Being an Inclusive Church

One of the main themes emerging from this year’s Scottish General Synod was the issue of inclusion. I’ve mentioned before the phenomena of getting just about any group of Scottish Episcopalians together and asking them what our church is about. The answers are always the same – good worship and being an inclusive church. (Interestingly, no-one ever defines us as having anything much to do with having bishops. I remember one provincial conference where I’m sure everyone would have voted to change the name to the Scottish Inclusive Church if such a thing could have been proposed).

And all this came up again last week. In the long debate about mission and in other parts of the synod, the ethos of the Scottish Episcopal Church was claimed to be being an inclusive church. I’ve long had a suspicion that part of this is that Episcopalians in Scotland are all a bit odd in one way or another and when we say we are an inclusive church, part of what we mean is, “Thank God, I’ve found a church that welcomes me. There is no-where else to go”.

Anyway, on and on it went. “We are an inclusive church” sayeth the crowd.

Yet I’ve come to the conclusion that this is aspirational talk rather than something that we have already achieved. Some of the most interesting things said at the synod were when people said things that suggested that perhaps the church was not quite yet as inclusive as they would like it to be.

Marion Chatterley got us to agree to a gender audit.

Analu Waller reminded us that cutting grants for buildings could mean cutting support for access for disabled people. She also challenged us to go back to our congregations and count the disabled people there and then ask whether we are really an inclusive church.

Ian Ferguson from the big evangelical congregation Trinity Westhill in Aberdeenshire said, “Inclusion is not just about the gay commmunity”. (And everyone nodded along).

I said that the bishops’ current policy on gay blessings and ministry was not something we could all support. (The bishops are directly stating that they are discriminating against gay people for the first time in our history).

And then there was the Faith and Order Board saying that inclusive language amendments to the liturgy would do tucked into the back of the book as an appendix of permitted texts. It was me again, who reminded them that the liturgy committee has been trying to get us to think of liturgy as formative for faith and that making inclusive language merely optional was not really the kind of thing that lots of us are hoping for.

All these things were comments from people complaining that we are not inclusive enough for them. Yet still we say (and indeed our new Primus seemed to reiterate), “We are an inclusive church”. It is a distinct theme and one which needs a bit of thought throughout the church.

What’s the most important next step?


  1. Amen to that. I have been saying for ages, in committees and on the I&C Board I seem to recall, that we can’t put the word ‘inclusive’ in our mission statements because we’re not, for the very reasons you state. And I’m not sure that they all really do want to be inclusive or we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in. It makes my blood boil!

  2. It is a good aspiration though Ruth. I think that it really is the journey that most of us want to travel. The question is, how to we write that narrative into the way we work.

    And the question remains, what is the next step on the road.

  3. (Oh, and by the way, the one bit of exclusive language which I heard at synod which got my gander up was: “behind every good man is a good woman”. Sexist and homophobic and singletonphobic all in one.)

  4. I still get stuck with the recursive-liberal’s dilemma. How does one go about including people who are of non-inclusive inclination themselves?

  5. Good question, Tim, but I don’t think it is impossible.

    I think that you say things like, “You are welcome if you allow others to freely express their own experience of God alongside you.”

    Or, “I want to learn from your experience but can only do so if we agree that you are not allowed to do me harm.”

    Or, “Your gift of collegiality is difficult for us to benefit from, whilst you are discriminating against your brothers and sisters. Let us talk more about this….”.

  6. Eamonn says

    “behind every good man is a good woman”. Yes, that made me cringe too, even though I am the beneficiary of just that kind of support.

  7. Steve says

    While being ‘inclusive’ is an essential aspiration or description – don’t knock the latter, I have heard a certain church in Edinburgh described as ‘the only church where I feel welcome’ – isn’t it a secondary order statement?
    It is surely better and more honest to say ‘We are a Christian church, a Trinitarian church, an orthodox Chalcedonian church….. and therefore we are inclusive.’ This is what our liturgy says, and the inclusiveness is what our liturgy implies. We shouldn’t let the social conservatives monopolise the label ‘orthodox’.

  8. Thanks for your comment Steve. I agree, but that does mean that we have to work hard to make sure that the liturgy really is inclusive.

    I particularly agree that we shouldn’t let the social conservatives monopolise the label ‘orthodox’.

  9. Elizabeth says

    I think this is very important and yes, if we’re going to be aspirational, discussions about what comes next and how to bring inclusiveness to full expression are necessary. For me, liturgical language is crucial, as it goes to the very heart of who we are and what we do. I’m intrigued to here of ‘optional’ inclusive language liturgies. Are such things in existence already, or is this a potential future thing?

  10. Elizabeth says

    Not that lots of other things aren’t also crucial as well!

  11. RosemaryHannah says

    “behind every good man is a good woman”

    Eamonn, one might try: ‘I would not be able to do what I do do without a lot of support from others’.

    ‘My friends have supported me and encouraged in more ways than I can number, and I include my partner in this.’

    ‘I could never try to pay back the debt of gratitude I owe to others, but I will endeavour to pass on the kindness and intelligent help I have received.’

    For me, the very heart of inclusivity is that I will be welcomed for more than my seat on the pew/chair and my money in the box. To include me, the congregation needs to welcome at least something of …me.

