Bishops, friends and radical inclusion.

You know when you have a date stuck in your mind, and you don’t really plan or think about life after that date?
Well Wednesday 15th Feb was that date for me.

It was the day we debated GS2055, in other words the House of Bishop’s report on same sex relationships following the Shared Conversations.

Since the report came out a few weeks prior, I’d known this was when I needed to stand up and make my voice heard – literally. Until this point I’d stayed well away from the microphones and admired my friends who had made their maiden speeches.
There was a group of us both in and out of Synod that had worked closely together in preparation for this debate, and deciding what we were going to do about the group work that was planned for Wednesday after lunch.

To start off, I was in two minds about whether or not to attend the group work. On one hand I was fed up of talking and listening, that’s what I’d done for the past three years and it had got us nowhere. As I said in my previous blog I had whole heartedly signed up and trusted in the Shared Conversations process, and I felt this report had hurt me, and betrayed my trust.
On the other hand I didn’t want to be seen as not engaging. I am a big believer that change is relational and with a divide like the one we have, you have to talk, listen and do you best to understand.
But, I did eventually decide not to take part. Mainly due to those feelings of hurt, and betrayal. It was going to be hard enough sitting through the debate never mind having to discuss case studies which quite frankly were appalling. Every one of them presented the LGBT+ members of Churches as problems; there was not one single case study where maybe, just maybe, a gay member of the congregation was a blessing or a gift. I also felt it was important to stand with those who were also not attending, some for the same reasons as myself, and some due to simply wanting to support the LGBT members of Synod. That meant a lot.
So we had our own ‘group work’ which was an important time to focus, listen to each other, and also to get our reasons and points of view listened to by Justin Welby who joined us for half an hour.

By the time the debate came round, although nervous and subconsciously preparing myself to be hurt (again) I did feel an overwhelming sense of calm and confidence.
There had been rumours of a one minute speech limit from the start, so I’d prepared  three, two and one minute speeches. I made sure I got in the chamber early to get the seat I wanted and prepare myself mentally. But the calm and confidence was more than that, it wasn’t just me being over prepared, or the sense of support from other within and outside of Synod, it was that ‘God feeling’ you sometimes get. When you know He is right there with you, holding your hand and in complete control of the situation.

I got called to speak third! Out of over 170 requests to speak, I was third! I had hoped I’d have a bit more time to see what the tone of the debate was like – not that I could or would have changed my speech, but you know, I wanted to hear a few speeches first! However I’m not complaining, it did mean once I’d done my bit I could get my head back in the game and listen to others.
You can hear my speech from 24 minutes in here along with the rest of the debate.

Although it went down well, and it got rather a lot of media coverage, I really hope I did justice to those who often feel they don’t have a voice.

I want to acknowledge that I know I am privileged to have a place at that particular table, I have a direct line to power which most people don’t and for the time that I’m there I want to use it to the best of my ability to represent those outside the chamber, and often outside the Church.  I really do hope that my speech, and my vote against the report did that. It won’t have done it for all, but for my community, and the minority I am part of I really hope it did.

I spoke of my friend Helen, and how she took her own life in April last year. I wasn’t hugely close to her, but she was part of our community, we’d both enjoyed Two23 and Greenbelt, marched at London Pride together and I will always wish she’d have reached out further to us. It highlighted to me that even those of us that have brilliant support networks, and are part of loving, safe, Christian LGBT groups, sometimes, it isn’t enough. Coupled with mental health issues, the overarching message that the Church of England gives out is sometimes enough to cripple people, tragically, to the point of death.

I hope and pray that our speeches on Wednesday, alongside the momentous vote, and the letter from the two Archbishop’s the day after is the start of real change. The start of this new, radical inclusive Church that we all dream of.
A Church where I no longer have to lose friends due to us getting it so wrong.

In memory of Lizzie, Helen and all those for whom this became too much.

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