Category Archives: sermon

Mary, faith and holding on

When I was nine years old, I remember having a discussion with my friend, Cherry, at school about how babies were made. She thought boys had something to do with it. I asked my mum and dad about it after school that day and they sat me down in our dining room and told me the biological facts of human reproduction. I burst into tears. It was all a bit too much for me that day, even though, to this day, I remain grateful to my late parents for their courage, honesty and clarity in telling me the Facts of Life.

My mum, Jean, was told nothing at all on this subject by her parents. When she was nine years old and her younger sister, Margaret, was born, my mum looked in the dustbin for the eggshells from the eggs which she thought her mum must have laid when the baby was born!

After my parents’ honest chat with me, they gave me a Ladybird Book called The Human Body which contained the details they had explained to me (plus colour drawings!) and which also explained digestion, respiration etc. That book gave me a lifelong interest in how the human body works in sickness and in health.

Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was probably only 14 or 15 years old when Jesus was conceived within her by divine, not human, means. Initially fearful and confused as to how this promised baby could possibly be created without the help of a man, Mary then demonstrates an impressively open-minded, trusting and humble faith in the fulfilment of God’s promises to send a Saviour, Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will have no end.

So, what does such a young girl as Mary do in this highly irregular, not to say potentially shameful situation, of being pregnant but not being married? Remember also that a standard human baby would have been enough of a worry, but her baby was nothing less than the Son of God.  A pretty tall order for one so young.

As many women have done before and since, Mary seeks female support and travels from the one-camel town which is Nazareth – it possibly only had around 150 inhabitants – for four days into the hill country of Judea to her much older relative (probably her cousin) Elizabeth who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Some scholars believe that Joseph may have accompanied Mary on this potentially dangerous and arduous trip at the start of a pregnancy which will also end with an arduous trip but that time to Bethlehem. We can only imagine the conversations between Zechariah, Elizabeth’s elderly husband and Joseph, if Joseph did go along to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home with Mary.

I wonder whether Mary was sure of the welcome she would receive from Elizabeth? Might Mary have feared criticism or rejection by Elizabeth? Perhaps, just perhaps, Mary was nervous about their meeting. I have no doubt that on her long journey, Mary would have prayed for a happy meeting. Her prayers are answered, if so, in spades.

As Luke describes it, what happens when Mary does eventually arrive at Elizabeth’s home is a wonderful scene, quite rare in the Bible, of a very pure, intimate, domestic demonstration of female bonding, unshakeable faith and mutual empowerment.  Though Mary’s pregnancy probably does not yet show physically, Elizabeth, wife of the Jewish priest, Zechariah, knows with eyes of faith that the child Mary carries within her is indeed Our Lord Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist, as an unborn baby, moves within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greets Elizabeth. The Bible states that the unborn John ‘leapt for joy’, possibly a little bit of literary exaggeration but entirely appropriate for such a significant encounter with the divine Son of God.

Elizabeth calls Mary blessed because, she says, the fruit of Mary’s womb is ‘my Lord’ and because Mary believed that she would conceive and bear a Son even though Mary had absolutely no idea how it would happen.

No idea how it would happen……. Do you currently have no idea how you are going to get through a particularly testing time in your life?   Do you have no idea where money is going to come from? Do you have no idea how a personal disagreement or problem is going to be solved?  Do you feel up against it, muddled, confused, with no idea about something you simply do not understand?

Try singing your prayers, as Mary did in her beautiful, praiseful, worshipful, well-known song called The Magnificat.  Singing may relax you enough so that you can start to see God opening a door you did not see before. Keep an open mind and stay humble, believing, as Mary did, that nothing is impossible with God but do also, as she did, seek support and advice from other trustworthy sources. Dig deep within yourself to find the child-like faith Mary had in God who puts to flight proud hearts and stubborn wills, who feeds the hungry with good things and lifts up the lowly. Believe with all your heart, that, as we sing in the hymn Tell Out My Soul, God’s promise to each and every one of us, is firm and his mercy from age to age is sure and unchanging. He will bring us through every time of testing. Tears will last for a night, but joy will come in the morning.

From a sermon by Wendy Edwards, preached at St John’s on Sunday, December 22.


Picture: Waiting For The Word, Madonna – Mary & Jesus – artist Warner Sallman. Creative Commons.

