On Sunday February 12th I had a double date at St James’s, Piccadilly as Changing Attitude, England Vice-Chair. The invitation to speak to the church’s LGBT group that afternoon had been followed by another, asking me to preach at the 11am Eucharist and the sermon is available on the St James’, Piccadilly website.
My talk in the afternoon was another airing of ‘Masculinity, femininity – Christ and us’ which I’m very happy to explore with other groups and churches. Here’s the poster from two years ago:
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The first part is my story, and the second half looks at gender through the lens of my biography of the Victorian preacher, F.W. Robertson. The group seemed to enjoy it and, as my friend Mercia pointed out when she introduced me, I’d been invited because it was LGBT History Month. [‘Live long enough and you become LGBT history was my response!’] Two years ago the group had heard a gay man’s story; last year they had heard from a lesbian, so the time had come to hear from a trans person.
It was a lovely way to spend a Sunday, although it had begun quite traumatically as my husband had fallen down the front steps on black ice at 9 o’clock that morning and ended up in hospital – two hospitals in fact. Bravely, he insisted that ‘the show must go on’ and that I continue with these engagements, so leaving him with colleagues I had set out across treacherous pavements to the tube.
My mind, as you can imagine, was elsewhere for some of the time, even when I was preaching at the Eucharist and speaking to the LGBT group, but I couldn’t help noticing how happy people looked. Now St James is well-known as ‘a welcoming and open congregation’ to use our much-loved Changing Attitude, England phrase for an ‘inclusive church’. I knew it only by reputation, but now I could see for myself that everything I’d heard about it was true.
The congregation seemed incredibly diverse – in age, ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation and gender – but everyone seemed to belong, and was this was especially evident when we gathered around the altar in a huge circle for the Eucharistic Prayer and Communion.
It was very moving and later, after the LGBT meeting, I commented on the smiles I’d noticed on some people’s faces while I’d been preaching. ‘I’m just so glad to have found a congregation where I at last feel at home’ was one response. ‘Yes’ someone else added, ‘when it gets to Wednesday I start to think, Oh good! It will soon be Sunday again and time to go to church.’
Such lovely testimonies to what it means to be part of the body of Christ in a particular place. This is what can happen when welcome is real; when everyone, including LGBT people, is valued by their faith community as they are, and assured that they are loved by God. I imagine that St James has its problems, like any other human organisation, but for many of its members it appears to embody the divine society that the Church is called to be. One can only rejoice about that.