Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill Passes by 105 to 18!

The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill has just passed in the Scottish Parliament by 105 votes to 18.

I’ve watched the debate all through this afternoon.

It is difficult to put into words what it feels like.

As I was growing up, I never knew what I never heard. You don’t know what you are missing sometimes. It is only as gay rights have been argued for, fought for and achieved that I’ve realised what it meant to grow up feeling, knowing, that society was inevitably going to treat me as someone who had less value and less opportunity than others. In short, I became an adult in a world which was silent about people like me. That’s why it is so shocking and emotional and staggering for that silence to be broken in public life, most notably by parliamentarians speaking up for LGBT people and gradually, progressively, legislating the old legal discriminations away.

Now, today, a huge thing has happened. I can now get married, should someone want to have me. Inevitably, my view of marriage and relationships has been coloured by being formed in a world where I was excluded from the possibility. I never got to think or dream about what I’d wear, where it would be or who I would be standing next to. I never got to imagine being with someone through thick and thin, for good and for bad, ’til death us do part. And I still can’t imagine what it would be like to hear and feel the full acceptance and love of the world around me should I ever be able to stand at an altar and declare that I want to be with someone forever.

For some of the silences still remain. For the last three years I’ve been named on the Pink List as one of the most influential gay people in the UK. Were I to achieve national recognition in any other area, I could probably expect my bishop and other leaders in the church to contact me privately, congratulate me publicly and the institution that I work for to be proud of me. Instead of that, at the moments when friends have been cheering me on as a national newspaper recognised some of what I’ve done, I’ve heard from the institution I work for that same silence that I know all too well.

However, I’m hopeful. I’ve seen the military change. I’ve seen the police change. I’ve seen newspapers change. I’m seeing schools change. And as it has happened, I’ve changed. I’ve become more of the person I really am. Like others who identify as gay or lesbian, I’ve become more whole.

Today is a great day. It is a day when things have changed forever.

I used to campaign quite actively for gay rights in the church. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the right thing to do was to throw my efforts into changing the law. I was right to do so. Though many who love me greatly were sympathetic, many of them told me I was mad and that it would never happen in my lifetime. It hasn’t just happened in my lifetime. The possibility that I could marry has come in in time for there to be the possiblity that I might one day benefit from it. That great legal change is now accomplished.

Today is a joyful day for gay and lesbian couples in Scotland and for their supporters. The Scottish Parliament has now made it possible for same-sex couples to get married and no words can express how much I welcome that. It is a significant step towards Equal Marriage and will make it possible for many couples to celebrate the best day of their lives.

The campaign for marriage equality now moves into the churches in Scotland and those churches have a golden opportunity to show that they support equality, support gay and lesbian Christians and support the settled will of lawmakers. Increasingly, support for marriage equality is becoming the touchstone of moral behaviour for decent people.

I hope that it is not long before I can marry same-sex couples in St Mary’s Cathedral but we must remember that today the Scottish Parliament passed laws which make it difficult for many religious bodies to opt into the legislation. It will be the case that many same-sex couples will need to have a legal marriage at the local Registrar’s Office and then come to church for a religious ceremony. I look forward to celebrating many joyful nuptial masses for same-sex couples and in due course to conducting legal marriages.

In the Scottish Episcopal Church marriage service we ask a simple question not to the couple but to everyone present:
“Will all of you support and encourage N. and N. in their marriage?”

Let the word go out from Scotland: “WE WILL!”

It’s Time and It’s Today!

Huge excitement today as the Equal Marriage bill comes to the Scottish Parliament for a final vote.

I’ve been involved in this campaign pretty much from the beginning, speaking at Pride, marching, organising, listening, distributing materials, writing, cajoling, chatting on TV and Radio, preaching and generally getting people to think about it.

A hugely proud day for Scotland and a campaign and a movement that I’ll never forget.

One of the things that a lot of people won’t know is that many of the original signatures on the petition that kicked all this off came from students on campus at the University of Glasgow and many of them were gathered by members of the LGBT group at St Mary’s.

Well, the campaign is just about over. It’s time and it’s today!

Sermon for Candlemas

When I was a theology student in St Andrews, many years ago now, I found myself in the company of people with all kinds of religious views. There were extreme protestants and extreme catholics and everything inbetween and beyond. There were feminists and atheists and agnostics amidst and apart from the Christians and a fair number of the bewildered who were still trying to work it all out.

I suppose that I was in the latter category when I started but by the time I’d got my degree I knew who I was and had a fair idea of where I hoped to be heading.