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.


Sara Gillingham

sara crop

Craig’s Sermon – Luke 24:36-48

Resurrection Church – Luke 24: 36b-48/Acts 3:12-19

Welcome to the third Sunday of Easter. To me, Easter never seems to be a very meaningful name for the most momentous event in the history of our world. The resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Resurrection – what a word. What a fact! Should we rename Easter Sunday as Resurrection Sunday? You’ve heard of being an Easter church, an Easter people. But what would we think of ourselves if we took seriously the fact that we are Resurrection people, living and witnessing as a resurrection church? In today’s gospel reading we hear another episode of the Risen Christ appearing to his disciples. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. But he reassured them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look – my hands; look at my feet – it’s really me. Touch me. Take my hand. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. Jesus was still Jesus.

They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true. He asked for something to eat.

So they gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked earlier. He took it and ate it right before their eyes. Spooks don’t eat. Jesus really was Jesus. New. Fresh. Alive. It was Him. Resurrected. Still him, but different. Who didn’t feel that little bit more alive on Saturday, as what seems to have been a long sluggish winter suddenly gave way to the newness of spring? I saw our Magnolia tree which is in full bloom and was moved to ‘wow’-ness: Resurrection beauty: my heart gave a leap of joy and I said ‘God, you’re amazing’! This is resurrection. The old has gone, the new has come! Winter is over, summer is coming. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So what is resurrection? Well, it’s not resuscitation! In the Creed we say that he was killed on a cross. Under Pontius Pilate – it actually happened in history. There were witnesses. He was thoroughly dead. Buried in a new tomb. He descended to the dark place of the dead: the Lord of Life takes on the Lord of Death and is victorious. The Gospel is preached to those in hell. Jesus has destroyed death and its dominion. And miracle of all miracles, Jesus rose from the dead. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! We have this idea that the Resurrection of Jesus is somehow the end of the story. Maybe because it comes at the end of the gospels. But actually, this is just the beginning. This is something new, which has reshaped our world forever. The book of Acts, also written by Luke, is ‘part two’ of his gospel. It’s the continuing story of the resurrection.

Traditionally, we’ve understood the resurrection as Jesus having secured somewhere else for us to go when we die: heaven. But the resurrection was a cosmic event. Creation in entirety. It’s not just about us: in Revelation we hear of a new heaven and a new earth. The same ones – but better. The entire creation. Enhanced. Renewed. Restored. Resurrected. Resurrection is now, not when we hear the pearly gates clang shut behind us after we have died. It has already begun. Here. Now. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In all the messiness of life, we can see glimpses of glory. In pain we can find hope. In desolation, we can find consolation because He is risen. Resurrected. Alive.

Jesus went on to say to his followers, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.” He went on to open their minds to the power of the Word of God, showing them how to understand what had taken place. How it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and a new way of life of sins is proclaimed in his name. He says “You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses”. You are my resurrection people.

Whilst I was cutting the grass yesterday, I reflected that creation began in a garden. Beauty. Order. Fellowship between God and Humans….but we know the rest of the story. This story was embedded in the hearts and minds of God’s people, the Jews. In his gospel, John tells us that Jesus was buried in a new tomb… in a garden. This image is loaded with meaning. Re-creation – resurrection – began in a garden. On the first day of a new week. Resurrection is now. Despite the darkness and cruelty in today’s world, where evil seems to be particularly rampant. Despite the lack of vision in our politicians, and the defense of the status quo and the poverty and pain around us.

The fact of the resurrection should radically reshape our hearts, minds, and world-view. That new creation is here. Right under our noses. And we should live in the light of that knowledge. In Acts, the disciples had taken this radical fact of Jesus rising from the dead to heart and became fearless witnesses to the reality of resurrection. Absolute hope in an uncertain and very dangerous world.

