Coming Out as Congregation

Today is a day that is sometimes known as National Coming Out Day. (The nation originally was the USA, I think, but this one has spread a bit around the world and still keeps the same name).

Rather than write anything personal, this time I think it is worth noting that institutions need to come out too. In particular, congregations and even whole denominations need to come out and articulate the fact that they have LGBT people, are accepting of LGBT people, have LGBT leaders, and are never going to hide that fact again. It is important. After all, we would not have come as far on the equal marriage question as we have done without straight people coming out as supportive.

I dare say that some folk get a little weary of me saying that St Mary’s is a place that in a particular way welcomes LGBT people. Indeed, I was reminded by someone with an overview of the diocese recently that there are plenty of other churches which offer the same kind of welcome and acceptance.

My response to that is simple – show me.

Show me where on your congregational website you say anything to counter the notion that frequently appears in every which way in every media outlet going, that churches are opposed to gay relationships. Tell me about the gay group that meets at your church. Introduce me to the youth club kids organising a straight/gay alliance. Point me to out LGBT lay and ordained people in authority roles. Let me hear about gay voices that are heard in your congregation. Tell me when your pastor last said something positive about all this from the pulpit. Speak the word only and my soul shall be saved.

You don’t need to do it all and you don’t need to do it all the time, but if you want to claim to be an inclusive congregation or a welcoming church or whatever other euphemism you have for the welcome that dare not speak its name, you need to do some of it sometime.

Now, just so you are not simply listening to my voice, take a listen to a conversation that I heard last Sunday. It is a conversation involving Gene Robinson (who incidently told me how warmly he remembers his visit to St Mary’s). There’s an interesting bit where he talks about the US church coming out and about how him coming out to the Anglican Communion was like a young child going home to daddy and saying, “Dad, there’s something I need to tell you,” and then wondering whether or not he would still be loved.

Take a listen here.


  1. Ross Kennedy says

    Oh dear me Kelvin – you do go on. Yes I am one of those weary with it all -maybe I should just stop reading your blog. Our church website declares that we are an inconclusive Christian Community. So we don’t acknowledge any differences between gay or straight (silly words) people – we just get on working together for the Kingdom without giving a thought to who or what we are.
    I sometimes wonder just how ‘inclusive’ St Mary’s is. Would an evangelical Christian with a sincerely held traditional view on sexuality be welcome but only if he kept his mouth shut and his opinions to himself? Anyway are there not many other issues that we as a Church should be concerned with – local poverty, drug abuse, unemployment, loneliness etc. etc.

    • Are you familiar with the concept of straight privilege, Ross?

      In any case, to answer your last question, go and read the response of the St Mary’s Vestry to the consultation on equal marriage. You might be surprised at the diversity of opinion represented in it.

    • By ‘traditional view on sexuality’ do you mean the idea that women are property that are first owned by their fathers, and then their husbands?

      Or are you referring perhaps to the belief that one man can have many wives or that a rapist must marry his victim, both sanctioned in the Old Testament?

    • Is this your church website Ross?

      That specifically cites
      “those of all sexual orientations and gender identities” ?

      Curious that your hypothetical evangelical is not on the list. And, speaking as someone with considerable experience in both camps, I think your test case would fair much better than a ‘liberal’ (let alone one actually engaged in the much-demonised “homosexual practice”) in an evangelical church, that tend to be all about the “Family Values”. But ,of course, anectodal evidence is exactly that.

      NB kudos – in all seriousness – for the bit on your website about including people of all classes. Said Alpha-addled evangelical churches tend to be exlusionarily middle/upper class too (but YMMV) .

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    I suspect that a really traditional Evangelical might be upset long before she got to any views on sexuality – by our joyful Corpus Christi and all it implies, by our agonised waiting by the Garden on Maundy Thursday, our kissing the Cross on Good Friday. But then she would love some of our hymns and our Three Hour service on Good Friday.

