In April each year, many Anglican churches have an annual meeting to review the past year and look forward to the year ahead. St Bride’s Liverpool is host to the Open Table ecumenical worship community for Christians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA) and all who believe in an inclusive church. This post is adapted from the Open Table report at the St Bride’s annual meeting last month.
The past 12 months have been eventful for the Open Table community, starting with the Archdeacon of Liverpool commissioning Warren and Kieran as Local Missional Leaders in late March.
In June we had the largest attendance at a monthly communion service – 42 came to take part in the vigil for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting – and a brief history of Open Table was published in Journeys in Grace and Truth, edited by Jayne Ozanne, which was sent to all the members of General Synod.
In July, 24 members of the Open Table communities in Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington and North Wales came together in Warrington for an ‘Appreciating Open Table’ day to work on sharing our vision and values to guide the direction of Open Table over the next three years. A report on this day was published as a case study in the Appreciating Church book in February 2017.
Also in July, we started a bring-and-share agape meal on the first Sunday evening of the month, celebrated our eighth birthday, had our best ever turnout for the Liverpool Pride march, and ran a community stall over the Pride weekend. Our aim with the community stall was to create a safe sacred space in the festival marquee, a ‘prayer station’ to encourage people to engage in conversation and to give people a flavour of the welcome they may expect if they come to Open Table. 162 people left messages over the two day festival, more than double the number we engaged with at the community stall at Liverpool Pride in 2015. For the first time, we brought these messages back to St Bride’s and incorporated them into the Sunday evening healing service, which was well received.
From September to November the number of Open Table communities doubled, with new gatherings starting in St Helens, Wigan, Stoke and London.
In October, members of Open Table hosted the Sunday morning and evening services on the theme of Asexual Awareness, and Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson celebrated the evening service.
In November, Open Table featured in a Church Army research report, Sustaining Young Churches.
In December, Open Table hosted the carol service, which almost doubled the previous highest turnout with around 150 people attending.
In January 2017, Open Table successfully applied for a grant of £1700 to help cover travel and publicity expenses.
In February, Fiona Thomas, Secretary for Education and Learning in the United Reformed Church, led our commemoration of LGBT History Month, and the launch of the Appreciating Church book the next day, at which Kieran spoke about Open Table.
We also lobbied our diocesan General Synod representatives about the House of Bishops’ report on marriage and same-sex relationships, and Warren received an award at the launch of OneBodyOneFaith, the newly renamed charity formed from the merger of the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitude England.
In March the ninth Open Table began in the North East, and we confirmed that Open Table Sefton would start in June. In addition to these ten communities, we have also received expressions of interest from more than 20 other churches – most of these since February. It appears the Spirit is moving us towards what the Archbishops of Canterbury and York called a ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ in the Church of England following General Synod’s rejection of the House of Bishops’ report.
In March, Warren and Kieran met Bishop Paul to discuss the growth of Open Table and how we may sustain and develop it, and in April they spoke about the story of Open Table at a meeting organised by OneBodyOneFaith for those involved in ministry for the LGBT+ community. OneBodyOneFaith are supporting Open Table’s development into a network beyond the Diocese of Liverpool. Warren and Kieran have also gathered a core group which we call the Open Table Dreamers, to help us discern and direct it in the coming year.