Greenbelt’s theme this year is ‘In the long now’. It relates to a legend about the 14th century founders of New College Oxford:
They built the dining hall with a series of huge oak beams. 500 years later when the beams needed replacing they sought to find out if there were any oak trees on their land which might do the job. ‘Ah…’ said one of the tenants who farmed the land, ‘we wondered when you’d be in touch’. It turned out the farmers had a tradition that back in the 14th century, a new grove of oaks had been planted to make up for those being cut down to provide the dining hall beams. The story was passed through the generations, and the oaks were protected, set aside for New College.
In an age of ‘do it now’ and the instant decision, when waiting times are always coming down, and the destination always trumps the journey, the idea of the ‘long
now’ is deeply resonant for people of faith.
To plan for a present we may never experience, to long for a world we may have left before it arrives. What would it be like if gratification was not instant, and the waiting had not been taken out of the wanting?
These words are hugely relevant to LGBT people right now. It goes without saying that those of us who are able to be out with integrity in our families, workplaces and churches today owe a massive debt of gratitude to those who had the resilience and courage to step out and be who they were, despite the often dire consequences for them personally.
But it also has huge resonance for the situation in the Anglican church today. When ++Rowan spoke out a few weeks ago, it felt like a huge slap in the face for many of us. How could we be expected to abandon our partners and put our vocations on hold for ten, twenty years or more whilst we waited for the rest of the church to come to terms with our reality? At a time when even Spring Harvest were starting to engage in dialogue with LGBT people, and recognise the validity of our lives, families and faith, it felt extraordinary that the Church of England was proving so intransigent. Some of us even talked about giving up and leaving.
In Jeff Heskins’ second seminar today, about the issues faced by LGBT people who felt a vocation to enter church leadership, we heard from three people who had been told to not mention their sexuality in the selection process, and given tips to avoid having to answer direct questions about it. All three of them felt that they could not do that. Their calling was linked to who they were as LGBT Christians, and they could not work within the church without their integrity. They are all seeking ways of living out their vocation outside the Church of England.
‘The long now’ reminded me why we carry on fighting. It might not be for our vocations and our partnerships, or those of our contemporaries. It might simply be that we are fighting for a church where our LGBT children and grandchildren can live with integrity. And that’s worth fighting for.
In the meantime, we will mourn the vocations which have been trashed. We’ll mourn the LGBT people who have been forced out, and made to carry out their journeys of faith outside the church. And we’ll apologise to their friends and families who have been left to wonder how the church has managed to reduce 2000 years of Christianity to a message about the wrongness of LGBT people.