Category Archives: Inclusion

A justifiably proud SHIP

“SHIP has been a lifeline to me and I’m sure many others”.

The SHIP in question is the Sandy Hill Inclusive Partnership, a combination of residents and professional groups involved with the community and with a vision to enable Sandy Hill to become a cleaner, safer place where there is a good sense of community and everyone can have a voice.

SHIP is based around the Hale Community Centre, formerly – and still often – known as The Bungalow, and its work reaches far into the streets around, drawing together families and individuals from across the estate.

A recent report of activities from December last year to summer this year indicates just what an impact the group is having, from 95 people going to the Princes Hall in Aldershot to their pantomime, 70 – including many new families – attending a Christmas party – and 50 coming over to St Mark’s Church to play games, have lunch and do craft at February half-term. There was a sold-out trip to Marwell Zoo, a visit to the beach, a craft event, basketball, a busy session of picking up litter followed by tea, a summer barbecue and lots of new relationships formed, including with St Mark’s where two joint events have now been held and more planned in the future. Other churches and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have also joined in events.

The report also emphasised that: “it’s not always about numbers but about the individual need of that person/family and the positive impact the activity may have on them at that time and this is not easy to measure”.

One of the groups involved with SHIP is WiSH – Women in Sandy Hill. These are the people who are responsible for the garden by and indeed inside the boat just outside the Community Centre, and they have also been taken part in craft activities, autism awareness, cake decorating, sensory bottle making, and are currently engaged in a 12-week Art for Wellbeing course (some of the work is shown below).

Wish art

Some extra outside recognition came this year when the results of South and South East in Bloom were announced in September. In the ‘Your Neighbourhood’ category, Hale Community Centre’s Get Growing Gardening project received a Level 4 Thriving award – progressing from Advancing in 2018.

Melissa, who chairs SHIP, said: “I am amazed by what SHIP has achieved and what individuals in the community have achieved. I have made friends, watched friends flourish and achieve new things and seen individuals go from knowing no-one locally to talking to others regularly and getting involved in community activities….We are proud of what SHIP has become and what it means to people on the estate. There is work to do and people to reach but I believe that Sandy Hill is somewhere to take your time and slowly things will flourish and we are seeing that.”

Coming up soon are more activities, including a Remembrance concert at St Mark’s Church with the Rushmoor Concert Band. Proceeds will be split between Rushmoor Concert Band and SHIP. Tickets are £5 (children free) and there will be a raffle and refreshments. Tickets on the door or by emailing halecommunitycentre@gmail.com

To finish as we started with the words of a resident: “If only they knew how much they helped me. I just can’t find the right words”.

 

Division and peacemaking

A sermon preached at St Mark’s on August 18 on the text Luke 12: 49-56.

The text from the Gospel today is a tough one. It is about Jesus saying he came to bring division to the world. (You can read it here). I gather that far more learned people than I am have decided today to preach on one of the other readings in the lectionary but at St Mark’s we don’t read these, so I have to deal with the Gospel.

Mind you, the other readings (Isaiah 5: 1-7; Hebrews 11: 29-12: 2) aren’t that easy, because they talk of some of the less pleasant things God is portrayed as doing – eg drowning the Egyptians – and this is something that we have to deal with.

And here in this passage, what is going on? Is Jesus talking about his death, about the end times, about strife within the community? Fire is something that is used in the Bible to purify and is painful and associated with a vengeful God.

And what about saying that he had come to bring division? I thought he was the Prince of Peace. After all he said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.

Or was he talking about what inevitably happened because of the radical, anti-establishment nature of the Gospel? Jesus was a divisive character then and continues to be. Those following him at the time would have been seen as radicals and no doubt this divided families, as it still does in some places. And a gospel which said that the outcast was worthy, that the poor should inherit the earth – was this upturning of values the fire he was talking about? It was obviously going to divide people.

And if Jesus inevitably divides people, what are we meant to do about it? Do we just say, oh, that is OK, Jesus said there would be division so I am right to be divided against my friend, neighbour etc? That seems like a lazy, literal interpretation of the text.

I’ve been reading various interpretations of the text and they have been useful but also exposed something at the root of why we have the problem of division –  ie there are lots of interpretations and I, like most of us, have leaned generally towards the ones I agree with and have discounted the others. That interpretation suits me, that one doesn’t so I will go with the first and not the second. Or I can’t fit that one into my narrative so I will ignore it. It doesn’t fit with the conclusions I have already reached.