So my final point is this: we have our Vision Meeting following this service. Perhaps we should ask the question: what am I bringing? is it just my thoughts, my preferences? Am I happy with things as they are, will it see me through until I’m gone? Or dare I think like a child of the resurrection? That here new life is now. Hope is now. The reality of Jesus Christ among us is now. I’ve written ‘resurrection’ on my hand to remind me of that when my mind feels the need to get a bit parochial! he reassured them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look – my hands; look at my feet – it’s really me. Touch me. Take my hand. As a church, lets take him at his word. Put our hand into his, and fearlessly be the resurrection church in our village. A beacon of hope. A people of hope. A people whose song is “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

Sermon by Wendy last week at St John’s


Acts 4:32-35

1 John 1:1 – 2:2

John 20:19-31

My first reaction to the Bible readings today was ‘What a lovely trio of readings!’ That’s not always the case when you check Bible passages when due to preach. Sometimes an initial reaction to them is ‘How on earth can I say something helpful and hopeful with these readings?’ I am sure other preachers would agree. However, God is in charge and prayer is part of preaching. Sometimes, with difficult passages it is a very big part. Gradually, with God’s help, even the toughest readings impart some thoughts, some sense, some hope and some peace for the preacher and their patient spouse or partner if they have one!  Our readings are long today so I cannot cover everything in a 10-minute sermon. Here are some highlights for me.

What do I like about these readings today? I love the sharing of personal possessions and money in our Acts reading so that no-one is in need and I love the fact that the early Christian believers were ‘of one heart and soul’- oh if only both things could happen now, worldwide, nationwide, locally. There is so much need in the world and such an uneven distribution if wealth and resources. There are many differences of opinion on all sorts of subjects, even within this church and that is exactly as it should be but isn’t it wonderful when our differences are put aside at a bring and share lunch, when the Holy Spirit makes us one in heart and soul during a service or   a hymn or over coffee or when receiving communion or singing hymns or helping one another in various ways? Nothing compares with that feeling of oneness and fellowship when we help another in need and when we enjoy fellowship. There is much more that unites us than divides us.

I could not give away all my possessions or persuade my husband, Steve that we must sell our home and give the proceeds away to those in need.  I know I am not that generous even though I think I am quite generous.   Do we give testimony with great power about the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that great grace comes upon us? I guess this sermon is an attempt to do that on my part, but I need also to take that powerful testimony outside the church walls.  I try. I think we all try in our own different ways to do that. This Acts reading gives me such a boost though and an encouragement to keep trying to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope it does the same for you and that maybe, like me, when Christian Aid week comes up soon in May we will remember to help and give as generously as we can.

I have too little time to unpack the reading from the first letter of John. However, we are assured that the testimony about Jesus Christ has come from real people who saw and heard Jesus, The Light of the World, preach and teach and who felt his healing touch. We are assured that Jesus will surely lighten our darkness.

In our Gospel reading, it’s Sunday evening that first Easter Sunday, Jesus has risen from the dead, appearing to either just Mary Magdalene or to several women (depending on which Gospel account you are reading). The message has been passed to the other disciples that the Lord had risen from the dead but many may have thought the women hysterical in their grief- it is a normal part of grief to believe you hear or see a loved one who has died- and, anyway, a woman’s testimony in those days was, sadly, not worth a great deal.

Our Gospel passage today describes not 1 but 2 resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. Before I go on I would like to give a little plug here for some art evenings coming up soon at St. Mark’s on 10th (this Tuesday), 17th and 24th April 2018 at 7.30pm about the Stations of the Resurrection, the appearances of the Risen Christ.  Do try to get along to St. Mark’s for them.

In our reading today, Jesus has appeared once to the disciples when Thomas was absent and once, a week later, when Thomas is present. On both occasions the Risen Christ somehow gets through a locked door, nothing being impossible for the Son of God. This is the part of Scripture from which we get The Peace part of our Communion service. A bit later in this service after Pamela has prayed our prayers of intercession, John will say to us the words Jesus said that evening to his amazed disciples ‘Peace be with you’.

I like Thomas. I have doubts at times, we all have doubts, if we are honest. Thomas is honest and courageous enough to express his doubts. We human beings are a sensory bunch. We are much more inclined to believe something we have seen with our own eyes or touched with our own hands or felt inwardly with our hearts and souls, especially something quite this miraculous. A dead man coming back to life as had happened to Jesus.

