We had a really good afternoon discussing proposed changes to the law on marriage this afternoon at the wonderful St Bartholomew’s, Gourock. This little church is high up overlooking the Clyde with views of the dark brooding cloud that hangs over Dunoon. It has recently been gorgeously refurbished, something that their Rector, Drew Sheridan and the people there must feel immensely proud of.
Anyway, we were there this afternoon to talk about the possibility of allowing Civil Partnerships in religious premises and the possibility of allowing same-sex couples to enter into marriage in some form or another. It was an excellent discussion – really helpful all round. I had thought that there might be a low turnout but in the end more than 30 people gathered with Bishop Gregor for a really thoughtful time.
It was worth it to hear surprising things. I was surprised to hear Fr Gadgetvicar from our neighbours at St Silas speaking much more positively than I would have expected about how there might be a place for blessing gay couples in church as part of the pastoral care of such people. In turn, he seemed surprised (nay, astonished) at my answer when he asked me how many gay blessings a year we are doing at St Mary’s. (Answer, none this year, none have been asked for). I wonder whether he thought we did little else.
Of those who spoke, a couple of people were against opening up marriage to same-sex couples. Most who spoke seemed to be broadly in favour. Some were passionately so. Some remained in thoughtful silence listening to what was going on and clearly still in a place where their minds were not made up.
Interestingly, the discussion got on to what processes the church would need to go through in order to proceed to conduct such weddings. People were very interested in the synodical processes that might be needed in order to change Canon Law. There seemed to be the view that if the law changed, the church would inevitably face the discussion at synodical level and that no-one could predict the outcome. They wanted to know how it could be done.
I found myself feeling quite moved by the discussion. Firstly that it was happening at all and that it happened so well. We had a great meeting listening to one another, respectful of one another and caring about one another. Secondly that I was hearing members of the church, not activists or policy-wonks or politicians or attention seekers like me, but ordinary church members, arguing passionately for same-sex marriage.
When you grow up never hearing any positive word ever spoken in church (or anywhere, come to think about it) about being gay and have a suspicion that it might affect you, it does something to you that is hard to describe to other people. It can lead to barrenness of expectation. It leads many people never to grow in grace or faith or hope or love. Similarly I struggle to explain what it feels like now on odd occasions when people whose voices have not previously been heard begin to speak with authority and passion about their own sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and their relationships. I find it hard to put into language. Indeed, it moves me beyond words to realise that it isn’t me who is out on a limb arguing for something that people don’t understand and don’t believe I’ll never see. It is real and round the corner and supported by people whom I should never underestimate.
I can’t really describe what that feels like to sit amongst all that but along with others I can taste something in the air. It is the sweet taste of longed-for change that is coming more quickly than most people ever thought possible.