The issue of my liking some interpretations and not others, the issue of not even considering some interpretations, is fundamental to the issue of division which he talks about and is horribly resonant with society today. I don’t know when there was last such a divided country. The same goes for America. And as I look at people who support opposite views to mine I find myself thinking – how could you? How can you be so: ignorant, selfish, blind etc etc? And they no doubt look at me and say much the same. That sort of attitude and division is not going to bring healing to the world.

Think for a moment about something you are convinced you are right about. What do you feel about the people who disagree with you?

The same goes for church. This was really underlined recently for me when I went to the first Surrey Pride and spent some of my time arguing against a group of men and women from an organisation whose main aim appears to be to challenge LGBTI+ people, and persuade them to turn away from their sexual identities. I believe passionately in a God who accepts people just as they are. This group were made to leave the Pride event – one of the ambulance staff there said that one young person had had a panic attack after they had spoken to this group – but stood outside to talk to people there with the police keeping a watchful eye. The police were fantastic and stood close while I spoke, ready to intervene if they were concerned for anyone’s safety.

Neither the group nor I was going to persuade or even listen to the other. We both knew we were right. But where did that leave us? Probably both sides feeling self-righteous and cross.

So what do we do about these divisions?

My personal response to division has usually been to try to pour oil on troubled water, try to keep everyone happy. Division is bad, right? OK I didn’t try that at Pride but that was unusual. Usually I have tried to be a peacekeeper.

But maybe peacekeeping isn’t the way forward. If we just try to keep the peace then we are less likely to deal with the issues that are causing the division in the first place. We will ignore those issues and they will fester and cause greater issues and greater divisions. Maybe that is one of the things we have been doing in this country which has led to such division now. If one lot of people have felt left behind and another happy with the status quo, maybe that was inevitably going to lead to the divisions we have over Brexit, or inevitably going to lead to Donald Trump.

I think there has been another factor which has been at play here too, encouraging the rise of the right wing, something which has exacerbated the divisions. As a more liberal society has emerged there has been a push back by those whose position and power is threatened – chiefly the mainly white patriarchy.

So we have divisions and if peacekeeping isn’t the way to solve them, what is? Maybe looking at what causes division would help us grow and change for the better. Maybe this is one of the things Jesus meant when he talked about division and about reading the signs. He was saying that there will be division because his way is challenging to the status quo, challenging to the powerful, challenging to the haves, and it is right that it is challenging and divisive, because if it isn’t society will never grow and change and follow his way.

So maybe we shouldn’t be peacekeepers but something more proactive – peacemakers. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ not blessed are the peacekeepers. Peacemakers are those who look at both sides, see both sides as having rights and responsibilities, offer both sides a way forward. Peacemakers at their best are those who try to look at the world through the eyes of both sides.

But, says the follower of Jesus, my side is obviously right. I am obviously right. My understanding of what Jesus wants is obviously right.

How do we know our interpretation is right? Maybe a little humility would be good here, and maybe a little bit of trying to listen, to each other and to God. I have become more and more convinced that prayer is a way forward (even though I am not good at practising what I preach!). If we pray, try to listen to God as well as each other, then maybe we will change within. Maybe that is the fire that Jesus meant – a fire within us which changes us.

Stella Wiseman

Picture by Sunyu.

 

Taking Pride in inclusion

The first Surrey Pride took place on Saturday, August 10, and we were proud to support it and to join in the parade in Woking town centre and the event in the park afterwards.

For too long churches have treated the LGBTI+ community appallingly, at best offering a half-hearted welcome, at worst supporting, even leading, persecution. This is changing, but slowly, and even at Pride in Woking there were people from a group who preached that it is possible to  ‘leave’ LGBT identities and sexual practices as these are ‘in conflict with the Christian scriptures’. Their preaching caused at least one young Pride-goer to have a panic attack in what should have been a safe space. The group was asked to leave but stood outside the main area with the police keeping a watchful eye on them as they continued to approach people.

Thankfully, those at the Christians at Pride stand were welcoming everyone just as they were and offering blessings and assurance that God loves us all, including our sexual identities. To be celebrated and loved like this is a powerful message and one that the church needs to shout out loudly. We try to do so in this parish which is why St Mark’s is sporting a rainbow flag at the moment and why we support the Rainbow Church services elsewhere in the diocese. It is also one of the reasons we belong to Inclusive Church, an organisation that is committed to celebrating and affirming every person and to challenging the church “where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality”.

