Category Archives: LGBTI+

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

 

 

 

The 25-year story behind The Story that Matters Most

By Ash Brockwell

The song that evolved into ‘The Story that Matters Most’, which had its world premiere at St Mark’s, Hale, in December 2018, started life in Southampton a quarter of a century ago.  That makes me feel old!

At secondary school, I was well known as a poet, composing odes on everything from Bonfire Night to homelessness.  So when the music teacher, Duncan Bradley, decided that he was bored with teaching the choir the same old carols every year, and wanted to write some new ones, I was the student that he approached for help with the lyrics.  It was the early 1990s, and at the time, a lot of people were convinced that Jesus would return in the year 2000 – so several of the carols that we collaborated on, as well as a short poem that never made it into song form, had a bit of a millennial flavour,

This particular song, then called ‘Peace and Goodwill’, examined how, 2,000 years after the message of peace and goodwill came to earth in the shape of a child, there was still war and oppression. It ended with a call to action to bring that peace and the challenge ‘Could it begin with me and you?’

The original carol was performed two or three times in school carol services, before Mr Bradley retired and the choir went back to a more traditional repertoire.  A few years ago I tried to track down a copy in the hope of getting it arranged for a four-part choir – but to no avail and with more immediate concerns like work, money and parenting, I forgot all about the song.

Fast forward to November 2017, when I was figuring out how to admit – to myself, to my church, and to the world at large – that I wasn’t the straight cisgender woman I’d always assumed myself to be.  I’d tried coming out as a lesbian in 2011, and again in 2016 to a bigger audience, but the word never quite felt right to me.  After discovering the term ‘non-binary transgender’ (neither fully female nor fully male), I’d embraced it enthusiastically as my new label – at least to myself and a few close friends.  My conservative rural Baptist church was less than impressed with my declaration that I was a lesbian, coming out with some version of ‘well, gay sex is a sin so you’ll have to take a vow of lifelong chastity if you want to become a member’ – so I didn’t even try to go there with my newly discovered non-binary identity.  But then a friend of a friend introduced me to Inclusive Church, and I somehow found myself signing up for their free Faith Leaders’ Gathering in London.

At the gathering however I found myself freaking out with social anxiety and unable to say anything at all, other than my name (which I hated anyway).  I knew I couldn’t possibly fit in. My non-binary identity was difficult to explain, my theology felt much too ‘out there’ and heretical to be discussed in front of bona fide vicars, and I wasn’t even a proper faith leader.  Most people had a congregation of some sort, and wanted to talk about practical things like how to get them to participate in Pride marches:  I didn’t even lead a prayer group.  I couldn’t understand what I was meant to be doing there, or why the ‘calling’ to attend had felt so strong.

But then there was a labyrinth walk, and everything suddenly clicked into place.  After everyone had walked the labyrinth, the conversation took on a very different tone.  It wasn’t about the practicalities of Pride any more: it was a deep sense of love, commitment, and passion to do something that would make things better for the thousands of LGBT+ people hurt by the Church.  On the train home, I was inspired to write two brand new sets of inclusive Christian song lyrics.

That gathering was a new beginning for me, in amazing ways.  One of the other participants introduced me to a private Facebook group for LGBT+ Christians, in which I later met my wonderful fiancée.  After the group chats helped me accept that it isn’t ‘wrong’ or ‘sinful’ to dress in a masculine style and accept myself as non-female, I started describing myself as transmasculine – and eventually came to realise that I’m actually a transgender man.  Coming out as male, changing my name and switching to ‘he/him’ pronouns has helped me to feel much more comfortable and confident in myself, and to experience moments of joy that trans people refer to as ‘gender euphoria’ – that feeling of finally being seen for who you really are.  I’m now registered with the NHS Gender Identity Clinic in London, and hoping to have HRT and chest surgery in the future, although there’s still a long road ahead (the usual waiting time for a first appointment is 18-24 months).

Being in the group also inspired me to collect up all the Christian songs I’d written over time, both traditional ones and more controversial ones, and compile them into a book.  It was in the process of doing this that I remembered the carols I’d written as a teenager, and decided to update them for a post-millennial age; and after trying out some songs with a women’s group on the Isle of Wight and receiving the feedback that they were too difficult to learn, I came up with the idea of setting some of my lyrics to well-known hymn tunes.  I needed music that would be out of copyright, and of the old Victorian hymns, ‘Jerusalem’ has always been a favourite of mine.  And so ‘The Story That Matters Most’ was born, focusing not on war this time, but on the exclusivity and holier-than-thou attitude of so many churches – the ‘grief and fear still spread’ in Jesus’ name, especially among LGBT+ people!   I was sorry to miss the premiere because I was travelling overseas in December 2018, but I’m looking forward to hearing it sung in the future.

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

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