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.
We’ve just published details of two events in London in December, go to the events page for full details, including times and booking details.
An excellent opportunity here to enjoy a weekend in London with a Friday evening at Bloomsbury Central Baptist church, followed by a fantastic day conference at St john’s Church Waterloo. Too good an opportunity to miss? Why not treat yourself to a nice hotel?
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
I wrote this review for the magazine ‘Progressive Voices’, but as one of the authors is Affirm’s own GemmaDunning, it seemed appropriate to reprint it here.
4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers
Shelley Donaldson, Gemma Dunning, Nick Elio, Eric Woods (Mark Ostreicher, General Editor)
The Youth Cartel
This is the first in a proposed series of books, published by the Youth Cartel, presenting different views on contemporary topics. Each author presents their thoughts in an individual chapter, which is then responded to by one of the other authors.
Don’t pick up this book expecting a unified view on the subject matter. Whilst it is apparent that each of the authors has a passionate and caring heart for young people who are exploring their sexuality, it is equally clear that they don’t always agree with each other’s position. Their responses to each other are compassionate, thoughtful and well presented – most of the time. They each have a clear view of their own thoughts and debate strongly with each other, at times it turns into a bit of a bun fight as each seeks to examine their writing partner’s thoughts in the light of their own views and experience. I suppose that is what this book, and this series of books, is all about. LGBTQ teenagers need loving, caring, thoughtful pastoral care and each author has their own ideas about that.
Each author comes from a different background and brings their own personal understandings and religious background to the game. Three of the authors are American, whilst Gemma Dunning, a London based Baptist minister, is the sole UK representative. Liberal and (marginally) conservative views are represented. Three have a holistically inclusive viewpoint and, in sometimes differing ways, want to support and accept all young people into adulthood, whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation. One author takes the view that ultimately sexuality can be ‘remade’. A position that many readers will find distasteful to say the least, but at least his position is represented here.
Editor Mark Ostreicher sums up with final thoughts and some useful appendices that provide practical advice and resources. The book as a whole is at times inspiring and at other times exasperating. You, as a reader, will inevitably find material here that is helpful and supportive, alongside some that is frustrating, but on the whole, it is a book that will promote debate and discussion within churches, among youth leaders, pastors and counsellors and this debate can only be healthy and promote a deeper understanding.
Affirm Trustee Gemma Dunning has co-authored a recently published book ‘4 Views On Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers’. Some of you will have been at the recent Two:23 event where the book was launched in London.
If you missed it there is another event taking place in Newport, South Wales and we’d love to see you there.
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.
Welcome to the first in a new series of blogs by Affirm contributor Andrea King
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart (Jer 29:13)
Sometimes from the very best of intentions, through strong conviction or values, developed over many years or inherited from those we’ve trusted, we can unintentionally cause pain to others who are different to us.
We don’t intend to. We don’t set out to. But nonetheless, we can become so very sure of our conviction that we either do not stop to consider our impact, or perhaps at times, turn our faces away from the impact we might have; unable, or unwilling, to consider it. Sometimes we’ll provide rational arguments to justify an associated impact of discomfort or pain, perhaps seeing it as an inevitable consequence of staying true to our values or beliefs. That original good intention, our intention of trying to do what we consider to be right or appropriate at the time, becomes an unwitting foundation for harm. We’ve all been there.
It is difficult to know quite what we might do when polarised Biblical convictions create suffering, pain or rejection for some. How do we reconcile this with the Kingdom of God? It becomes a cycle of exclusion, fuelled by the best intentions.
Diversity is incumbent within the body of Christ, it’s a necessary and crucial aspect of reflecting Him more fully. Many members of the LGBT+ community find themselves supported and firmed up by individuals who affirm His unconditional love for all and often more specifically, see a reflection of Him in LGBT+ people of faith. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that the cycle of exclusion simply saps hope from members of the LGBT+ community. Many of us ebb and flow in resurgent hope, disappointment and pain. We often feel less entitled, or even sometimes disqualified, from a hope of salvation, freely offered. Our understanding of an eternal relationship with Him, which we understood to be bought at great price, seems somehow insufficient. It leaves us questioning where and with whom we might ever belong. It can be deeply painful, faith can come at great cost.
And so, I wanted to share one small moment from my ongoing journey with you. I have been attending my local Church for 11 years and about five years ago, having got to know many people within the Church and knowing that there was simply something I must do in Him, I sought membership. I offered to sit with those who had worries, concerns, theological objections and talk it through. A few sought me out. Of those that did, one was respectful in their enquiry. My lasting memory of that time is a few people turning their faces to the wall, literally, as I walked past and particularly of one individual simply saying that people were sick in the church because of that fact that I was there, stated slightly less politely than I’ve described it here. Theologically, this does not stand up, morally this is very simply unacceptable, but regardless, the impact was huge. I stepped away, respectfully. Internally I drew a line, ‘enough’, but if I’m honest, I’d lost hope.
All that was left was prayer. All I could reach was Him. It was raw prayer, no words, pure opening of heart, a cry of the soul.
Stepping away gave a period of time for everyone to reflect. It transpired, that a majority were supportive, card after card came through the door. It gave time for some soul searching. A year later, on Easter Sunday, I returned, due largely to the grace of two Ministers who did not, and would not, let me go, and who modelled grief. The community started to broadly recognise, perhaps for the first time, the impact strong convictions can have when we switch off our capacity to reflect and empathise. Nonetheless, individuals with strong convictions precluding LGBT+ inclusivity remained and with one of these individuals we commenced together on a new journey of sharing our faith, of prayer and mutual reflection together. What bound us both was Him. We both pray a lot, deep calling to deep, and maintained an unwavering commitment to seeking Him – it was our common ground. We respected each other, not seeking any change, just wanting to understand each other more fully, in Him.
About a year ago now –ten years after this journey first began – this individual who I am proud to call my friend, reached a point of revelation, in which the strongly held convictions she embodied were re-framed by Him in prayer, the linked to this, describes her story.
And so, I wonder, how might that help us journey together through the national debates about LGBT+ orientation within the faith community? I wonder how the principles of mutual respect, seeking first to understand each other, and crucially, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Him in prayer might help?
It just might be that this theological debate is not within our power or skill to resolve, but it remains fully within His. It requires, trust, patience, grace and above all love, but it is without doubt possible.
I wonder, would you join us in the journey together, with Him? To seek first to understand, united in Him.