Just before Christmas one of my daughters messaged me to ask if I knew a church she could attend for a Midnight Mass; a church where she would ‘feel safe.’
My daughter is both gay and disabled and was staying with her partner for Christmas. Their’s, to borrow a phrase from Archbishop Justin, is a relationship of ‘stunning quality.’ It is a relationship built on mutual care and companionship. I rejoice in their love for each other and would like nothing more than to liturgically bless it; why wouldn’t I?
But, I am troubled that my daughter should feel the need to ask if I knew of a church where she would ‘feel safe.’
Let’s pause and think for a second or two: can it really be the case that there are churches where people might not feel safe, where they might feel marginalised and ostracized?
Sadly, it appears, it is. What an awful and appalling indictment of the Church of England, and to be honest, her leadership.
There is, however, just a nugget, or sliver, of the miraculous in her question for it reveals an appreciation that the Christian story is bigger, more powerful, more attractive story than the one that is frequently told by the institutional church and her clerics. But ‘do you know a church where I can feel safe’ it is still a question that nobody should ever have to ask, or indeed answer. It is a horrible question, a dirty question and a sordid question, but one that, sadly, many need to ask. The Church of England should be a safe place for all, end of, full stop; for if any members of the body feels marginalised and ostracized then the entirety of the Body of Christ becomes weaker, insular and impotent.
To help answer her question I contacted a friend, an archdeacon no less, who initially sent me a list of churches that my daughter would do well to steer clear of. Again let’s pause to think about this: churches exist, really exist, where a young gay women, in a wheelchair, and her partner might not feel welcome, let alone safe. What an appalling indictment on the church and her leadership.
My friend did send me a list of churches where my daughter and her partner would be truly, properly, welcomed and I am glad to say that they went to MidNight Mass and were made to feel very much at home, as though they belonged. The vicar spoke to them, shared the peace with them, and fed them through word and sacrament. He made them feel safe and secure as members of the Body of Christ. For this, as a dad and a priest, I am truly grateful.
My daughter’s story reminds me of two things: First, that the Christian story is bigger than any one of us, and secondly, and tragically, that for many people the church is not experienced as a safe, loving, and pastoral place. Although the story is bigger the church is perfectly capable of hiding its light and majesty under a bushel; a bushel of inhospitable and exclusive relational ethics.
In my benefice we won’t always get it right but what I hope is that we will always truly strive to create an environment – no a community – where all, yes all, are truly welcome. In time I hope that such a welcome will include the ability to liturgically affirm all those who wish to enter into a monogamous, faithful, life-long and coventanted relationship; full stop, end-of. The church should always stand alongside, in (liturgical) solidarity, those who wish to pledge themselves to another human being and who wish to vow to undertake the life-long, hard, and nitty-gritty work of love.
It will take time for the church to get there, to that place of ‘liturgical solidarity,’ (and equality) but in the meantime would it be too much to ask that our ‘leaders’ really do pledge to making sure that each and every church is genuinely a safe place for all?
As a priest and as a dad I never (again) want to worry about whether my daughter is safe in church.