One advantage of that ecclesiastical melting-pot was that you got to rub up against all kinds of different kinds of church and all kinds of different style of religious expression. You got to know your friends and by extension you got to know the religious path that your friends were on. In that rare world, it was almost certain that they believed and practised differently to the way you did.

And when seeing other people’s religion you got to see the things you liked and the things you didn’t. You got to see the bits you would take back to your own expression of faith and pinch and you got to see things which horrified you and confirmed all you ever thought about how wrong headed other people could be.

Inevitably, it being a place where Presbyterian candidates for ministry were being trained I got to know lots of Church of Scotland candidates. They saw me discover the Episcopal Church and with the zeal of a new convert, try to take them along to every feast and festival going.

They would never come to church with me and not think the Episcopal church to be something that was permanently enshrouded in holy smoke that you could only see through by the light of a thousand and one candles shining around the altar.

And it confirmed in most of them the suspicion they had that Episcopacy was something full of superstition and only one stop away from witchcraft.

However, some of them liked what they saw. And remembered it when they were ordained and moved into ministry.

Particularly so one friend of mine. She had been moved by some of the worship I’d dragged her along to and pined a little for it when she started work in a parish.

Now, those of you who have arrived in Scotland since the arrival of IKEA might be unaware of the suspicion which candles in churches one aroused.

Even Episcopalians and other Anglicans were once suspicious. There were riots in some churches about putting candles on altars. They were mostly riots backed by hideous sectarianism but they were riots all the same.

Twenty years ago it was a very rare Church of Scotland which would have candles in church.

Anyway, this friend of mine went to a fairly stark church and happened to say that when she celebrated communion it would be nice to have some candles on the communion table.

I dare say that there were some intakes of breath. I dare say that teeth were sucked. I dare say that not everyone was happy.

But the locals decided to give her what she wanted.

And so, processing in for her first communion service, she was somewhat startled to see two candles brightly burning on the communion table.

Two dinner table candles.

In fact, two very bright pink dinner table candles.

And a grinning congregation who knew that they had made the new minister happy.

I like that story for it reminds me how far removed from the dinner table my own experience of the altar is. And yet, dinner table it is if you think about it. And why should’t candles that we usually use for a candlelit meal not be just right for what we do when we place bread and wine here?

Religion is a funny thing. (I often have cause to notice).

For it is a way of thinking about the world but more than that. It is a way of putting the world to rights, but more than that. It is a way of ordering life about one that makes sense (hopefully) but more than that too.

The very act of lighting a candle is typical of what religious expression is so often about.

For setting light to beeswax or tallow and letting it burn slowly means nothing.

And yet, it so often means so much.

We actually need candlelight less than humanity has ever done.

Yet we need to mark moments in our lives, moments of significance, more than we have ever done too.

In a busy rushing digital, electrically powered world, something about the simple act of lighting a candle matters. It connects us with everyone who has ever kindled light in any darkness. It connects us with those who have given physical expression to hope going back way beyond memory.

And so, we find ourselves lighting candles when children are baptised. We kindle light around coffins when the final journey comes.

And in between we light candles at birthdays and other significant times.

Symbols of light in the darkness, of hope amidst fear, of prayers when words won’t work.

The story we get of the presentation in the temple at this Festival is a lovely one but one where there is so much going on.

One can imagine rather easily I think, the bringing of the child into the temple – a young couple wanting to do what was right for the child. Luke conjures up pictures that we feel we can see.

I wish that those who wrote baptism liturgies today would stop trying to make them pre-ordination rights that turn babies into proto-ministers. We need to get back to more human desires to mark moments with symbols of significance.

Here in a church like this, most of the symbols that the Christian religion has ever explored are available to you but no-one will force them upon you.

Yet they really are worth exploring anew.

When I was in the USA on sabbatical I was struck by how, influenced perhaps by Buddhist practise, Christians were asking – how do you practise?

How do you make faith, put down markers of significance, mark moments that matter?

Do you light a candle. Some of you probably do. But what else?

How else do you practise your religion? How else do you build patterns with physical things in your life that connect with ways of being human that come to us from the depths of human experience?

Do you light a candle for a friend in trouble? Do you make the sign of the cross before falling asleep? Do you give yourself the gift of … silence? Do you read the scriptures? Do you remember anniversaries? Do you pray with words or without them? Do you aim to worship with others weekly? Do you recognise Christ in friend or stranger or see something holy in both of them?

These are all questions about how we practise a life of faith. For we can learn to consecrate time and circumstance. We can find the holy in the ordinary and make sacred space from beeswax and a match.

