TODAY I became a member of the Methodist Church – it’s not something I imagined I would do, as little as ten months ago, never mind ten years ago when I began reflecting on my faith journey in this blog. Here is the testimony I read to introduce myself to the church I joined:
Thank you for your welcome and hospitality, it’s great to be getting to know you.
I’m originally from an Irish Catholic family, and went to Catholic schools until I went to university. There I became involved in the chaplaincy, and began working with Christians of other traditions, and people of other faiths, for the first time.
After university I became a primary school teacher, then got half way through training for priesthood, though I was not ordained.
I moved to south Liverpool almost 20 years ago, and have been involved with several churches, including Liverpool City Centre Methodist Church, better known as ‘Somewhere Else’, or the Bread Church. I was involved there from 2005 to 2011, and received much support from their former minister, Revd Dr Barbara Glasson. After Barbara left, my work situation changed, and I was no longer able to join them during the week for prayer and lunch after bread making.
So I found a new spiritual home in St Bride’s Liverpool, near the Anglican Cathedral, in 2011, as part of the Sunday morning community.
St Bride’s was a church in decline until 2007 until it relaunched as a ‘creative, progressive, inclusive’ church, and piloted several ‘fresh expressions’ of church on Sunday evenings. One of these, called Open Table, was inspired by the Methodist understanding that members and non-members are welcome to Communion. Open Table began in June 2008 as a group of six Christians from four different traditions who shared two things in common: the practice of Communion, that central act of hospitality of our faith, and their identities as lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people who had not always been welcome and included in their church traditions.
I was one of the founding members of the first Open Table community in Liverpool, attending its monthly Communion service. I later became part of its leadership team, which led me into the wider church community and leadership team at St Bride’s.
Ten years ago this month, in May 2012, my husband Warren and I became the first couple to register a civil partnership in a place of worship in the UK.
In 2015, other churches started asking about how they might also host an Open Table community, and we began to become a network, a dispersed community of communities. In the last seven years the network has grown from one community in Liverpool to six across Merseyside, and 18 more across England and Wales, hosted by churches in five different traditions, including Methodist and URC. I’ve also spoken to more than 100 other churches about how they might make their church more welcoming, inclusive and affirming for LGBT people.
In 2018 I began coordinating the Open Table Network part-time while working as a chaplain at several YMCA hostels across Merseyside. In 2020 the network received funding to enable me to take on the role of Co-ordinator full-time, and in 2021 we became a charity, with Barbara Glasson as one of our Patrons, along with Revd Dr John Bradbury, General Secretary of the URC. Three of our trustees are also from the URC.
They are among the reasons I am here. I have been following the conversations in the URC, Methodist and Anglican churches around identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage for many years. I have been impressed by the grace, humility and integrity of these conversations in the URC and Methodist Churches – the Church of England has much to learn from you.*
When the Methodist Conference last summer voted in favour of allowing same-gender couple to marry in churches which support this, against so-called ‘conversion therapy’ which tries to change people’s orientation and identity, and for using more inclusive language in its governance, I was impressed.
Since then I have felt called to explore a new direction in my ministry within the Methodist Church – becoming a member here today is one small step in seeing where this new direction might lead.
My work for the Open Table Network often takes me away to other churches around the country at weekends, so I won’t be here every Sunday, but I take comfort in knowing I have a new spiritual home to return to when I am in Liverpool. Thank you!
The Methodist Church in Britain has made a commitment to justice, dignity and solidarity for everyone, including LGBT+ people. Read more.
* St James’ Church Woolton is a Local Ecumenical Partnership between Methodist and United Reformed Churches, including members from both traditions.