As you may know, I am one of the three Diocesan Ambassadors for Inclusion. Our brief is to promote and enable inclusion in churches throughout the diocese. This covers all areas that mean people may not be as welcome as they might be. For example, those with mobility issues, hard of seeing or hearing, those on the Autistic spectrum, people with dementia-related illness, people suffering poor mental health, to name a few.
At both the churches in our benefice we have wonderful champions who have worked to make sure access and signage is correct, and also that we are made aware of how to recognise any signs that someone needs extra welcome. Sadly, those who are also often not included as they might be are our brothers and sisters who identify as LGBT+.
For some churches this comes from a particular reading of the Bible. There is a spectrum of interpretation of scripture on all sorts of matters, including sexuality and gender. Some believe that people who are, say, homosexual need healing, others will accept people can be gay but say that there can be no physical relationship between people of the same sex, and others who believe that people are who they are, in all the nuanced mystery and marvel of being human, just as I am white, or left handed.
For me, the fact that scripture can be interpreted so widely leads me towards inclusion as, the older I get, the bigger, wider and more generous is the love I find in God’s heart. At the end, I would have rather honestly misunderstood the theology and erred on the side of inclusion.
Since becoming an ambassador I have heard many painful stories from people who have ‘come out’ in their churches only to be removed from rotas, denied roles in leadership or worship or, in some cases, asked to leave. Others have an ongoing struggle in their not feeling safe to be who they are. Rainbow Church is an attempt to make safe space for LGBT+ folk, and others. To hear a talk on a relevant issue by someone with a story to tell, and to enjoy a short service in which anyone can take part. For many this has been the first time attending a church since they left, for others it’s a place where they can worship in the honesty of who they are.
The next one is this Saturday in Bridgwater at 2pm. Let me know if you’d like to go and we can sort out lifts. We are hosting the one after at St Stephen’s.
I know this is a hard issue for some, but Debbie and I are always more than willing to meet and talk about it. The more conversations there are, and the more opportunities there are to hear the stories and experiences of others, the more understanding and empathy there will be, the less fear, misunderstanding and exclusion.
One book that I know many have found helpful is ‘Undivided’ by Vicky Beeching. A powerful testimony.
Lenten blessings, philip