Changing Attitude held a Consultation in Holy Trinity Church, Smethwick on Saturday to develop our campaign for the Church of England to adopt permissive legislation to enable Civil Partnerships to be conducted and blessed in church. The Consultation took the form of a World Cafe event, with groups of 5 in conversation around tables in a cafe environment. Those participating were welcomed with tea, coffee, home-made muffins and music from the Pet Shop Boys.
Ben Bradshaw MP arrived at the Consultation on his way to the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool and joined the table conversations. In his keynote address, he described having been born into a clergy family in Norwich. He was brought up in the Vicarage, has been open ever since he became aware of his sexuality, and never found it a problem as a Christian. He is in a Civil Partnership and the African members of the congregation at the Anglo-catholic church where he worships in London stood and applauded when it was announced.
He stood as a candidate for the Labour Party in the marginal Exeter seat in 1997 against Adrian Rogers for the Conservatives, of the Conservative Family Institute which campaigned against homosexuals and abortion. The campaign was vitriolic and bitter. Dr Rogers insisted that gays and lesbians, who he described as having a ‘deviant lifestyle’ should not be allowed to stand for the Conservatives. The result was not even close, Ben being elected with a majority of over 11,000.
Ben had not expected the legislative programme pursued by Labour Government which enacted such far-reaching reforms for LGB&T people. He is now a member of the Ecclesiastical Committee and is prepared to raise questions about the role of the Church of England as the Established Church when it is resistant to the status of LGB&T people in civil society and unwilling to open doors for the blessing and conduct of Civil Partnerships.
A theme evolved from the first round of cafe table conversations in the morning. Almost every table had raised the question of the voice of the laity and of grass roots opinion in the Church of England, for whom equality for LGB&T people in church simply isn’t a problem, whether as lay people, priests or bishops. The problem lies with our archbishops, bishops and a minority of clergy, General Synod, and those individuals and groups campaigning against gay blessings and partnered clergy.
This question was constantly revisited – how do we give voice to this groundswell of lay opinion and experience? How do we show the bishops this reality and how do we persuade them to stop being afraid of conservative pressure groups and of opinions elsewhere in the Communion, opinions which are contrary to the teaching of our Church? How do we encourage our bishops to have the courage of their convictions and state publicly what they believe (and do) in private?
We enjoyed a fabulous lunch of vegetable lasagne or a chicken dish, cooked that morning in the church kitchen, and at a pause in the afternoon conversations, more home-made cakes were served with the tea and coffee.
A huge range of ideas evolved in the course of the day and were written up on flipcharts and post-it notes. The next step will be to collate the ideas and bring them to the trustee’s residential meeting at the end of October in Holy Rood House, Thirsk. We will build our campaign over the next two years as we work to persuade the C of E to be permissive in its response to the Civil Partnerships in Religious Buildings Legislation.
With your help we can make a difference.