RAINBOW SUNDAY came to the Church of England last weekend – Clergy and parishioners across the country wore rainbows to show solidarity with LGBT people in protest against the House of Bishops ‘pastoral guidance’ on same sex marriage, issued last month.
The campaign is backed by Inclusive Church, a group committed to working for a church that is welcoming and open to all. It is encouraging clergy to wear rainbow coloured dog collars during Lent, especially last Sunday, in response to the House of Bishops statement on same sex marriage, and to demonstrate unease at the Anglican church’s position on LGBT issues.
The House of Bishops’ new guidance has produced this protest because:
It emphasises that same-sex couples will not be able to marry in Church of England churches even when equal marriage takes effect, as the state church’s right to abstain is protected by a ‘quadruple lock’ of measures in the new law.
Despite the recommendation of the Pilling Report on Human Sexuality, published by the Church of England in November 2013, that clergy should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship, the prohibition on blessing same-sex couples is reinforced.
The guidance also excludes people married to members of the same sex from ordination, and forbids LGBT clergy from marrying same-sex partners (although some clergy are already in civil partnerships). Disciplinary action against gay clergy who do marry is proposed.
Critics of the guidance suggest that it does nothing to warrant being called ‘pastoral’. The LGBT Anglican Coalition, of which Inclusive Church is a member, says:
‘This is cruel and unjust to clergy who have faithfully served the church, hitherto with the full knowledge and support of their bishops, and it will impoverish the ministry by driving away LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) ordinands. Only those who are prepared to lie will remain.’
An online petition to lobby the House of Bishops in opposition to the guidance has already gained almost 3,000 signatures. It calls on them to:
- rescind their opposition to equal marriage
- take back their recent Pastoral Guidance
- create a Church where all are welcomed.
It’s also not too late to join the campaign. Churches, clergy and lay people who wish to wear the rainbow during Lent should let the National Co-ordinator of Inclusive Church, Rev. Bob Callaghan, know by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The church where my partner and I worship wore rainbow collars and preached with pride in support of Rainbow Sunday.
We also marked the day with a moving celebration of the Eucharist at Open Table, the monthly service for LGBT Christians, family and friends.
My partner has coordinated this monthly service for almost six years. As he is developing his pastoral skills through this role, it has been suggested that he might consider ordination.
However, if we convert our civil partnership to a marriage and this guidance is enforced, he would be barred from any licensed ministry in the Church of England. Even in a civil partnership candidates must be prepared to say they are celibate to be deemed fit for an official Church ministry.
Having spent time training for Roman Catholic priesthood, I too have considered putting myself forward for ministry in the Anglican Church, but to do so I feel I would have to compromise the honesty and integrity I have gained by coming out as a gay Christian, and living in a loving, committed and (we hope) life-long covenant with my partner.
So this service was particularly poignant for both of us. More than 20 others also attended, including a mother who came to give thanks for the anniversary of her daughter’s relationship with another woman, and for the flourishing it has brought her daughter. There was also a student, whose mother is ordained, whose disillusionment at the House of Bishops’ guidance led him to consider leaving the church. After the service, he tweeted:
‘Thank you for the very warm welcome at Open Table.
It really filled a void for me and I’m very grateful for it.’
The Pilling Report also proposed ‘facilitated conversations’ so that ‘Christians who disagree deeply about the meaning of scripture on questions of sexuality, and on the demands of living in holiness for gay and lesbian people, should understand each other’s concerns more clearly and seek to hear each other as authentic Christian disciples.’
It also called on the Church ‘to combat homophobia whenever and wherever it is found, and to repent of the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past.’