Once upon a time, a young couple brought a child to do for him what was required by the religious practise of their day. They had two pigeons to sacrifice. And the child changed the world.

What do you bring to the altar? What do you take from it?

How do you practise? And how will you change the world?

We believe – a Christian LGBT creed

Things are changing so fast – it became socially unacceptable some time ago in many circles to give voice to prejudice against LGBT people. It is becoming unacceptable to reject marriage for same-sex couples. And now it is becoming a religious act to oppose the criminalization of gay folk.

Perhaps we need a short summary of what we believe. Do we need an LGBT Creed?

We believe
that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God

and that nothing can take that likeness away.
We believe that Jesus Christ
brought a message of freedom, integrity and salvation for all.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
who brings delight, joy, liberation
and holy common sense to the people of God.

We believe in the church
and are committed to remaining a part of it.
We believe discrimination, prejudice and the criminalization
of LGBT people to be sinful.

We believe that God’s abundant grace is leading the church towards
the full acceptance of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
We know the grace of God in the sacraments
and believe that all the sacraments are given for all of the people of God.
We believe that where God calls people into marriage
they are called to a way of life based on
love, joy, tenderness, faithfulness, permanence and stability.

We believe that human rights are part of a divine mandate for justice
that  is the birthright of all people.

What do you think?

[By the way, don't forget that there's a retreat for gay and bi men in March that I'm co-leading - bookings can be made online here:]

Review – Don Pasquale – Scottish Opera

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review also appears at Opera Britannia

Obviously intended be another populist crowd-pleaser, Scottish Opera’s new production of Don Pasquale is visually gorgeous but sabotaged from the pit by conducting from Francesco Corti that is bold, daring and utterly insensitive to the fact that anyone is singing.

Things began well. On entering the theatre, the curtain was dominated by a large projected image apparently advertising the production. The first few bars of music came at a cracking pace and then a pause slightly more pregnant than usual as the digital image was revealed to be the first page of a digital book. As the overture continued, an unseen hand then started to scroll through the pages which turned out to be the pages of an Italian photo-story featuring the characters we were about to be introduced to. They gave the back-story to the production which was, and one is aware in the telling of it that there is a lot to swallow here, that the old bachelor Don Pasquale loves cats but is sadly allergic to them. Upon this artifice, which is unsupported by the libretto, hung quite a lot of the production. We saw in the unfolding comic-book story that Don Pasquale was having tests from a doctor to determine what it was that was causing him to be ill and that it turned out to be cats. Cats had to be eliminated from his life and these were then replaced by lots of artificial cats. The digital book was done with some panache though it is difficult to affirm the decision to have the text of the speech bubbles in Italian with no translation.

When the overture was finally over and the narrative thus established, the curtain finally went up to reveal André Barbe’s brilliant set design. Again there was something of the comic book about the set which took us to Pensione Pasquale – a small lodging house in Rome, sometime on the cusp of the swinging sixties. Vibrant colours dominated the stage and a magnificent painted backdrop showed the local buildings towering over the Pensione.  Draped between the rooms that we could see and the sky above were yards of washing all out to dry in the sun on clothes lines.

And thus we found Don Pasquale consulting Dr Malatesta about his allergies and apparently being assured that there could be no cats for him. Around the old man himself were stuffed cats, china cats and plastic cats. Cats indeed, of every kind.  All of this cat business was really leading to the best joke of the show – a brilliant visual gag at the final curtain which it would be unkind for the reviewer to reveal to anyone who might see the show.  However, reflecting on it after seeing the show, one is struck by how odd this feline premise was. [Read more...]

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope

There’s currently a petition doing the rounds demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York make some kind of statement deploring the support the Church of Nigerian (Anglican Communion) has given to recent anti-gay laws. Similar calls have been made in regard to Uganda.

I’m refusing to sign it. We should not make that demand of Archbishop Justin, it is entirely misplaced.

The first place that people in the UK should go to with objections about the Nigerian anti-gay legislation is their MP, with a demand that the Foreign Office exerts further pressure on Nigeria.

To demand that the Archbishop of Canterbury discipline or criticise Nigerian bishops is unhelpful because it plays right into the idea that the Archbishop of Canterbury has some kind of papal role within the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a Pope and we would be wise not to treat him as though he is.

I get very cross if Archbishops of Canterbury make statements about Scotland. I’ve been very hot under the collar when they’ve made statements about Scottish Independence, for example without reference to the Scottish College of Bishops. Indeed, I took a sharp intake of breath when I heard that the Church Commissioners of the Church of England have been buying up land in Bishop John’s Diocese of Edinburgh to use for wind farms.

