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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

 

 

Inclusive Church

The Parish is considering signing up to Inclusive Church, an organisation which encourages churches to look at who might not be coming into church because for some reason they feel it isn’t for them or they cannot do so. The reasons may be many and varied – perhaps it is an economic issue, culture, race, disability, a mental health issue, sexuality. Inclusive Church encourages churches think about these reasons and can help churches be truly welcoming.

Many churches and individuals have joined Inclusive Church and they are united around the following 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.”

On July 23, the Very Rev’d Dianna Gwilliams, Dean of Guildford Cathedral and chair of Inclusive Church, visited St Mark’s and spoke about joining Inclusive Church and it was decided that during August the clergy will preach on different aspects of inclusion and then the PCC will vote on the parish joining.

Stella Wiseman

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.