There will be people in the parish whom this affects personally and there will be people who disagree with this stance. We welcome debate but we ask for respect and humility on all sides. Above all, we ask that we try at all times to listen to God and to seek God in each other.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13, v 35)

egg and sid at Pride

Pride is a colourful event!

Inclusive-church-logo

Hundreds flock to first flower festival

“Warm, welcoming, colourful, life-affirming, loving, nourishing and sustaining.” That was just one description of the inaugural flower festival at St John’s Church over the weekend of May 18-19.

The festival was a huge success and attracted hundreds of visitors who gave warm praise for an event which was packed not just with people and flowers, but also with art, craft, music, refreshments and a happy, relaxed atmosphere.

Community groups, local organisations, artists, schools, churches, charities and other faith groups all came together to create floral displays, art and craft, filling the church with colour and scent. There were flowers on window sills, tables and in the pulpit; paintings on walls and easels and strung across the church; floral photographs on display; a table of hats with a floral theme; and even a chance to taste gin made with local elderflowers.

The tea and cake stand did brisk business, while others sipped Pimm’s, and a table full of plants from Bells Piece, the local Leonard Cheshire home, was almost emptied, partly thanks to the advice and selling skills of gardening expert John Negus. In all the festival made more than £1,100 for the church to help it in its work in north Farnham.

Visitors were enthusiastic with their praise. “Beautiful flowers to match the beautiful church,” said one visitor, while another said: “Lovely – so great to see community projects working together”, and another: “I had a brilliant time and was made to feel very welcome by all of you”. There have already been requests for another festival next year.

“Thank you so much to everyone who took part over the weekend,” said Rev’d Lesley Crawley. “The festival was a real celebration of community and creativity and was a fitting launch to a series of events to mark the 175th anniversary of St John’s Church. Thank you to those who visited the festival; to those who contributed displays, art and craft; to the musicians; the cake-bakers; those who served tea, coffee and cake; those who moved tables, washed up, put up posters and bunting – everyone who took part in any way.

“For the past 175 years, St John’s has been a focal point in the village and we want to ensure that it is being used by the community in a way that is relevant to contemporary needs. We have been conducting a survey to ask what people want from us and there is still time to take part. You can find the survey in the church or at  https://goo.gl/XQQ8qT.

“Please do come to the rest of our 175th anniversary events. First we have a talk on June 5 on Art, Architecture and Christianity in Victorian Britain by the renowned expert Christopher Herbert, and we will be following this with an arts and crafts exhibition on June 22-23, a party in the churchyard on July 20, an afternoon of tea and reminiscing on August 3, and a celebratory service with the Bishop of Guildford and former clergy from St John’s on November 24. Everyone is welcome at all or any of these events.”

 

Pictured top is the display by the Farnham Baha’is. Photo by George Britton.

 

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When inclusion means we have to change

Inclusion is a journey. Inclusion is not easy. Inclusion is worth it.

These are three conclusions I reached at the end of a weekend conference called ‘Being an Inclusive Faith Community’ at the beginning of the month.

It was a challenging and moving weekend at which a small group of us gathered in the warm and welcoming atmosphere of Woodbrooke Quaker Centre in Birmingham. I was the only non-Quaker in the group, which was led by Mark Russ, tutor at Woodbrooke, and Ruth Wilde, national co-ordinator of Inclusive Church, an organisation to which this parish belongs.

One of the first lessons of inclusion in a faith context is that the light of God shines in everyone, and we had this written up in the room in which we met, alongside other guidelines drawn from Quakerism including the belief in true equality and that Quakers seek to follow ‘the right way, not the popular way’.

These tenets are key. We probably think we are all lovely and welcoming and never exclude anyone, but when we take a deeper look we can discover that not everyone is as included as we might think. Changing that is an ongoing process and can meet opposition, not least in ourselves. For if we genuinely welcome everyone in, we will welcome in those we don’t understand, those we don’t like, those we don’t approve of, those who challenge us. Heck, we might even have to change.

There are several exercises I would like to try out in the parish following on from the weekend. One of them is to make us look at our own privilege and how we unconsciously or otherwise make it harder for others to feel truly accepted and valued. Are there people in our churches who feel they have little to give because of their background, illness or disability? Are there people who are not listened to because they find it hard to express ideas or because no-one thinks to ask them? Are there people who do not come into church because they believe they would not be welcome and if so, what have we done to make them feel like that? What barriers are we putting up?