There is a painting by Caravaggio from the start of the 17th Century called The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. It is not for the faint hearted in some ways. Jesus’ left hand holds Thomas’ right hand at the wrist and guides and controls Thomas’ right hand as Thomas’ index finger enters the wound on Jesus’ chest. I was a lawyer, but I am a frustrated medical doctor- I love medicine and anatomy and find the human body fascinating. I am not squeamish, and I love that painting despite its slight gruesomeness. What it says to me is that Jesus is telling us, as he told Thomas, that it is OK to doubt, and it is OK to believe. It is OK to do possibly painful explorations on our journey of faith. Jesus guides and controls our faith, our doubt and our explorations as he controlled Thomas’ hand.  Doubt, as I have found on my own journey of faith, can make belief all the sweeter when the darkness lightens.   I think Jesus is saying something else also. Whilst we should not share publicly about our own wounds when they are still too sore and in need of healing, Jesus encourages us to share our healed wounds with others in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about healing in others in God’s power and timing.

Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord, reassures us that we who have not, with our own eyes, seen his wounded risen body here in Hale today are still blessed by our belief in Christ as we touch and taste the holy sacrament of his body and his blood.

May we who are so blessed at the Holy Table today feel just a tiny sliver of the knock out grace felt by Saint Thomas when he said, ‘My Lord and My God!’   Amen.

Sunday 29/10/17 – Hospitality – Matt 22:34-46 by Craig

It’s been a tough time for Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading is one of the final disputes between him and the religious leaders, their attempts to entrap him into uttering blasphemy, and sealing his own fate.
This is a pattern in the Gospel that we’ve followed over the past few Sundays: from the beginning of Chapter 19, as he leaves Galilee for Jerusalem, he has been almost constantly quizzed and hounded by the Pharisees and Sadducees, the two main parties in the Jewish religious hierarchy.

This tension rises sharply after Jesus’ outrageous entry into Jerusalem riding on a Donkey, with all the prophetic implications that raised. If you read from the beginning of Chapter 19 to today’s reading in one sitting, you will sense the momentum of Jesus’ destiny.

The Pharisees had a very legalistic take on God’s commandments. Over the centuries, the original ten had burgeoned into 613. No wonder the ordinary Jew found it almost impossible to find God: there were too many rules, too many hurdles to jump, with the Pharisees in their self-appointed role as guardians of the faith; God’s policemen, always looking to trip them up.

So, this encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees is a fitting end to the legal wrangling, arguments, and ‘catch-him-out’ questions that have been going on. Jesus distils the commandments of God into two. The 613 rules are now redundant. When pressed by a lawyer ‘which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’ Jesus replies with two:

‘The first is this: love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind….And a second is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’

First; and second. I don’t believe that you can observe one of those commandments without the other. They are held together in an intricate and live-giving tension. We can all ‘know’ our neighbours, but the challenging thing is that loving them takes loving God wholeheartedly.

Without that we can never see them through the eyes of God, or with the mind of Christ. That makes me feel very uncomfortable. Some ‘neighbours’ that I encounter on a daily basis (and that’s not just the people who live next door) sometimes try my patience: how can I love them as I love me?

Yet I feel it is right for us to dwell on that phrase ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ and just ask the question: how can we do that?

You may recall my Ministry Team letter in the last edition of the Parish Magazine, where I wrote about the Christian tenet of ‘hospitality’, especially our experience of it when we first came to St George’s (11 months ago!). It was wonderful! Up until then, our experience of hospitality in a church usually involved ‘fitting in’, which the outspoken me has never been comfortable with!
If you read it, you will also know that I am an ‘Oblate’ (Lay Member) in the Benedictine community at Alton Abbey. Hospitality is a central tenet of the Benedictine way of life. In chapter 53 of his Rule, St Benedict urges the Monk to ‘welcome the stranger as if Christ himself were present, for in them, Christ himself comes.’ Strangers are our neighbours too.

Hospitality in the Monastery is manifested in the warmth of welcome, sustenance, love, care, and space underpinned by the cycle of worship, work, and prayer. We found all those things when we first came to this church. Jesus and Benedict seem to be saying similar things, and whilst we perhaps find it relatively painless to do within our church community, how can loving our neighbours as ourselves work out in our Parish?

Our first natural thoughts are likely to be: ‘what can we do? What action can we take? What ideas, and events will demonstrate that we love them as much as we love ourselves, and welcome them as if welcoming Christ himself?’ We’re culturally conditioned from birth to be ‘busy’, to ‘do stuff’, it’s just how we are. And I must say that there is nothing much wrong with offering tangible and practical things to our village.

