by Jay Greene, Member of General Synod and Member of the Co-ordinating Group for the General Synod’s Sexuality and Gender Group
Back in January I was fortunate to go to Wales and see Cherry Vann consecrated as bishop of Monmouth. It was a truly moving occasion: Brecon Cathedral was packed; the sense of goodwill, new hope and expectation was palpable; and then we heard Cherry and her partner, Wendy, welcomed from the pulpit. It was faith enhancing, faith restoring and the memory of that day has sustained me through these past two weeks. We have to ask ourselves why +Cherry needed to go to the Church in Wales to be recognised and valued for her gifts. Why do people who identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender rarely make it to the college of bishops here? I know that the Church in Wales has been on its own journey and I am not forgetting the past harm done to Jeffrey John at the Llandaff election. However, they have managed to resolve their differences and move on. I think we could learn a little from that here in the Church of England.
Bishop Cherry was a member of the Living in Love and Faith Pastoral Advisory Group who produced the Church of England’s “Pastoral Principles”, which are to acknowledge prejudice; speak into silence; address ignorance; cast out fear; admit hypocrisy; pay attention to power.
These principles resonated for me as I took part in General Synod last week. I looked at members of the House and College of Bishops whose sexuality might be described as “a grey area” (a phrase made famous by David Hope, a retired Archbishop of York) and wanted to say to them, as Our Lord said to Lazarus, Come out. Come out, not only from the closet but from the tomb of fear and silence which imprisons you and undermines true engagement with the Living in Love and Faith resources.
The Church is shaped by hypocrisy.
In 2003 my partner Marion was a Team Vicar and I helped her with admin and those myriad tasks which make parish life run more smoothly. People sensed that I had a vocation so I began that process of discernment which many of you know so well. The Director of Ordinands described Marion and I as having “a modern marriage”. After a year of preparation, I suddenly got a call from the embarrassed DDO to say that the bishop had changed his mind. If I went forward for training then Marion and I could no longer live in the same house but “he didn’t mind what we did on our day off”……! What??? I’m not quite sure what the bishop thought “we did on our day off” but I can assure you that it normally includes, gardening, walking, and visiting family. Furthermore, when you come home from a harrowing funeral visit or a dispiriting PCC meeting you want someone to give you a hug and make you a drink – the promise of sex on your day off is not the panacea for all ills. The people of the parish knew who we were and their faith was not undermined by our love for each other. I withdrew from the process. I believe that God brought us together and it was not for a frightened man, even if he was a bishop, to break us apart.
There has been some change in the intervening years. Marion and I are now in a welcoming and affirming diocese where she is a House for Duty priest for six small parishes and I continue to help behind the scenes. However, the culture that pretence and secrecy are okay because they preserve the status quo still pervades in the house and college of bishops and, I believe, undermines trust in the Church.
Gay, Lesbian, and Bi-sexual bishops, I call on you again to come out. Let us stand together and acknowledge our sexuality, this is how God made us and we bring our whole selves to his service. I call on your straight brothers and sisters in the House and College of Bishops to support you and uphold you in this. I pray that, if and when, you do come out and publicly own your sexual orientation, your straight colleagues will stand with you, commend your bravery and welcome this new openness.
You will need to be brave. We know how hurtful some people can be.
Last year when I was introduced to a conservative evangelical, I was rather dismayed that, yet again, I found her first words to me were “ we are all sinners”. That said, this is nothing compared to the trolling and hate speech that comes the way of some of our number. Yes, you will need to be brave as Jesus was brave, but know this – you are not alone as he was. We are awake, woken like Lazarus and called forth from that time of prejudice, fear, and silence. We are here for you. By “we” I don’t just mean the LGBTQI+ community, I mean open-minded people in parishes, deaneries, and chapters all over England.
We know there are affirming bishops. We can read between the lines and see your input to Living in Love and Faith, but now we need you too to speak out. One such is our new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterell. At Synod he spoke to us of the Vision and Strategy work whose aim is to create a church which is simpler, humbler, bolder. A church which is Jesus Christ centred and Jesus Christ shaped. Archbishop Stephen is calling for a younger and more diverse church: “this diversity includes human sexuality and identity and with the publication of Living in Love and Faith we now enter into a period of reflective learning as we are challenged afresh to honour each other and see Christ in each other.”
It is unfortunate that Loving in Love and Faith has taken a big knock from the release of the CEEC film. There is a strong sense of betrayal amongst the LLF network of creators and amongst all of us, LGBT and straight, who were willing to engage with the resources. Our trust in the process has been undermined but we can build back and build back better. In Vision & Strategy Archbishop Stephen takes as his over-arching text: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5.17). So, let us put aside the culture of fear, hypocrisy, and silence and make this church a ‘new creation’.
To do this will require more than bland unity from our bishops: it will need prophetic courage. Bishops: the time is now.
This plea to the Church of England’s Bishops, by Jay Greene, a Member of the General Synod, deserves publication to the wide Anglican Church community. In it, Jay bravely describes her own experience of acute humiliation caused by her bishop, who when he discovered that she was living and working with a woman in parish priestly ministry, declared that her priestly vocation could not go forward in that situation! In the light of that, this would seem to sum up her letter to the C.of E. bishops as they continue with the work of “Livng in Love and Faith”, while yet denying the love and faith of LGBTQ+people, bishops, clergy and others who are already at work on the proclamation of the love of Christ in the Gospel:
“Come out, not only from the closet but from the tomb of fear and silence which imprisons you and undermines true engagement with the Living in Love and Faith resources”.
When one considers the difference of the Anglican Church in Wales (which once denied the episcopal election of Father Jeffrey John, a partnered gay priest of the C. of E.) where, recently, the woman partner of a woman bishop was welcomed at her recent episcopal ordination – one cannot but see the institutional hypocrisy of the situation. To be now recognised for her innate pastoral gifts, Cherry Vann had had to move out of the Church of England, in order to answer to a call from the Church in Wales – to become Bishop of Monmouth!
It is time the Mother Church of England grasped the nettle of institutional homophobia and sexism that still exists within its borders. Until its bishops are prepared to be open and honest about the same-sex relationships already existing in the C. of E., (and in many other Anglican Churches around the world), its mission of the Gospel – as Good News to ALL people – will be seen as at the very least to be unjust, and in the light of today’s reality- hypocritical.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand