Inclusive Church Roadshow

If I was not going to be in Glasgow marrying people tomorrow, I’d be in Edinburgh at the Inclusive Church Roadshow at Old St Paul’s.

It is a one day conference celebrating inclusion. More details on the OSP website here.

The old presumptions that the Scottish Episcopal Church is an open and inclusive church are currently being challenged by the behaviour of the College of Bishops. I rather think that we need things like the Inclusive Church thing whereas once I would have thought it not particularly relevant in Scotland. Wish I could be there – greetings and best wishes to all those going.

[If you’ve not booked and want to go, I recommend just turning up. They couldn’t turn you away when they have a theme like that, could they? Lots of places to get sandwiches and haggis in the Royal Mile if they have catering issues.]

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?