But – through activity, we can often squeeze out opportunity, and become unavailable to the neighbour, the stranger who calls. I’m dreadful: ‘Hello, welcome to our church…. here’s a bundle of leaflets, this is what goes on…. sorry I’ve got do such and such, can’t stop to chat’. And I’m gone. What have I missed; more importantly, what has my neighbour lost out?

In the monastery, it’s different – apart from the usual daily cycle of worship, work, and prayer, there is no programmed activity. Space is intentionally left for those who call in for a chat, a pray, and so on.

The perfect environment to simply ‘be’.

That would never work in our Parish of course, so I’m not suggesting that we open St George’s Abbey! But I do think that we ought to ask: are we really available to our neighbours?

Folk in this village, and beyond, are longing for a break from the relentless pressure to be something, to be seen to live up to certain standards. Working all hours. Keeping up with the bills. Driving the children here and there to this and that activity. Time poor, no opportunity to simply be.

How can we be more available? Being available rather than doing ‘stuff’ – I have no simple answer. One example of hospitable availability is the Christmas Midnight Mass. Starting it at say 10pm might make it convenient for some of us, but what about the once-a-year visitor who longs for a glimpse of something beyond the Christmas drudge? They turn up at 11.30pm, and the church, and its people are unavailable….

So what’s my cunning plan? I don’t have one – as such. The hospitality I speak of can only come through the discipline of prayer, meditating and mulling over scripture, and regularly receive the Eucharist. All these things are our food for the journey. Things that will help us to love the Lord our God with every thing and faculty that we have.

At the end of John’s Gospel is the story of the Disciples out fishing one night. The events leading up to Jesus’ death had crushed them, heads and hearts spinning from the relentless pressure: emotional, physical, spiritual… Since his resurrection, he had appeared…and disappeared. God must have seemed strangely absent, just as the fish were too.

They spot Jesus after he gives them a clue where to cast their nets. He’s cooking breakfast. When they came ashore, they simply received his hospitality – he had made himself available. He fed them. Chatted. In that space and in that fellowship, they got a glimpse of something beyond, a new sense of purpose, and really knowing that they are truly loved.

Our neighbours are desperate for this intimate encounter with the mystery of God. So, here’s the plan – let’s consciously deepen our love and devotion for the Lord our God, with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds.

Let’s come to communion with a deep sense of longing for a renewed sense of loving our neighbours.

Loving them through the eyes of Jesus, in which our neighbour can get a glimpse of glory, and find ointment for their sore and hurting souls

Stella’s Inclusive Church Sermon

I’m going to talk both generally and personally about inclusivity today – generally because there are some general principles and personally because we all perceive our lives and faith through our own, personal eyes.

So, to start personally, about 18 months ago I had not heard of Inclusive Church. I then came across an ‘Inclusive Church’ day being held at a church near Basingstoke and included it in a news bulletin for another diocese for whom I had recently started working. There was a complaint and the reason lay in the Inclusive Church statement of belief. “We believe in Inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

The complaint went to the powers that be and it was upheld. No mention of Inclusive Church please. The reason was the mention of sexuality.

I felt I needed to find out more and look more deeply into what Inclusive Church did and that is one of the reasons why this sermon series has taken place and why we are thinking of joining Inclusive Church. We had Dianna Gwilliams, Dean of Guildford Cathedral and chair of trustees of Inclusive Church, to speak in the parish last month and she said that Inclusive Church encourages churches to look at who isn’t coming to the church and why. Is it because they are going elsewhere? That’s fine. We don’t want to take people from other churches. Is it because the signs are difficult to read if you have learning difficulties, is it because you are concerned that your children are too noisy, is it because you are worried you can’t put money into the collection plate, is it because you don’t feel welcome because of who you are?

Early in the series, Lesley challenged us at St Mark’s to think about times when we had felt excluded. We got into groups and I started talking about a group of people whom I knew from the local school who didn’t really want to come to church because of what I perceived to be social and economic reasons and how could we overcome this. A bit later I realised that I was talking about ‘them and us’, rather than about ‘us’. My very language – and attitude – was being exclusive. After all, we are all the body of Christ. It’s not a case of ‘us’ being a body and ‘them’ being another body. We are the body.

There are a series of books about the different groups that Inclusive Church is trying to be open to and in one of them – about poverty – it is suggested that just as if one part of your body is hurting you do not go ‘oh poor you’ but you give a yelp of pain, so if one part of the body of Christ is hurting then the whole body is affected.

So, if anyone is excluded whether unwittingly or – at times – deliberately, then the whole church is hurt. And I am not getting far with inclusion if I say ‘them’ rather than ‘us’.

So, what do we do?

We talk, we share, we listen. Again, in the book on poverty there was an example of a project – called ‘Listen Up’ – which had people acting as both interviewers and interviewees, so that they really shared and heard each other which helped everyone see things from other people’s perspectives, helped them do what Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

In doing this we will learn, we will be vulnerable and we will make mistakes. But we can acknowledge mistakes and move on. We can share more of our humanity if we are vulnerable.

So again, I am going to share something personal. My elder son is gay. That’s fine – and he gave me permission to speak about this, in fact saying that he wants people to know as much homophobia comes, he believes, from hiding when someone does not define themselves as straight.

He has felt, I believe, welcome in this parish, but he told me last week that he knows few gay people who wouldn’t come to church because of the prejudice, because of the damaging experiences they have had. He said that church, on the whole, does not feel like a safe place for a gay person and that having a safe space – a place where you can be yourself without fear – is vital.

What? Even in this parish? Aren’t we inclusive? Probably more so on some issues but not on others. I was really upset by the idea that many LGBT+ people would not want to come into a church, however inclusive it might be trying to be, because of past history. Maybe I should have known that. I wasn’t seeing the world through my son’s eyes, walking in his skin. What else don’t I realise? Who else feels like this? We can’t all know. I, for instance, don’t know a lot about disability or issues raised by ethnicity. I speak from my own pretty privileged background. I can only ask, we can only ask, and share and be prepared to be vulnerable. It may mean that others come forward and speak from their own experience, or feel able to come into the church, make their voices heard, become leaders.

And we will get it wrong. I may be getting some of this wrong. But I, we, will learn.

The other thing is that we can ask for forgiveness and ask for grace – God’s grace. Because this is the difference. What I have been saying in many ways could apply to a secular organisation but there is a difference. As the Inclusive Church statement of belief says: “We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ” – and Jesus Christ in his time on earth broke down barriers, was inclusive, welcomed the outsider, never cared what someone’s status was, never asked if Peter was educated or from a privileged economic background before telling him to ‘build my church’, never asked about sexuality –  and, the statement continues  believes in a church which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”

These things can be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes us being open and determined – conduits of the Holy Spirit.

Stella Wiseman



Lesley Shatwell’s Inclusive Church Sermon

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there was a church.  A nice, pretty church, St Exaltus The Great in the nice pretty village of Higher Exclusive.  Look, the parishioners are gathering for their Sunday morning service.  The surrounding lanes are chock-a-block as every neat and nice family wants to show off their expensive car on a Sunday morning.

But what’s this?  How unpleasant!  What a dreadful sight!  They have to walk past a beggar (with his dirty dog on an old piece of string) who is sitting in the church gateway.  How dare he, the cheek of it.  “Don’t worry,” reassures Mr We’ll-have-none-of-that, the churchwarden, “I’ve called the police – they will move him along.”

Inside St Exaltus The Great, everyone is singing sweetly, “All things bright and beautiful … The rich man in his castle the poor man at the gate, God made them high and lowly, each one to their estate …”

But what’s this commotion at the door?  Who’s that trying to get in?  She’s upsetting Mrs Keep-that-child-quiet and Mrs Don’t-sit-there of the Welcoming Committee – well there’s a turn up for the books!  A big black woman trying to get into St Exaltus The Great!  Here in Higher Exclusive!  We don’t see those sort of people in this village.  Some of the stronger men step forward, we can’t have her disrupting our service, she’s got rainbow coloured hair, for goodness sake!

“Let me in!  I know I am a sinner but I want to praise God for making me as I am, I want to come to God, I am a child of God!”

“She’s as mad as a hatter!  Got no business upsetting The Welcoming Committee.  Look at her in that shoddy, flimsy dress – she looks like a street-walker.”

“Wait a minute …” Mrs Nosey-parker is looking more carefully at the woman, “ … I know that one.  You’d never guess that her real name is STANLEY!  Yes, she was a boy when she was born.”

