Changing Attitude and Integrity members welcomed friends and supporters to St Stephen’s playing field on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Communion together and pray for the Lambeth Conference and the bishops gathered in Canterbury.
People began to arrive from 12.30, to a site which we had been preparing for the previous three hours. Balloons and rainbow windmills defined the space for the service. Scaffolders had erected a platform for the altar, an altar frontal had been painted by Tracey from the CA Lincoln group, wine and pitta bread had been bought, and sandwiches made for bishops and those without their own food. Groups sat and ate while film crews set up and started to record.
Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, was interviewed by Nick Higham for BBC TV news, and the whole service was broadcast live on the BBC parliament channel. Interviews with Davis Mac-Iyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria, and with other members of congregation, were recorded.
Some 170 of us were present, the first time at a Lambeth Conference that so many LGBT people had gathered visibly to pray and worship in one place. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, preached a powerful sermon, available on her blog http://inchatatime.blogspot.com/ and a video recording here: http://www.episcopal-life.org/81231_ENG_HTM.htm#global_top
The atmosphere was one of great joy and thanksgiving coming together under a classically British summer sky – periods of bright sunshine interspersed with clouds and spots of rain. People sang with passion, listened intently, exchanged the peace with deep joy and received communion with open hearts and deep thanksgiving to God.
Was this a Lambeth event or not? We met off campus, not part of the official Lambeth programme. It is not possible to celebrate a Eucharist, on campus for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Anglicans – yet. The day will come, in 10 or 20 or 30 years, when the Communion welcomes LGBT people with open arms. The ministry of women as priests and bishops is not yet universally acknowledged or welcomed across the Communion, but the year will come when bishops of both genders will gather in more equal numbers in Canterbury. LGBT people will have to wait a little longer before we can be more visibly present.
Sunday afternoon marked another significant step on the journey to full inclusion. The epistle was read by Davis Mac-Iyalla, one of the intercessors was a lesbian from Nigeria. We are slowly becoming more visible, and visibility is the first step towards conversation and listening.
Our team in Canterbury includes LGBT and LGBT-friendly people from Canada, England, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and the USA. Next week, the Changing Attitude fringe event on Tuesday will bring even more LGBT Africans to Canterbury to enable the bishops to listen to African voices. We hope many will come and hear for the first time LGBT Anglicans from Africa witness to their faith and to the integrity of their sexual identities in Christ.
There are tensions around. Distributing fliers advertising the Sunday Eucharist, some bishops refused to receive a copy and one explained at length something I already knew – that in his country, and according to his reading of the Bible, lesbian and gay people were regarded as sinful and were not accepted by the church. It was a one-sided conversation, but at least we met and talked respectfully together. That’s a great first step.
We are not walking apart, those of us gathered in Canterbury. We are walking together, tentatively in many cases, to greater understanding of one another and our common discipleship in Christ. Sunday’s service was a step of greater visibility for LGBT people. The conversations we have over the next fortnight will create new relationships, melt defenses and bring more tolerance and understanding of God’s creative diversity.