Monday evening seems a long time ago, but I took the train from London to Brighton to address the inaugural meeting of Changing Attitude Sussex (which effectively covers the Diocese of Chichester). Around 70 people attended the meeting which was held in the Chapel Royal in North Street, a really beautiful venue.
Both the organisers of the meeting and myself were amazed at the numbers who attended. The clergy persons amongst those present were, of course, a sub-set of gay clergy in the diocese. My hosts pointed out that an unusually large percentage of the 350 priests in the diocese are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. A significant number are members of Forward in Faith and the last place they wanted to be seen was in the Chapel Royal, which is an inclusive church, at a meeting advocating honesty and inclusion for all gay people in the Chichester Diocese.
I wasn’t sure where to pitch my address. Having introduced myself and the ethos of Changing Attitude I opened the floor for questions and an amazingly cathartic hour followed. It was refreshing to hear people speak openly and honestly about themselves as LGBT Christians, about Chichester’s attitudes to gay people, and the stance taken by the bishops.
Amongst the diocese’s bishops there appears to be little real understanding of gay people. There is deep prejudice which creates a climate of fear and mistrust and this makes the lives of gay clergy very difficult. I had hoped to meet John Hind at General Synod and talk with him about Monday evening’s launch, but our paths never crossed. He seems to live in denial of the reality over which he presides – a diocese with so many LGBT people, lay and ordained, whom he probably divides into sheep and goats – those who are anti-women bishops and those who are failing to conform to the church teaching he would want to impose. This is particularly the case in the east of the diocese where the are bishop is president of the Church of England Evangelical Council.
I hope the new Changing Attitude group will bring courage to those who want to change the diocesan culture and bring honesty and integrity to a diocese which, in attitudes towards LGBT and women, is sadly lacking.
The Sussex group will be campaigning to get a number of churches in Brighton to register officially with Changing Attitude as ‘Open and Welcoming Congregations’ to gay people. They also intend to compile a ‘Which Church?’ dossier for gay people dividing churches into four categories from ‘open and welcoming’ to ‘judgemental and rejecting’.
The provisional group convenor, Keith Sharpe, said in a press release:
‘as the British Social Attitudes Survey recently showed, attitudes to same sex relationships have become much more liberal. In the Church however things are getting worse not better. Church leaders increasingly make overt homophobic statements which foster hatred and bigotry and demonise gay people. It is very damaging for gay people’s mental health to find themselves in a judgemental and rejecting church, and we hope that our ‘Which Church?’ dossier will give them the information they need to make an informed choice. We also hope the publicity surrounding the dossier will encourage more churches to reconsider their position and become open and welcoming.’