That’s too much for Gloria as she is now, not Stanley any more.  She runs from the church in tears.

“Now vicar, where were we … oh I know, let’s share the peace.”


The next week, all the lanes are blocked with the posh cars, there’s no beggar in the gate and no sign of the dog, just a uniformed local bobby greeting the parishioners as they arrive.  All seems well.  But there is a stranger in church.  A smartly dressed, elderly woman sitting quietly praying near the back of the church.  Mrs Get-everyone-on-the-rota has already spotted her:  she looks like she might be good at flower arranging.  The choir sings and the vicar walks in, “Good morning and welcome one and all!”

“There was no welcome for my son last week was there.”  What’s this?  The smartly dressed old lady is walking down the aisle toward the vicar.  She turns at the chancel step to face the congregation.  “Yes, my son who was sitting with his dog at the church gate.  You all pushed past him.”

“Come on, sit down now, don’t cause a scene, we want to get on with the service, we’ll talk about it afterwards …”

But the old lady was having none of it.  “What about my daughter Gloria?  You were very cruel to her.  How do you think she felt?”

The people looked at the little old lady, clean, neat and white – how could she be the mother of the tramp at the gate and the woman who was born a man and black?  Mrs Don’t -sit-there was already regretting that she had given the woman a hymn book.  The vicar stepped forward, he knew his scripture, “’Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?’  Jeremiah 7:9-10”


The woman smiled, “Who are the ones needing our Lord’s forgiveness and mercy?  Do you remember in our reading today when the woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter and she will not take no for the final answer?  I have come to your church today to remind you that all are welcome in God’s house … even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.  And we are all human beings: ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’  Just because these people are not like you, they think differently, they dress differently, they have less money than you, they may do outrageous things and scare you … are they any less the children of our same heavenly father?”


Let’s close the window onto St Exaltus The Great and come back to St Mark’s here today.


I would be ashamed to call myself Christian if I went to a church like St Exaltus The Great.  This is God’s house and we are only passing through.  Everyone is passing through and everyone is equally as entitled to be here as we are.  We are the current custodians of our church in this community and we have the God-given task to extend God’s welcome to all.

I love St Mark’s precisely because we don’t have The Welcoming Committee of Mrs Don’t-sit-there and Mrs Keep-that-child-quiet.


Finally, let me remind you of the words we speak at each baptism:  “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism: by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.  We welcome you into the fellowship of faith; we are children of the same heavenly Father; we welcome you.”

And let us pray that all find welcome in our church today and always.

Wendy’s sermon on Inclusive Church

SERMON -ST. JOHN’S – Sunday 6th August 2017- preaching on Inclusive Church (on sexuality)
Isaiah 55.1-5, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14.13-21
May I speak in the name of the living God who is and was and is to come? Amen.
In December 1990, aged 33, I attended a Christmas dinner dance with my husband, Steve. I was happy with the new dress I wore. That Saturday night I felt especially feminine. I felt very much part of the fun and conviviality of this special dinner.
Steve’s company had paid for an artist to do ink drawings of us all. His drawings were in cartoon style. The picture he drew of me showed my nose, mouth and chin much larger than they really are but he captured my smile and character.

The cartoon artist exaggerated certain aspects about my physical appearance but minimized others so that my shoulders appeared much smaller than they should have been for the size of my head. This was so he could fit my shoulders into the picture.
I now ask you to fit yourself into the picture which Saint Matthew draws for us of the Feeding of the 5,000. Transport yourself back almost 2,000 years. Where in the crowd do you think you’d be sitting? Who might you be with?

Imagine yourself sitting on the grass with all sorts of different people, Jewish and non- Jewish. Traders, merchants, stonecutters, masons, sculptors, craftsmen and fishermen, weavers, stone carriers, non-Jewish slaves, men and women, children, lepers (standing a little apart from the others), the blind, mentally ill and disabled people. What a wonderful mix of humanity.

It had been an incredible day when hundreds of people had been healed but now very ordinary needs were requiring attention. Everyone was hungry and the nearest village was a long way away.

In a matter of fact way, Jesus took the 5 loaves and 2 fishes, looked up to heaven, gave thanks, broke the food and gave it to the disciples and then they gave it to the crowd. We are assured that all not only ate but all were filled and there were 12 baskets of left- overs. God more than supplied their need.