I think that listening to each other’s stories and our true, lived experiences is key here, and not just listening but acting on what we learn. So if someone says that they feel left out or unwelcome, ask why and genuinely listen. If someone says they are afraid of something, or overwhelmed by it – too much noise perhaps – what can be done which also allows other people to express themselves? We are not looking to become some lowest common denominator which seeks to please everyone and ends up pleasing no-one, we are looking to become a radically welcoming community where everyone’s gifts and voices are heard.

It’s not easy and we will get it wrong time and again. There were times even in a group committed to inclusion, as we were that weekend, when we found it hard to understand each other. Sometimes it can be too hard. Sometimes genuine listening and being prepared to accept that we have to change is a step too far. It is possible to exclude ourselves.

I think there is a good example of this in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32) which ends with the younger son, who has previously rejected his father and the life he lived with him, coming back and being welcomed by his father with open arms and a party. This understandably upsets the older son who refuses to join in because he has dutifully stood by his father, worked hard and as he says, never been given so much as a young goat to kill so that he can celebrate with his friends. The father replies “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

I hope that at this point the elder son came in to the party, welcomed his brother back and maybe found ways of getting along with him, even learning from him. We believe we have a God who is worth sharing so we must share and celebrate with everyone, and we must be prepared to change in following the radical welcoming God who will never give up on any of us.

 

 

Picture by Rémi Walle. Unsplash.

 

A celebration of gifts

The Epiphany story tells us that the three kings brought three gifts to the infant Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold is an obvious one and very useful to a poor family; frankincense seems a little odd but could be used as a perfume; but myrrh? What sort of a gift was that for a tiny child? Perhaps it foretold his death – a bitter gift which yet was a gift for us all.

What are your gifts – your gold, your frankincense, your myrrh? That is what we were all challenged at the start of the Rainbow Epiphany service held at St Mary’s, Quarry Street, Guildford, last week (January 10). We each had to write three gifts on slips of paper and put them in envelopes designed by Dave and Helena Walker from St Mark’s. Then we were asked to decorate the envelopes in whatever way we fancied, and keep them until it was time to offer them to God on the altar.

The gold gift was not so hard – talents such as art, music, being a great cook, a good administrator, a listening ear, you can think of plenty more. Frankincense was the gift of relationship, with God and others, the gift that gives fragrance to our lives.

Then myrrh. The bitter gift, the one we didn’t want. What that gift is for each of us differs. It could be a health problem; it could be a fallow period of life; it could be living conditions; it could be one’s sexuality, in a family or church which is not accepting; it could be being transgender. These are gifts which can cause pain and yet which may  turn out to be gifts of extraordinary power and worth. Such a gift is, in the words of one of the speakers there, “a strange, confusing, awkward, uncomfortable and very un-obvious gift”.

In the service we gave thanks for and celebrated the many gifts of the LGBTI+ community; gifts which enrich the church and the wider world, gifts given by God. It was a moving service and an affirming one, with uplifting music led by Julie Shaw, and one of both great joy and vulnerability, particularly when we heard from several individuals who spoke about their ‘myrrh’ gifts.

For many LGBTI+ people accepting themselves has been hard, and acceptance has been made harder still by the attitude of the church.  “After so many years of making myself unhappy trying to be a straight woman and suppressing many other aspects of my identity, it’s taken me a long time to figure out my identity and to realise that God made me to be the way I am,” said one person, one of the leaders of Kairos, a group which provides a safe space for LGBTI+ people, especially those who are Christian or seeking God.

They concluded: “It’s time to heal from the shame and become confident to love and worship and serve God as whole people, with everything he’s given us, not just bits of ourselves.” The gift of leading others to love, worship and serve God as whole people is a real gift to the church and world.

For Sara, who spoke at St Mark’s last summer, being intersex has been a myrrh gift. She said that the arrival of an intersex child may be treated as something unwanted, but such a child can also be a healing gift. “Our birth reminds all those who feel different, be it our ethnicity, mental health, social status, physical ability…..that we are all wonderfully made in the image of God. Our difference is our gift, like myrrh our presence can heal others, reminding all that being different is not a barrier to living to our full potential, or a barrier to love or to being loved.”

Brian spoke of the importance of us being God’s representatives of righteousness and truth, partnered with God’s love, which offers us that most radical message of all – that we don’t have to try to be loved and acceptable, we simply are: “In a culture which constantly harasses people that they need to ‘get things right’, it is hard for us to believe or accept that (God’s) love for us might not be at all conditional on us firstly having met all requirements of being an acceptably changed person.”

