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: www.retreat.maniple.co.uk]

Review – Don Pasquale – Scottish Opera

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review also appears at Opera Britannia

Obviously intended http://imageshack.com/a/img39/3978/hyg7.jpgto 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: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-expresses-disappointment-with-anti-lgbt-legislation-in-nigeria. 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)]

Seasons of Love: A retreat for gay and bisexual men

As I indicated in this blog a few weeks ago, I’m going to be co-leading a retreat for gay and bisexual men in March.

Anyone who wants to know more can find details on the retreat website at www.retreat.maniple.co.uk

Pilgrimage/Retreating/Spirituality stuff seems very much to be on the rise and this is just one of the things that I’m planning to do in this area over the next period of time. In my head, I’m also planning a city-based pilgrimage but details of that will have to wait for a bit.

Anyone with any questions about this retreat, do get in touch. This one happens to be for men only – again, I suspect that I’ll find myself running a mixed retreat for LGBT folk sometime too.

Bookings are now open for this one and places are limited.

Cathedrals are growing. But so what?

I was interested, of course, to look through the press release this week about which churches are growing in the Church of England.

One might have thought at a casual glance and by the way that the headlines were phrased that there was evidence that the Church of England was growing again but it isn’t and the churches that are growing are not coming anywhere near to making up the losses from the churches which are not growing.

Several themes emerge, including:

  • Significant Growth from Fresh expressions of Church (new congregations and new churches) with around 21,000 people attending in the 10 surveyed areas of the 44 Church of England Dioceses.
  • Significant growth in Cathedrals, especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35% between 2002 and 2012.
  • Declining numbers of children and young people under 16 – nearly half of the churches surveyed had fewer than 5 under 16s.
  • Amalgamations of churches are more likely to decline – the larger the number of churches in the amalgamation, the more likely they are to decline

There are not many surprises here – these themes have been emerging for the last two years. The last of them might give us pause for thought in Scotland where the push to cluster churches together with the promise that this is the best way forward is sometimes heard quite loudly. I’ve always said that linkages are generally less than the sum of their parts and you have to travel quite a way to find a linkage that has led to growth.

My mind is particularly caught, of course, by the assertion that cathedrals are growing. Now, Scottish cathedrals play by different rules than English cathedrals but I’m still interested in what is being said about cathedral life all the same. It would be fair to say that the picture would not be so clear across Scotland when it comes to cathedrals. My own congregation is reasonably bouncy at the moment and that is sometimes put down by other clergy as being the “cathedral effect”. Oh, cathedrals are doing well generally, I am told by people who don’t want to listen to what it is that makes them do well.

Cathedrals are doing well. But so what?

Cathedrals in England are, at least in part, funded by the state. (Part also funds the maintenance of Glasgow’s medieval cathedral, but that is another matter and for different reasons). [UPDATE - English friends who have read this are keen to point out that one should regard the Church Commissioners as "external funders" rather than state funders. I take the point, but most of the subsequent arguments still hold]

No-one ever seems to say, “Well, cathedrals are doing well, perhaps we should have more state funding of churches”. There doesn’t seem to be much recognition that the state plays a big part in paying for what is going on in English Cathedrals. Here in Scotland the congregation of St Mary’s has to find the money to pay me. If I were the dean of an English Cathedral I would be in a Crown Appointment and paid by the state. Those congregations down south also benefit from cathedral canons being paid for by the state and certain maintenance being done, not least to Cathedral roofs.

People are also sometimes dismissive of cathedral growth because it seems to be based on the fact that lots of people seem to want to “believe and not belong”. In other words, people rather like turning up for something nice liturgically but don’t want to spend their time keeping it running. There’s bound to be a bit of this, but so what? The Church of England at least is predicated on the idea that it is there precisely for those who live about the place who don’t contribute their time and talents. That’s what being an established and national church is all about isn’t it?

It also seems to me that cathedrals are often powerhouses of volunteering. Hereabouts in Glasgow we’ve got about 50 people who volunteer their time and talents to take some kind of leadership role within St Mary’s and maybe another 100 or so who volunteer to do something or another along the way. And you know what, just a few of those people pr0bably want to belong and not believe for cathedrals are also places where the sceptical and the doubting can and do want to contribute something.

Then there are the reasons that cathedrals are growing.