    Would we welcome her? Yes – as long as her own views were held kindly. Not if she launched personal attacks on those we hold dear. Fine to say: ‘I think gays should be celibate’. Not fine to berate beloved church members who are gay and in relationships. At Uni I used to take of my shoes and tip-toe down a corridor leading to my room because CU members were liable to erupt from it if they heard my foot-fall and to spend yet another hour or two trying to bully me into their way of thinking (not usually over gay issues – many of my thoughts upset their thought police) and I am not up for that kind of thing happening to my friends.

    The actual work of St Mary’s goes on all the time – the ministry to older people, the soup run, the Fair Trade, and our attempts to welcome those with various emotional and learning difficulties. Our members have many issues of love and justice they bring with them and encourage us all to act upon. Gay rights is just one of many. I don’t see us as a one issue congregation. One can act on many justice issues, just as one can care for many friends.

  3. Rosemary Hannah says

    Oh and she (our notional Evangelical) might not like the garland of roses for St Mary the Virgin every Easter, either…

  4. Helen Leslie says

    Refreshing response Ross. I attend St Mary’s quite often with my traditional evangelical views on sexuality and do feel welcome, though whether I’d be brave enough to share my views…. Certainly through attending St marys my attitude has softened enormously. But while I know that St marys welcomes LGBT, I am not sure how welcome a homeless person, a person with obvious addictions or a person who is not middle class and intelligent would be really. I’m with you, welcome has to be for all. But even so I do love St Mary’s!

    • There are issues for most churches (and most social groups) in welcoming people who are perceived to be different but I think that is usually mostly about challenging behaviour. It is the case that there are certainly folk around St Mary’s who are (or have been) homeless, people with addictions both in the congregation and within the 12 step groups that meet here. I dare say there is a distribution of intelligence – but there’s no test at the door.

      One of the reasons we don’t have church meetings in people’s homes is that it is much easier for a socially diverse congregation to meet on ‘neutral’ grounds rather than for one particular class to always be able to offer hospitality. We are also very spread out across the city and beyond.

  5. Rosemary Hannah says

    Certainly I am aware that in the congregation I worship alongside some people who have learning difficulties, and whose behaviour while not actually challenging is enough to suggest social difficulties. Generally I see people being welcoming – and the exceptions to that have not necessarily been any warmer to me so … maybe that is just their social disadvantage.

    But I suspect the difficulty is that if presented with traditional evangelical views I would tend to argue back – and I can see I perhaps need to work harder at a softer debating style.

  6. Fr Dougal says

    In all fairness we tick at least 4 of your “Show Me” points at Spikey Mike’s Kelvin. We are clear on the website as to our welcome, we have a partnered Rector, my last sermon online clearly indicated dissent from the Cardinal’s letter as did the Rector’s letter the week after. Some places in the SEC are near to if not yet up there with St Mary’s.

    • Of course, John, and other churches as well as St Michael and All Saints. The point is more about those that don’t but think they do. And there are a few of those….

  7. Helen your comment has been troubling my conscience for weeks. There is so much public rejoicing, and larking about online, by people like me who never imagined we could feel whole again after the shock of our sexuality at odds with our community of faith. Several times, just sitting in the pews, I was moved to tears by the warmth I experience at St Mary’s. But in that tearful joy new-found, it would be remiss of me to forget the healing and fellowship I experienced in years past in what RC Charismatics call ‘Renewal’. I am aware that Pentecostal and Evangelical spirituality are not the same but it was my closest contact and was a bridge to good friends in the CU while at uni. Although perhaps theologically I owe much to liberal Protestantism, spiritually it is the graced mystery of Catholicism and the integrity of heart of the Evangelical which moves me. Be not afraid to speak the truth as you see it. Anyone who does not respect you for it is playing party politics. I remarked to friends the other day that the Left is terribly keen on free speech as long as it’s leftwing. That can be true also of the liberal wing of the church and by airing your views you may find a surprising variety of positions on sexual, medical and economic ethics, for example, even among those who agree on same sex marriage.

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