On my return to parish ministry in Wolverhampton a new chapter in engagement with LGBT+ people and the church began as through a member of our congregation Kenny Rogers(who was gay) a growing ministry to sanctuary communities developed. This included a small number of people, particularly — but not exclusively — from African contexts fleeing persecution because of their sexuality. Sadly, Kenny died suddenly but on the night of his death we opened the church for nearly a hundred people, mainly from sanctuary communities to come and light candles and mourn together. At his funeral I shared his story and his journey that he had written for the process he was undergoing to become an authorised lay minister in the church. From this a growing ministry to refugees generally and a small number of LGBT+ refugees has developed and with the help of the Inclusive church ambassador for our area the support group for LGBT+ refugees Emmaus was established. This group now meets at our church and draws people from across our region to support and encourage one another through the hostile asylum process. For some of these people our church has also become their spiritual home. They come from contexts where anti-homosexual legislation introduced in the 19th century by European colonisers is defended by the church and in some cases the church argues for greater prohibition and penalties for LGBT+ people. We often hear about the Bishops of African churches and their negative views on LGBT+ inclusion in the church. At Emmaus we hear from the LGBT+ African Christians their faithfulness in the face of Christian persecution, their love for Jesus and their courage often rooted in a profound knowledge and love of God. Some of these folks rejected the church at home and have (re) embraced the faith here. Its been my experience here and in my previous incumbency that inclusivity (which I prefer to see as true catholicity) leads to growth numerically and spiritually.
I have yet to be asked if I would marry or bless a lesbian or gay relationship at St Chad and St Mark. The guidelines of the church issued in 2014 closed off any ambiguity that some of us felt gave us wiggle room in the noughties to offer blessings. Ironically following the rejection at Synod of ‘The Marriage and same sex relationships’ report in 2017 the bishops claimed they were working towards a ‘radically inclusive church for LGBT+ people’, this latest unnecessary statement shows this not to be the case. And as one non Christian friend commented ‘What’s so radical about NOT discriminating!’
Some of us at the grassroots have been seeking to develop ‘inclusivity’ for years hampered by the pronouncements of the House of Bishops. Perhaps we need to get more radical in our approach and directly and openly flout the guidelines from 2014 and 2020 misdescribed as ‘pastoral’ and make visible the reality of those struggling and in small ways succeeding in creating truly ‘radically inclusive spaces’ at the grassroots — perhaps it’s the only way change will come!