Last Wednesday (July 18) I and several others from the parish, had the privilege of being part of a ‘Rainbow Service’ at St Mary’s Church in Guildford, a communion service which celebrated diversity and in particular welcomed people from the LGBTI+ community, along with family, friends and allies.
The word ‘privilege’ is often used to describe people’s feelings when they have attended an event, so often used that it has become a cliché and I thought carefully before using it, but it really did feel a privilege to be part of a warm, joyful, colourful service which not only celebrated diversity but was also ground-breaking. There have been other such services in other places but this was, I believe, the first in this part of the Diocese of Guildford. It was also packed, and not just with Anglicans, for it was an ecumenical service. I don’t know who came from which church but among those I was particularly pleased to welcome were three from the Godalming Unitarian Chapel including the minister Sheena.
The word privilege is important here for another reason too. Those who identify as straight and cisgendered have been privileged in society, and LGBTI+ people have been at best marginalised and discriminated against. More than that they have often been persecuted, attacked, forced to hide themselves. In some places they are imprisoned, killed. Though in many countries society is much more welcoming now – we have equal marriage after all, though ceremonies cannot be conducted in the Anglican Church – discrimination remains and the church is in large part responsible. There were those I knew there who had experienced direct discrimination and humiliation from both church and society, and I knew just a few of the congregation.
During the service there were references to the wounds that have been and continue to be inflicted, but there was no sense of bitterness, simply an offering of ourselves to God and a joy that God welcomes us all here, now, as we are, and loves and celebrates us. The Confession included the words: ‘Forgive us when we don’t believe such love is true or possible, when we wonder how you could love us just as we are, when we forget our intricate construction, fearfully, wonderfully made, in your image! You know our hearts – and you love us still.’
There was joy, there was wonderful music, and there was colour, not least in the ribbons that we all wore and then tied to a huge circle of wool which we all held, before placing it on the altar, in the rainbow cloth in front of the altar, in the rainbow banner which until the night before had adorned St Mark’s in Hale, in the amazing rainbow cupcakes which a lady called Liz had made, in the installation celebrating and challenging us on inclusion which Lesley Shatwell had prepared, in the rainbow collages which Dave and Helena Walker encouraged us to make.
There was also talk, lots of it, with people lingering over nibbles, wine and those cupcakes, making friends, just feeling welcome. It was, as I said, a privilege and the first, I am certain, of many such occasions.