Rebecca, a transgender woman, said her trans journey, despite the difficulties it presents to her, “has also been an enormous blessing and a profoundly spiritual experience… Being a trans-woman is something you wouldn’t rush to choose; it is not a bandwagon you’d jump on because it’s apparently fashionable.  We, and many other groups, still have a loooooong way to go to achieve full acceptance and inclusion.

“But like all things in the Lord’s kingdom, it also comes with insight and blessing that you might not otherwise experience.  And whilst perhaps it is a two-edged gift, there are times when I am very grateful for what it brings.”

The message throughout the service was that God has created us just as we are and loves us just as we are, and there is nothing we can do to stop that love. Accepting ourselves as we are will allow us to thrive and be who we were born to be, and the joy and security that this brings will spread out to other people.  This will be a gift to the world.

There will be another Rainbow service in the summer. You can email us to find out more: news@badshotleaandhale.org

 

 

Picture by Chris Barbalis. Unsplash.

 

 

The Story that Matters Most

We are still early in the new year, still at the time when any new year’s resolutions are at least not a distant memory (the second Friday in January is said to be the one when most of us have given up on resolutions). What if one of our resolutions this year could be to follow Jesus more truly? What if we were able to respond to the question “is this the year we’ll walk in Your ways?” with a promise to do all we can?

That question is one asked in a carol which was sung at St Mark’s last month. It was in fact a world premiere of a carol by author, songworker and artist Ash Brockwell. The carol was ‘The Story that Matters Most’.

Just before we sang it, I told the congregation how I had come across it. Ash had shared it on Facebook because of his concern and compassion for a 17-year-old transgender boy, Eli, who had already attempted suicide twice, who had then been asked to leave his church. Ash asked: ‘How is it possible that we still have church leaders who can reject and hurt such a vulnerable young person and yet convince themselves they’re doing God’s work?’. I don’t know the answer to that, but the God I put my faith in is one who welcomes all and loves all and who asks us to walk in his ways and do the same. We dedicated the song to Eli and others like him.

The carol, sung to the tune of William Parry’s Jerusalem, is going to be part of our canon. The story of how Ash came to write it is recorded here.

And here are the words:

The Story that Matters Most

Two thousand years this story’s been told,
Two thousand years and still we sing:
The Magi came with spices and gold
To glorify the new-born king;
The stable bare, the angels there,
the humble shepherds gathered around…
To tell the story that mattered most,
The love and hope their hearts had found.

Two thousand years and still we’re the same,
Watching the flames of hatred burn,
The grief and fear still spread in Your name…
Beloved, will we ever learn?
I know Your only law is Love,
I’ll hold to what I know to be true,
Perhaps the story that matters most
Is one that starts with me and You?

I won’t let hatred tear me apart,
I will not yield to doubt and fear;
I’ll look within the core of my heart,
And find You always waiting here.
You know the truth of who I am:
Open my eyes and help me to see,
Until the story that matters most
Begins again with You and me.

Is this the year we’ll walk in Your ways?
Is this the year we’ll learn to lead,
And share Your truth through worship and praise,
But also thought and word and deed?
What leads to fear is never right,
what leads to Love can never be wrong;
We know the story that matters most
Is one in which we ALL belong.

 

 

Stella Wiseman

 

 

 

A Rainbow Epiphany

Everyone is invited to a Rainbow Epiphany Eucharist at St Mary’s Church, Quarry Street, Guildford, this Thursday (January 10).

The service, which begins at 7.30pm, will be an ecumenical Eucharist to celebrate and give thanks for the gifts and talents of and offered by the LGBTI+ community. Everyone is welcome, including friends and allies.

This is the second Rainbow Eucharist to be held at St Mary’s specifically to welcome and celebrate LGBTI+ people, and here in Badshot Lea and Hale we have been instrumental in setting up the series. On Thursday, Dave and Helena Walker, who worship at St Mark’s, will be leading an artistic element in the service with the help of Stella Wiseman who is on the Rainbow services steering group.

We are part of this, not just because the Rainbow services are uplifiting, celebratory and welcoming, but because of our commitment to inclusion. The parish belongs to Inclusive Church and seeks to include everyone whatever our economic status, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality.

The service will begin at 7.30pm and will end with refreshments, including rather good cake!