Primates commenting on the political affairs of another country is always going to undermine collegial relationships amongst bishops and we should never impute authority to archbishops that they don’t have within our polity. One Anglican church meddling in the affairs of another’s patch is a serious business indeed.

It is particularly the case that US Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans need to be very wary of demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury should interfere in Nigeria. Do they want the same thing to happen to them when the wind blows in the other direction? When it happened in the past, did they think it was legitimate?

The Archbishop of Canterbury may well be making contact with the Nigerian church in private. Indeed, I’d be surprised if he were not. The demand that he rebuke that church in public is misplaced.

Having said that, any bishops who are members of the House of Lords might well add their voices to those of other parliamentarians supporting the statements that the UK government is making in relation to the way LGBT people are treated abroad, particularly in Nigeria or Uganda. The relevant statement from the Foreign Secretary is here: Increasingly, I suspect that there will be a moral focus on the Church of England which is sharpest in parliament rather than in Synod. That Church seems to have departed from the morals of decent people in England and parliament is probably the place where that will play out. However, that is to digress and perhaps for another day.

Incidently I think that the Archbishop of York is in a different position to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He might well be expected to say something regarding Uganda but not because he is an Archbishop but because he is Ugandan. One suspects, given his lack of support for gay rights in this country that we might be waiting quite a while for him to offer much support to gay and lesbian Ugandans back in that country though.

And locally, what about Scotland? Well, we’ve a personal connection with Uganda in that our Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth went to the consecration of the Most Rev Stanley Ntagali as Archbishop of the Church of Uganda. I thought that he was unwise to attend this event. However it now presents him with the opportunity of speaking as an episcopal friend of that country and saying clearly that when proposals are made to kill gay and lesbian Ugandas, lock up gay and lesbian Ugandans for life or risk a exacerbating the AIDS pandemic by making it impossible for gay and lesbian Ugandans to assemble and distribute information then these proposals are unacceptable. Support for such proposals from the Church of Uganda alienates that Church from Christian fellowship around the world.

It is not unreasonable to expect David Chillingworth to do this for two reasons – firstly that he personally chose to go to Uganda and associate himself with that country and secondly because no-one would mistake him for a pope.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is another matter altogether.

Oh, and whilst I’m thinking about it, the Anglican Communion Office is another legitimate place where pressure could and should  be applied. It is perfectly reasonable to ask the Secretary General to comment on the business of the churches of the communion. It is particularly important that we state often and loudly that there can be no “indaba” process with churches who are encouraging the oppression of LGBT people.

None at all.

Farewell Pete Seeger – We shall overcome one day

Florence Li Tim-Oi – Celebrating 70 years since her ordination

I’m just off to celebrate a Eucharist because it is a Feast Day – the Conversion of St Paul. The standard, if rather weak, in-joke is that one is going to pray for the Conversion of St Paul rather than simply remember the Conversion of St Paul – not least because Paul had things to say that have not been terribly helpful to a modern world where women and men are equal.

As I celebrate the feast today I’m going to be remembering with thanksgiving this woman: The Rev Florence Li Tim-Oi and celebrating 70 years since her ordination.

Florence Li Tim-Oi

She was the first woman to be made a priest in the Anglican Communion and today is 70 years since it happened. It happened in wartime when there were no men around and it happened secretly and without the permission of synods and decision-making bodies simply, I suspect because they couldn’t meet at the time.

The most extraordinary thing about Mother Florence is that once the war was over, she gave up her license to act as a priest (but not her orders) until such time as her church accepted the principle that women and men could equally be regarded as priests. In her part of the world, that meant waiting until 1971.

I can’t imagine what it was like to wait so many years to be treated as an equal.

No, wait a minute.

I can.

The Lightbulb Joke

crane small

This photograph is entitled “How may Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb?”

A Working Rector for the University of Glasgow

glasgow university
I’m honoured to have been nominated as one of the candidates to be Rector of the University of Glasgow.

If elected, I would serve as a working Rector who lives within walking distance of the University in order to serve the student body.

The students of the ancient universities in Scotland have the power to elect a rector who chairs the University Court – the highest decision making body in the University. It is essential that students are represented by someone on that body who knows how universities work, has experience of working for and with students and who is able to allow the university to flourish by putting students first.

I know universities well, having worked with student sabbatical officers and a whole range of welfare staff. Having a range of campaign skills that I’ve learned through campaigning for gay marriage and for human rights generally, I hope that I would be able to work with students for a better university experience.

More details and a manifesto over on the campaign page.

[Photo credit - lorentay © Creative Commons:Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)]