by Madeleine Davies – ‘CHURCH TIMES’ – Posted: 05 Feb 2016 @ 12:03
“THOSE involved in organising local Groups will often stop to wonder what the Group is achieving, and whether the world would be poorer if it ceased to exist.” So reads the introduction to the Nottingham Gay Christian Movement Group newsletter, published in 1982.
Decades letter, the document, with its promise of a warm welcome “for those who bring a heavy set of problems”, forms part of a retrospective to celebrate 40 years of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and highlighting its achievements, and contributions to the world.
Scanned documents from the early years, including copies of the monthly bulletin — hand-typed, duplicated, and posted by volunteers — are on display alongside banners telling the stories of key figures in the movement.
These stories can be heard at length on a new website, www.christianvoicescomingout.org.uk, that will serve as an aural history, preserving accounts for future generations.
“We have a very short collective memory,” the chief executive of LGCM, Tracey Byrne, said on Monday. “It’s human nature. There are people who made banners and went to parades where they were shouted and spat at and they are still around. . . It [the project] was about wanting to help people know that these people have a fantastic story to tell.”
The Gay Christian Movement was founded in 1976. Its first general secretary was the Revd Jim Cotter (Obituary, 25 April, 2014). In his account, he explains: “I think human beings, including myself, hurt and were hurt more than they would like to admit, but at the same time stumbling towards something, we weren’t quite sure what we were stumbling towards. I don’t think anybody would have even dreamt of thinking of a phrase like Gay Marriage at that time.”
By 1979, the group’s bulletin included five pages of the names, addresses, and occupations of people who were gay and Christian or supportive of its statement of conviction, and 39 local groups, “tremendously important in reducing isolation”. LGCM was also able to put couples in touch with ministers willing to conduct services of blessing, and provided certificates to mark the occasion.
The exhibition includes contributions from the Revd Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, who explains being “enraged” by the decision not to ordain him priest; and Linda Hurcombe, who describes the “fantastic days” of founding the Movement for the Ordination of Women. It also includes a section on the impact of HIV/AIDS, including the “impressive” response of the Salvation Army, and that of Jean White, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in London, who stepped in when undertakers refused to carry the bodies of those who had died.
Ms Byrne said that she had been deeply moved by listening to people’s stories: “It stirs you up to say ‘For the sake of these and those who have gone before, we have to continue to work for transformation and change.’” While some stories had been “immensely joyful”, it had been a “tough journey. It has motivated me to want to continue.”
“Christian Voices Coming Out: 40 years of prophecy, protest and pride” is on display in the Atrium Gallery, Old Building, LSE, Houghton Street, London WC2, until 4 March.
“The Gay Christian Movement was founded in 1976. Its first general secretary was the Revd Jim Cotter (Obituary, 25 April, 2014). In his account, he explains: “I think human beings, including myself, were hurt more than they would like to admit, but at the same time stumbling towards something, we weren’t quite sure what we were stumbling towards. I don’t think anybody would have even dreamt of thinking of a phrase like Gay Marriage at that time.” – Jim Cotter
I remember, when I was Vicar of the Parish of Orewa, in the Anglican Diocese of Auckland, in the late 1980s, with the permission of the Vestry, inviting The Rev. Jim Cotter to speak at a seminar on Human Sexuality that drew people from various North Shore (Auckland) parishes. Jim was on a tour of the Auckland Diocese, and welcomed the opportunity to be hosted by Anglican parishes to offer his view on how the Church needed to step up to the mark in opening up to people whose innate sexuality was different from the binary – male or female. These, Jim claimed, were children of God, equal in the sight of God to the predominantly heterosexual membership of the Church and society at large. If the Church were not to be by-passed by a society that now accepted such people, then it might lose the respect and allegiance of – not only Gay people themselves (many of whom were already part of parish life in our churches), but also of their families and all who supported the call for freedom from homophobia that had prompted harsh reactions from some of the more conservative provinces of our world-wide Anglican Community.
It is now forty years since the Gay Christian Movement was founded by people like Fr. Jim Cotter in the Church of England. He is now at peace in Paradise, but his legacy lives on, and this celebration of forty years of earnest endeavour by many more than the membership of that original group – far beyond the borders of the Church of England – has brought from the current Archbishop of Canterbury, ++Justin Welby, a profound apology for the Church’s attitude towards the LGBTI community in past times. This apology was delivered during the recent Meeting of Anglican Primates specifically called together by the ABC to try to resolve deep-seated difference within provinces of the communion on the particular issue.
What is needed now is not only words but action – on attitudes towards gender and sexuality issues that will need to be accommodated, if the Anglican Communion is to retain its apostolic l character as a part of the Body of Christ, in different contexts but in the bonds of fellowship centred round the Person of Jesus, as revealed in the New Testament Scriptures; whose defining charism was that of Love overcoming the sterility of Law: “A New Commandment I give to you – not as the world gives – that you should love one another as I have loved you”.
God is Love in perfection – overcoming our human tendency to judge others – proven by his Word that: “While you were yet sinners……. “All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” but God has determined to continue to love us – come what may! This is the Gospel of Christ!”
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand