‘A little tiny bit of what the world should be like’ – Open Table Network on BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship

Revd Canon Dr Rachel Mann, Anglican priest, poet, writer and broadcaster

THIS MORNING, one of the new Patrons of the Open Table Network, Rachel Mann, led BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship on the theme of ‘Urban Harvest’, and invited me as the Network Co-ordinator to share a short reflection.

Traditionally harvest is a time to celebrate and offer thanksgiving for God’s bounty in nature. Rachel reflected on what harvest might mean for those of us who, even in a Covid-shaped world, live in a busy urban environment.

She asks, after months of tiring but necessary restrictions on our lives, what do we have to be thankful for? What ‘harvest’ do those who live in urban settings have to offer to those who don’t? What might a new ‘holy city’ and ‘new earth’ look like for urban and country dweller alike?

She invited contributions from people deep in city life, such as Azra Ali, a Trustee of Burnage Food Bank who’s seen generosity overflow in the past few months, and Rev. Grace Thomas, who’s been instrumental in helping congregations in Manchester think about how they can cherish God’s creation and address the climate emergency.

I shared a brief reflection on the Open Table Network on behalf of the LGBT+ community who have faced intense pressures on their mental health during lockdown, but who have also found much to be thankful for in the bonds of solidarity and care found in virtual ways of connecting.

This is the reading to which Rachel invited me to respond, which lent the service its title: ‘A new heaven and a new earth’:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21.1-5a

Here is the text of my reflection from BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship Sunday 27th September 2020. Listen here for 30 days.


The Holy City we’ve just heard about is more than a revelation of end times – the seeds of hope are here now, offering a taste of God’s family or ‘kin-dom’. But what does this mean to isolated Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender people, right now, in COVID times?

Many LGBT people are isolated at the best of times; and while many people can turn to faith groups in tough times, we often can’t. Churches often reject us. A survey done in 2016[1] sadly showed, that 3 out of 5 young LGBT people, who were interested in joining a faith group, limited or stopped taking part because of the response to their sexuality or gender identity.

During lockdown, things were difficult for the LGBT community, especially those who’ve had to quarantine with families who are hostile. They long to connect with others who will honour and care for them just as they are.

That’s what our Open Table communities hope to do! Our first Open Table community began 12 years ago at St Bride’s in inner-city Liverpool, (a monthly communion service for LGBT Christians who’ve been made unwelcome by church)….

 ….and it is now an example of the way all churches could be: a place where our whole selves can thrive. A young bisexual woman in our community said: ‘It feels like a little taste of God’s kingdom – a little tiny bit of what the world should be like!’ [2]

St Bride’s, which hosted that first Open Table community, has reaped a huge harvest through welcoming the city’s LGBT community. And five years ago, we began to plant others! We now support 16 other Open Table communities across England and Wales, with many more to come.

Rachel earlier described the Holy City as ‘a place of gift and grace’. And Revelation proclaims ‘the home of God is among… his peoples’. ‘God’s peoples’ includes everyone.  LGBT people are also God’s people. Surely, that shouldn’t be such a revelation.                                                       

The heavenly voice of our reading promises that God will ‘wipe every tear from their eyes’. I cried many fearful tears when I heard God calling me to serve the Open Table community. But the Psalmist sings, ‘those who sow in tears shall reap with joy’. And, with God’s help, that has come true.

Open Table invites you to ‘Come As You Are’[3], knowing that God loves you as you are, wants you to flourish, and to know joy in God’s loving family.


Notes:

[1] National Youth Chances survey of 7,126 young people aged 16-25, Metro Charity 2016

[2] Will it be Open Table? short film (2 minutes) by Thinking Film, 2017

[3] Come As You Are – Hymn by Deirdre Brown IVBM, arranged by David Pudney, which has become the anthem of the Open Table Network.

To find out more about the Open Table Network, visit the website.

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