Most scholars believe that more than 5,000 people were fed but only the men were counted. Women and children had a low status in the society of the time but Jesus includes them in this miraculous dinner. I wonder who else might have been included? Might there have been some people with a different sexuality in that crowd? I think it is possible.

I read recently that approximately 1 in every 1,500 births are of people with dual sexual characteristics and some people are of indeterminate sex. Can you imagine how difficult it must be to be one of those people? They cannot even tick the male or female box on a form.

I would suggest that in such a large crowd that evening you would have found some lesbian and gay people and possibly some people whose sex was uncertain, in addition to the heterosexual men, women and children. All ate and were filled. Jesus left no-one out.

You may wonder why I am speculating like this. It is because the PCC has recently debated whether we should join Inclusive Church. A decision has not yet been made but Lesley and Alan have asked those who preach to preach about inclusivity as a way of seeking the opinion of the congregation. We have not been told what to preach. As individual preachers, with our own opinions and life experiences, we pray, as always, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in what we preach, also in how the congregation hears and receives what we say.

The statement of belief of Inclusive Church is as follows :-
‘We believe in inclusive Church – church which does not discriminate, on any level, on grounds of economic power, gender, mental health, physical ability, race or sexuality. We believe in Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ; which is scripturally faithful; which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation; and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.’

Each of us is preaching on a subject of interest to us. I chose sexuality because it is the one which often causes the biggest difference of opinion. For the record, I am a heterosexual woman married to a heterosexual man but Steve and I have had homosexual friends of both sexes, some of whom have died of AIDS. I have one friend whose daughter had a sex change operation to become a man.

Now some of you may have particularly heard those words ‘scripturally faithful’ in that statement of belief. Perhaps you thought of the Old Testament book of Leviticus 18.22, warning that a man should be put to death for having sex with another man. However, I would risk a bet that no-one today avoids wearing clothes of mixed fibres which is a grave offence according to Leviticus 19.19. We must ask ourselves whether these ancient prohibitions, set at a very different time in history and culture, have relevance today. Some do but many do not. If we applied them all, how would they hamper outreach and mission?

Back to the Gospel reading. Remember the first sentence of the Gospel reading today. ‘Now when Jesus heard this he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.’ The word ‘this’ refers to the death of John the Baptist. The crowd, desperate for healing, did not even allow Jesus time to grieve. Perhaps keeping busy was what he needed and boy, did he keep busy!

Somehow John’s death is a catalyst giving a 1,000-volt injection to Jesus’ ministry in this miracle which, for me, sends out the biggest example of his new commandment to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind (in the thankful lifting, blessing, breaking and massive distribution of miraculously increased quantities of food) and to love your neighbour as yourself (in the feeding of all present, regardless of who they were). There is no other commandment greater than these.

Our Old Testament reading today also speaks to me of inclusivity. Isaiah, sounding like a market trader shouting out a bargain ‘Come all you who are thirsty… you will delight in the richest of fare’.

Should we deny people who are different to us the rich fare we receive here at the Holy Table and the benefits our faith gives us? Have we given a thought to the rich fare which these new people might bring to us and to this church?

Our Romans reading chimes with me also. It gives me sorrow and anguish when we cut off from Christ any human being who seeks him.

If it is decided that we will join Inclusive Church, it is very unlikely that we will have a rush of new people arriving but I would hope that, if we join, when we receive Holy Communion, we will be happy to have a transvestite man wearing a new dress in which he feels feminine, kneeling beside us at the altar rail, happy to share a coffee and fellowship with any lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex human being who may bless us by choosing to worship with us.

At that 1990 dinner dance the cartoon artist exaggerated parts of my face.

In the church in 2017, I believe we need to try hard not to exaggerate the sexual lives of people whose sexuality is different to ours. It is just one part of their lives as it is of ours and maybe not such a significant part. It is all too easy to focus exclusively on others’ sexuality as if there was nothing else to them at all. They are children of God like us with gifts and talents, hopes and dreams, joys and fears.

Jesus said of the loaves and fishes, ‘Bring them here to me’. I say, of those with a different sexuality, ‘Bring them here to us that they may eat and be filled’. Amen.