On reflection maybe I am not quite good enough to be on your list. There are things I have done that some may feel upset God, even invoke His wrath and anger, but I don’t feel convicted of any supposed sin.
Surely I should, at least under your scheme? Maybe I am not praying hard enough; maybe I don’t really get the whole conviction, repentance, atonement, sanctification case as you present it? Strangely I do know, and feel, that I have come to Christ, that he is my Alpha and Omega, my beginning and my end.
Maybe my knowing and feeling are a lesser forms of knowing and feeling, than yours? I do know that I can deeply upset and grieve God, that I can trespass against both God and neighbour, that I can fail to follow the Golden Rule, or even keep the Ten Commandments. Please don’t for one minute think I don’t know what sin looks and feels like. I do.
But, I can’t feel sorry for sleeping with my spouse before my marriage. Maybe even occasionally doing something more than simply nodding off together. Anyway, that’s for me to know and you to guess. Having said, that I didn’t get baptised until after I was married. I always seem to get things ever so slightly the wrong way round. It was my wife who took me to church and introduced me to its sacraments; dear, dear, fallen woman.
Twenty two years after getting married – you know during that ceremony where we declared our love for each other, promised to remain faithful and monogamous, whatever joys and pains life threw at us and, invited God to be in the midst of our relationship – I was ordained. Now, I get to marry people! Or at least some people.
Do you know the really weird thing is that the vast majority of them ‘live in sin’ and, presumably feel no need to repent. It is so strange. Am I the only member of the clergy meeting and marrying such folk? Our town is literally overflowing with fallen types. It makes you wonder why they want to get married at all, after all that they have done. Maybe I should give them that Lambeth document to read, or at least refer them to your website? Oh, I don’t know. Would it really help? Would it effect my standing in the diocese. So many questions.
I have done other good stuff as well. I did participate with clergy, friends and, family at Brighton Pride. One of my nearest and dearest carried a really nice placard with ‘this is the gay that the Lord has made’ written on it. Did she get this so wrong? One of my children’s god fathers marched with us – he too carried the placard. He is a wonderful married man. He is married to another man. Gosh how they love each other. If only you could see the fruits of their union, you would be so impressed. The scheme one of them has set up to look after some of the poorest people in a GAFCON territory has been such a life-saver. The irony is that he has risked his well being, maybe even his life, in doing so. Still ‘greater love’ and all that.
I suppose this sort of thing may not count for much when all is said and, done. Doomed by their love; that’s what is supposed to happen isn’t it? Well, I hope not because I have so many good gay friends.
When my gay friends come and stay, or when we go and stay with them, we normally pootle off to bed at around 11 o’clock after a nice cup of tea. The first time they came to stay with us I don’t mind telling you how scared I was. I had read some material on-line which suggested that I should be on my guard, lest I was succored into some form of depraved orgy. Well blow me down, all I have heard from the room next door was snoring; loud snoring. You invite people into your house, you even give them clean linen to sleep in and, then they keep you awake, not with their antics but with their nostrils, how rude and vulgar is that? It really isn’t very C of E, we are the established church after all.
It seems that my gay friends are just as Darby and Joan as us heterosexual types. Amazing, who would have thought it? Who would have thought that friendship, companionship and someone’s hand to hold though the inevitable ups and downs of life was so important? It really is incredible. I thought these hopes and aspirations only applied to people like me. Silly old me. And, to think that intimacy and the sweetness and joy of true sexual union might be made available to all God’s people, well that is simply scandalous. Just imagine for a moment the sheer illogicality of God making all in his image and them sorting them into neat little piles and deciding who gets to access to what. Mind you God’s ways are not our ways; I know, I know. I really must stop thinking about issues like Divine Justice, Universal Love and so forth, they really do get in the way.
Yes, you are right, I mustn’t inflict my own human thoughts and projections on to God. Is that what I am doing? Does God want me to suspend all critical thought and feeling? Should I just put myself on the side of tradition and a conservative reading of the text and rest secure. Well maybe I would if real life would stop getting in the way, if there weren’t other texts to unsettle and disturb me etc, etc.
All of which brings me to the thorny issue of prayer and blessing. I don’t think I have broken any church rules and regulations. I haven’t conducted a marriage or a formal blessing. I have gay friends who have told me that they wouldn’t ask me to do so, as they don’t want to compromise me! How thoughtful my gay friends can be.
But, here is the nub: I do include my gay friends, single and partnered, in the Prayers of the Church. I do so on Sunday’s when I pray for all who are made to feel less than fully human on a variety of grounds, including sexuality and, when I sit down to pray the office (as I am canonically bound to do, by the way), I regularly ask God’s blessing on their union.
Alright, they are not there kneeling in front of me and, I am not conducting a service of dedication or even a marriage, but I am asking for their relationship to be blessed and I am doing so using the offices of the church or put another way the Prayers of the Church. Have I done wrong? I am getting too worried about technicalities and legalities. Oh well, I suppose that I can reassure myself with the thought that because my gay friends aren’t actually there any prayer of blessing I offer doesn’t really count! Thank goodness that there is a clear line of demarcation between private and corporate prayer!
Dear GAFCON friends please do be assured that I have decided that I will not break my canonical vows. I accept that I can only use forms of service authorized by the Church of England, so I won’t conduct a marriage or a marriage blessing but, I will keep praying and, praying for God’s blessing on same sex couples. You need not worry for presumably you reckon my prayers to be ineffective and just mere private prayers. The trouble is those who know I pray for them seem to believe that my prayers are valid and, that they make a difference. It is all so bizarrely confusing!
The real problem with the current situation, the status quo if you prefer, is that it simply isn’t good enough.
Rev’d Andrew Lightbown