  12. Roddy says

    This is not meant to be contentious or rude but, in our attempts to be inclusive, what position, belief or behaviour will we not accept? What will we not welcome? Is every experience and story equally valid? Are we not all victims or proponents of moral relativism.

    Human life and experience is so very complex. I’ve been at the receiving end of compassion and care beyond belief by those that could be labelled racists. I’ve also been snubbed and rejected by those that think themselves liberal and enlightened.

    What is the sine qua non of belief and practice for the SEC?

  13. Roddy says

    FYI I still think the 1662 Prayer Book, if read as allegory and metaphor, is still the fluffy globes of the hound. Or am I hopelessly naive?

  14. Kelvin says

    Hi Roddy – its not a rude question at all. Moral relativism is exactly where we operate from. (And that is especially true for those who claim moral absolutes).

    I don’t think that every story and experience is equally valid. Decisions have to be made by all of us all the time and will tend to depend on circumstance.

    I think that when we are talking about a church describing itself as inclusive, the thing that is being talked about is whether it is either more inclusive of those who have traditionally been rejected than it once was or whether it is better at welcoming such people that other churches.

    One interesting point during synod was when someone described the Scottish Episcopal Church as “smug”. Synod members nodded and smiled at that description and seemed to recognise something in it.

    As to 1662, one of the fundamental metaphors is that we are all worthy of nothing better than hell. (“miserable offenders”, “not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs” etc). It kind of suits our dreich but peculiarly Scottish interpretation of angst rather well.

    However, I think I’d say that one of the things that I preach about is that we are worthy of heaven.

    I also think that its all very well, but its just not terribly good English…..

  15. RosemaryHannah says

    Honestly? I think it is about more that ‘traditionally rejected groups’ – though I would say I have worked as hard as any for many of them. It is about a positive attitude to the wealth of talents possessed by sometimes difficult people. It is about ways of opening up to those who are scary. It is about helping the confidence of those without any.

    You all know this, I understand that. I rarely hear it articulated, that’s all.

  16. Roddy says

    In my branch of the medical profession (haematology in case anyones wondering) we are addicted to classification of disease entities. We labour long and hard in the microscopic vineyard to give a name to things we see and analyse. However hard we try there is always a sub-group that cannot be shoe-horned into a specific group. We call these “—- condition, unclassifiable”.

    Is the SEC the religious equivalent of “—- condition, unclassifiable.” If so, is this a weakness or a strength? If not, what exactly are we? What again is the sine qua non of belief to be a member of the SEC?

  17. Roddy says

    PS This is, and at the same time is not, a rhetorical question. How Anglican am I?

  18. “Behind every good man is a–.” Cristina Parodi wrote in Oggi a couple of months ago, “Behind every great man is a woman. Behind every great woman is nobody. Remember that, ragazze.”

  19. william says

    In all our discussions about the undefined,I notice, ‘inclusive church’ – I seem to remember Jesus words about a ‘broad’road and a ‘narrow’.
    It might be of interest for Kelvin to read through to the end of that particular discourse – especially when he writes about ‘surprises’ for JRW Stott!
    I trust this will not just meet with the unchristian intolerance that this blog is well known for!!!

  20. Indeed, Our Lord did use such language, for example when he talked about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle for a rich man to enter Heaven. Usefully, someone invented a story about a so-called ‘needle’ gate, as part of the general sucking up to the rich and powerful that the church has sadly been prone to and that ‘conservative’ evangelical churches now excel at. No-one takes all of Jesus’ words ‘literally'(if you had given everything you had to the poor would you be typing the above on a computer?)

    I’m curious who regards this blog as an example of “unchristian intolerance”. If memory serves, Kelvin did say that some of the comments aimed at exgay conservative Peter Ould on a thread here were out of line,and this blog has a fair and constructive moderation policy which contrasts markedly with the draconian approach that a lot of evangelical blogs take. It is true that this blog doesn’t tolerate the racism-comparable homophobic abuse that flourishes at ‘orthodox’ sites like Anglican Downstream or Camp Firm, but that’s hardly a bad thing (would you call a Jewish person “intolerant” if they didn’t allow antisemitic abuse or Holocaust denial to be posted on their *personal* blog!?)

  21. Rosemary Hannah says

    Well, even Jean Calvin argued that on this earth it was not up to us to decide who were among the saved and who were not. In that instance, anyhow, I think Calvin was right. Our church is inclusive because we welcome everybody and tell them the good news. Sounds kind of Biblical to me.

    As regards the end of post, I am not quite sure what you mean – but I find this a very open tolerant blog, where most things may be said, as long as the language is kind and tolerant.

  22. william says

    It will always be difficult to know what an Inclusive Church is – by definition – from both sides of the spectrum.
    What about being a Church that is know as a place where Christ’s gospel is preached, sinners are born of God [1 John chs 2b/3] and then live in the community as His newborn brothers [Hebrews 2]?
    That could be a totally inclusive church – not just catering for a limited spectrum in its locality, as Kelvin’s seems to be – by definition.

  23. Kennedy says

    Pity about Jesus’ sisters.

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