To find out more, email Stella Wiseman: news@badshotleaandhale.org, or contact Holy Trinity, Guildford:  office@holytrinityguildford.org or 01483 567716.

Picture: Enfolded by Gillaine Holland

Being intersex in the House of God

On Sunday, August 5, Sara Gillingham, an intersex Christian, came to talk to us at St Mark’s in one of the first sermons in our inclusion series this month.

She spoke movingly on her experience of being intersex in the House of God. This is what she said:

Thank you so much for inviting me here today just to share some of my experience of Church as someone who is born intersex. Firstly, I want to share a bit of my own story, before I reflect on Church and faith.

Just to explain what ‘intersex’ is, as it is often confused with LGBT, particularly Transgender. “Intersex” refers to people who are born with any of a range of biological sex characteristics that may not fit typical notions about male or female bodies. Variations may be in their chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs like testes or ovaries.

About 1.7% of the population is born intersex, across a very wide spectrum. Much of the problem is that there is very little awareness about ‘intersex’, and the secrecy surrounding us is often shaming and stigmatising. Often children are subject to surgeries that are not medically necessary, simply to alter their bodies to fit others expectations. It may be that intersex children, like other children, also have medical conditions that do need treatment, so it is important we differentiate between the two. We now know from research how harmful these non-medically necessary surgeries are to children’s physical and mental health.

I am a survivor of non-consensual surgeries. I was of an age that I remember some of the surgeries and the times when I was recorded or examined in front of medical students. The nature of these surgeries was kept secret from me by doctors and family, despite my asking about them on numerous occasions throughout adulthood. It was only seven years ago that I retrieved my medical records, which explained the secrecy. I have grown-up with the knowledge of knowing that I was somehow different, often with a sense of stigma as the secrecy surrounding me suggested I was somehow shameful.

It is my faith that has helped me endure those ‘dark days’, by showing there is a light out in the darkness. I often drew upon scripture such as :

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 

Many Christians born with Intersex traits find solace in the stories about eunuchs, for instance the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 : 26-40 where God acts to include those previously excluded.

Also they may emphasis in Genesis 1:27 that “God created human beings in his own image…male AND female he created them.

I personally do not feel the need to identify myself so specifically in biblical scripture, as I feel like everyone else I was created in the image of God. I do frequently turn to Psalm 139 which I find very affirming :

“You it was who fashioned my inward parts….You know me through and through, my body was no mystery to you, when I was formed in secret, woven in the depths of the earth’.

However, I know there are others in the Church that have a very different biblical interpretation and who call upon scripture to enforce their binary understanding, and label such people as myself as having ‘a disorder’. This is label that leads to the stigmatisation and non-consensual surgeries I have spoken about. I have also been labelled as being the embodiment of sin, and have been told by Christians to my face and in social media just in this last month alone, as being possessed by Satan with calls to ‘repent’.

I was invited to share my story in the Regional Shared Conversations on Human Sexuality over two years ago, where many were challenged by my physical presence. I had one member of clergy, who led a large team in his own parish, avoid eye-contact and actively avoided just me when sharing the peace at communion. I had people after hearing my story start to pray uninvited, that I be cured. Some embarrassment followed when I asked what being ‘healed’ may look like. It is this hurtful response that brings me in to fellowship with many people who have physical and mental health challenges.

The belief that is core to my faith is that Christ healed by helping people escape discrimination by restoring them as equal members of the community, no longer being marked as ‘IMPURE’.

So Church can be an extremely painful place for me. But I feel called by “God” to try and make use of my pain, and for this reason I am now on Deanery and Diocesan Synods. It is something I find difficult to do, but also at times hugely rewarding and uplifting as people who have remained silent for some many years also find the courage to speak out.

I am currently working with bishops as they prepare a new episcopal  teaching document and pastoral guidance on human sexuality, which will also include ‘intersex’. This again is a bruising experience at present, but I hope greater understanding will reap fruit in the future.

Church can also be a very healing place, and it is important to me and my well being. My own church community at Holy Trinity in Guildford has become my family, and has enabled me to flourish. It is my faith and my church that have given me the courage to find my voice, and put my experiences to good use.

Also being invited today, to one of an increasing number of safe and affirming churches, is both moving and joyous. Most of all we must not lose sight of this, as for many this is what they understand as Church.

So thank you.

Amen

Sara Gillingham

sara crop

Reflections on a rainbow

 

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.

Stella Wiseman