One of the most astonishing days of my life

It’s hard to describe what today has been like. It has cascaded from one amazing encounter to another.

Four of us have just been driven back from Hippo Point on the shores of Lake Victoria by Milton, a taxi driver who seemed to appear from nowhere. We had already walked half-way back to town in the absence of a taxi. I began to converse with the driver who said he had spent the day teaching Old Testament Greek to students at a local university and is researching Biblical attitudes to pre-marital sex. He professed to be gay aware and friendly and was critical of the Church for being so .  As I write this blog, I’m told his story might not be 100% true, but he is an ordained Anglican priest.

This morning, Michael Kimindu, Daniel Onyango and I met Bishop Francis of Maseno South. We were welcomed unconditionally. Bishop Francis is fully aware of the presence of LGBTI in church and society, listened to each of us carefully, and assured us that the seminar that followed had his full support. He’d been at Lambeth 1998, went to the GAFCON Conference in 2008 instead of Lambeth, and now deeply regrets that decision – it was a mistake.

He had given his total approval to a workshop that the three of us were there to address. Twenty-five members of the diocese attended the workshop, clergy, lay workers and young people.

Mary, who is in charge of training, lay and ordained, in the diocese, had organised the event and introduced us. Each of us spoke about our respective ministries, Michael and mine in the Church, Daniel’s to the LGBTI community over a wide surrounding area.

The participants were open, ‘Anglican’, comprehensive in their world-view. For over two hours they asked searching questions of the three of us. These were not anti-gay, homophobic Africans but people with a realistic understanding of the complexities of human identity and sexual attraction and a deep pastoral heart. For some, the workshop shed light on experiences in their parishes with people they wanted to affirm pastorally but about whom they were unclear or unsure.

Their desire to learn how to respond appropriately to LGBTI people amazed me – I shouldn’t be so prejudiced, but after the experience of dealing with Anglican Mainstream in the UK and various African Primates and Bishops, I have learnt to be extremely cautious.

Here in Western Kenya, people are longing to engage in the listening process as it was intended to be. The Anglican Communion has been held to ransom for far too long by leaders who are ignorant and prejudiced and the time has come, God’s time, when the Spirit is moving in the hearts and minds of ordinary people who are not prejudiced but want to be enlightened about the varieties of human sexual identities.

We shared lunch together, courtesy of Changing Attitude, and the three of us left, while the 25 reassembled to strategise diocesan initiatives in the light of the morning workshop.

Yesterday morning, Michael and I had discovered that Daniel is active in his local Anglican Church and he is now committed to integrating Changing Attitude into the spiritual work of NYAWEK. As we walked into town following the workshop, he met a lesbian couple, one of whom is the leader of a group in NYAWEK. In conversation, we discovered that she too is an Anglican, something Daniel had been unaware of. She too was excited to discover that there was an Anglican group working for LGBTI affirmation and wanted to become involved.

Later, four of us took a taxi to Hippo Point and sat talking about the workshop. The fourth member, another Anglican priest, a friend of Michael’s, who is studying for a Masters, expressed a desire to be involved in Changing Attitude and agreed to write a paper about the workshop.

From what again seemed like nowhere, two women arrived, one Kenyan and one Australian, and the conversation expanded to include them. The Kenyan is also attending tomorrow’s workshop at the NYAWEK offices for Christian clergy.

I feel as if I’m in a different African world, one more recognisable as Anglican according to the ethos prevailing prior to 1997 and 1998, the years of the Kuala Lumpur Conference and Lambeth 1.10. My Kenyan adventure continues, now with the knowledge that there are many Kenyan Anglicans who are welcoming and open, pastoral and biblically literate. The listening process on African soil has truly begun this week.

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