Here’s an announcement we were sent from St David’s Uniting Church in Pontypridd, they have taken a radical and challenging stand for equality. Please send them some words of encouragement.
All Are Welcome
In striving to live into God’s kingdom of justice and joy, St David’s Uniting Church, Pontypridd have passed a proposal to promote equality in regards to their marriage policy.
Currently legally unable to conduct same gender weddings, the congregation has made the decision to cease conducting heterosexual weddings until this changes, whilst offering a common blessing ceremony for all couples in the meantime.
Their sister congregation, Castle Square URC, is registered to conduct weddings for all couples and it is hoped that St David’s Uniting Church will be able to follow in their footsteps soon. Until that time comes, they will continue to fight for equality, justice and welcome for all people, whatever their sexuality or gender, both in the church and in the wider community.
“This will be a prophetic witness of God’s extravagant love for all for those within our parent denominations who think differently,” said Bethan Walkling, church elder.
“At a time when many are turning away from the Church because they see it as judgmental, this could be a great way of sharing God’s good news of great joy for all people, which of course includes the LGBTQ+ community,” added Revd Dr Phil Wall, church minister.
“This decision isn’t about restricting our range of services but extending the blessing of loving relationships and ensuring that we do so with full equality to all. This is in line with our calling to bless all sorts of relationships in God’s name – couples, families, colleagues…the possibilities – like God’s love – are endless!”
Here at Affirm we are thrilled to let you all know that Luke Dowding, our co-director has been appointed to the role of Executive Director at One Body One Faith, two years to the day since their launch date.
Chair of One Body One Faith Trustees, Reverend Canon Peter Leonard, said, “The Trustees are delighted that Luke has accepted the invitation to become OneBodyOneFaith’s new Executive Director. He arrives at a very exciting time in the organisation’s long history and brings a range of skills and experience which will build on and develop the excellent work done by outgoing Chief Executive Officer Tracey Byrne. The Trustees would like to thank Tracey for her commitment and dedication and are very much looking forward to the future under Luke’s direction”
Luke has a degree in Theology from Spurgeon’s College and a Masters in Biblical Studies from King’s College London. A Deacon and Trustee at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church he also finds time to act as a Stonewall School and Faith Role Model and in a faith context, as Co-Director of Affirm he’s a pioneer of LGBT+ inclusion within the Baptist Union of Great Britain. He is Co-Founder of Soho Gathering, and Faith & Belief Representative and Deputy Chair of the Community Advisory Board for London Pride and Committee Chair for Christians at Pride in London.
Luke is a fervent campaigner and fundraiser for LGBT+ rights in Albania, believing that at the core of Christian identity is the inclusion of the marginalised regardless of their beliefs or orientation, and he was recently appointed the first Patron for “Streha”: the first shelter for LGBTQ+ homeless young people in the Balkans.
Luke will also bring to OneBody a breadth of business management experience from his 8 years of working within the advertising industry in London, where he now provides Inclusion and Diversity training for corporate, charity and faith bodies.
Luke is married to Steven, the first same-gender marriage to be held at Bloomsbury Central Baptist and the first within the wider Baptist Union of Great Britain.
The current rhetoric around faith sector inclusion of the LGBT+ community is disappointing.
It seems we are still a way away from understanding how we might hold different theological views but disagree respectfully.
Following a conversation with a few others of a view that faith sector leaders, ministers in local churches, were entitled, or perhaps even Biblically justified in excluding LGBT+ community from inclusive worship in Churches, I wrote the following poem.
I wonder if in a position of privilege and inclusion, from the perspective of a majority, exclusion and the impact of exclusion, is really understood.
This poem is one small snapshot of how it feels.
To members of the LGBT+ community and our friends and supporters, I say this. Grieve yes, it’s inevitable and necessary; but please, please do not walk away. Do not permit exclusion to become an acceptable norm. Stand. Stand up, together, join the conversation and we just might challenge the preconceptions. We will need to model how to disagree responsibly, respectfully and with grace.
I hope this video of the rehearsal for the Greatest Showman might inspire you.
The wrestle, Father
How can I be chosen for this, if no one here will have me?
How can I sustain this path, when the cost required breaks me?
Where can I go from here when my doubt threatens to swamp me?
The threat of displeasing you, the look in the eye of the other as they regard me.
I would prefer to retreat, to hide and to run
To leave this place to You
I am not what you think
I’m not big
I’m not strong
There is little left to renew
Yet I trust you and I love you, like there is nothing else
I give it all for you.
It brings me back, head bent,
With shoulders in-turned
Lost and alone
But with You.
I despair, I lose hope
I tremble and I fear
But I hear your gentle voice
You call to my heart
Remind me of where we have been
And encourage me to rejoice
Rejoice as I weep?
Rejoice as I wish
There was another path out of here.
Rejoice as I stumble
And fall to my knees
And beseech yet again
I hear that it’s not possible
That I can’t belong
Because of all that I am
And have been
You tell me there is hope
There is beauty
You play the strings laid in my heart
And so, I rise to my feet
Though I cannot lift my head
Cannot believe that You really mean me
As I rise I know that our journey has been precious
That it enables me to see
To see hope and restoration
In the hidden and the buried
In the places no one else will call home
To see future
To see purpose
To see the power of restoration
To know a place that you have crafted as Your own
I see radiance and enormity
Become a glimmer and a trickle
To small heart and souls that reach to You.
Souls that are hidden and abandoned
Buried beyond recognition
But treasured and embraced by You.
And so brokenly I travel
I journey by Your side
Resting and leaning as I go
Learning to discern, through the gift of your light
Throughout my Christian journey my views on human sexuality have not been static by any means – then again, I have never really had to think too deeply about it. However, God has a way of reaching into our hearts and disturbing us, often unexpectedly.
About 10 years ago, I had a life-changing encounter with God, a physical experience of his presence that caused me to fall in love with Him all over again. I felt called to be baptized a few years later, and experienced another shift. This time it was a little different. I felt convicted and saddened by what I saw around me – broken marriages, broken lives, just so many things wrong with the world. And yes, an increasing acceptance of different lifestyles, one of which was same sex relationships, something I believed to be completely unbiblical.
At that point I pretty much knew what I believed, I was settled in my views, and didn’t really give human sexuality in a Christian context much thought. Because to be honest, I didn’t have to.
Until one day………WHAM! I did.
I’ll never forget the day it was announced – someone in our congregation, in a same sex relationship, was applying for church membership. We had never had to deal with a dilemma like that in our church before. I cried and cried and cried – the tension seemed too much to bear. Because on one hand, here was a woman who seemed perfectly nice, had been coming to our church for ages, and just wanted to be a member like everyone else. On the other, if we said yes, it would mean we – I – would be agreeing with what she believed. Or saying it was ok. Either way, it would be something that would stretch my conscience so badly it would tear it. I would be doing something wrong. I couldn’t breathe. It was a time of stress, anxiety, and having multiple near misses in the car. All I could do was pour out my heart to God and seek Him.
There was already a culture of fear in the church because at that time many people were sick, and everyone was searching for answers. The devil can use people’s fears, can’t he – it’s one of his most effective weapons if we are not on our guard. Sadly it seems, we were not, as she left the church under what must have been an unbearably dark cloud of despair.
When she came back to our church a year later, my panic returned. All I could do was cry out to God and keep on searching. If only I could find something that would change my view, so I could just agree and be at peace. But no matter how much I prayed, read, or enquired of others, I just couldn’t find anything that made sense to me. No explanation of scripture that I hadn’t heard before, no moments of revelation. Then one day on a train, God spoke to me. ‘I’m not asking you to change your mind. The most important thing is to be in relationship with me’. That brought me some sense of relief, and was the starting point of a wonderful shift in my journey.
About a year after she was accepted into membership, I was on a Footsteps course, and during one of the sessions I had another all-encompassing encounter with God. I felt Him calling me to completely support her, to journey with her, even though it might cost me. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with love and excitement! It was literally like angels were rejoicing in heaven, difficult to describe. Needless to say, I didn’t learn much about Baptist History that day.
At church the next day, I tentatively approached her and tried to explain what God had put on my heart, hoping that she would accept it. Gracious, as always, she did, and suddenly it seemed a real friendship based on love and acceptance was possible. Before me I saw someone who was dedicated in prayer, had a passion for caring for others, and was filled with grace.
Inclusion is now one of the aspects of God’s character that is the most precious to me. One of the books I read in my search for truth was Matthew Vine’s book ‘God and the Gay Christian’. Though I still struggle to bridge the difference in our understanding of scripture, Vine’s vulnerability and explanation of the impacts of exclusion on LGBT people has helped me love and accept people just as they are, as cherished children of God. But it’s God who changes hearts.