I think that is isn’t difficult to name the things that make churches grow:

  • A friendly demeaner – or at least the notion that this might be a place where one might make some friends. Also known as finding God in other people.
  • A sense of the holy or the transcendent. Finding God in ways that in some way reach beyond the everyday and the humdrum.
  • Music that the congregation is comfortable with and enjoys. (And this one ain’t about style at all).
  • An attempt to present things as well as possible – yes the quality question. People are used to high quality presentations these days – why should they expect anything less at church.
  • Governance that can sort out trouble and help troubled people not to upset everyone else. We don’t think about this nearly enough but appropriate authority structures are crucial to any growing church.
  • Good welcome procedures
  • Good communications – websites and all the rest that are built on ethos and not just info

It so happens that cathedrals can often do quite well at these things. These are some of the reasons that they are doing well at the moment.

However, I can barely think of anyone from outside the cathedral scene who really wants to know why it is going well and who has much interest in learning from what cathedrals do well.

I may have a go at addressing some of the things said about “Fresh Expressions” in the C of E report later. For now two things are worth noting – firstly that there does not seem to me to be much evidence in the report that Fresh Expressions Thingys are making that much difference statistically because they seem to be being measured in very different ways to other more traditional congregations. Also there does not seem to be much research on who is paying for Fresh Expressions Thingys. The question of how many bums are on beanbags is hard to resolve. Who is paying for the beanbags is easier to establish and it very rarely seems to be the users of Fresh Expressions Thingys. In short, there’s a suspicion around that Fresh Expressions Thingys are being sponsored by rather trad congregations via diocesan grants schemes. That was certainly the feeling I got from Fresh Expressions Thingys that I encountered in the USA when I was travelleling there on sabbatical. The constant questions when Fresh Expressions Thingys are being talked about are how do you evaluate success, how much is it costing and who is paying the bills.

Having said all that, I was very struck by someone who said to me a while ago that the reason that St Mary’s is doing well at the moment is not because it is a cathedral but because it has been nurtured into being a Fresh Expression of traditiona church which happens to appeal to a bunch of people that never thought that church would have anything at all to offer them and who are surprised to find themselves caught up in the business of heaven in a place of surprise and wonder.

The Church of England research is fascinating, deserves to be talked about and raises far more questions than it answers.

Cathedrals are growing.

But so what?

Back from hols and quick theatre reviews

I’m back to work at St Mary’s today after a post-Christmas (well, post-Epiphany) week off. I’m writing this at the point just before I go into work, say morning prayer and open up the emails that have come in to me whilst I was away.

It has been a busy week. I managed to fit in a trip to Yorkshire to see family and a wee theatre trip to London.

Here are a few quick theatre reviews of what I saw.

  • Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Saddlers Wells – by some distance the most exciting thing I saw. I’ve come rather late to this one but loved it. (Except the ending which reminded me of Brokeback Mountain – how often gay couples only end up together when they are dead).
    Rating: ★★★★★
  • Ghosts at the Trafalgar Studios – A very good production of this Ibsen play though I was surprised when I got in that I’d already seen a strikingly similar production of the same play at the Citz a while ago. Outstanding question – why did the maid and her father sound as though they came from Govan when they were supposed to be rural Swedes?  Apart from that, all made sense and this was quite gripping.
    Rating: ★★★★☆
  • Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby – the Beckett trilogy at the Royal Court. This was the one I booked in advance and indeed the one that prompted me to book the trip. A rare chance to see Not I, not least because of how difficult it is – the actor hangs upside down on the stage and delivers a monologue “at the speed of thought” whilst the only illumination in the whole theatre is a tiny pencil spotlight on her lips. This was chilling, fascinating theatre that plays with your mind.
    Rating: ★★★★½
  • From Morning to Midnight – a German expressionist piece at the Royal National Theatre. Brilliantly done. But should it have been done? I was far from sure. Reminded me of that terrible production of the Seven Deadly Sins that Scottish Opera did a few years ago.
    Rating: ★★★☆☆
  • Mojo – a relatively new play at the Harold Pinter Theatre. This one didn’t work for me at all – far too shouty. Odd that the people in the stalls seemed to think it was hilarious and those in the Royal Circle didn’t. How does this happen?
    Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Not a bad trawl. Add to that three big sung services in musical churches in London, a hour or so looking at favourite things in the National Gallery, some good food and good company and you’ve got a flavour of what I was up to.

I was in London for three nights, by the way and managed to come back without blisters.