Occupying space

When I was young I tried to minimise my impact on the world around me. I was uncertain of my place in the world and working hard to minimise my sexual identity. Trying to be small, to be acceptable and to fit into the world around me as a gay man in the closet wasn’t easy. I’m 6ft 2in tall and I have a loud laugh.

My family culture attempted to diminish the impact of the Coward and Styan families on the world we lived in. I learnt that I had not been born to make an impact. Despite that, and somewhat inevitably, the big me escaped from time to time and still escapes, making a not always welcome impact.

I still attempt to minimise my size on occasions, not just in the world out there in social space but also in the inner world of prayer and relationship with God. There are various ways in which we might feel small in the presence of God. We may believe that we ‘should’ feel small and be in awe of the Almighty and Holy. This isn’t a very helpful stance for prayer.

In the parable of the prodigal son and the jealous brother, the father’s heart goes out to his returning wayward son. He runs to meet him, flings his arms around him, kisses him and celebrates with a feast. God’s relationship with creation and with us is one of immense, unconditional welcome and love, always bountiful and outgoing.

The elder brother, living at home in the presence of his father all his life, has never been able to feel the immense, generous love pouring out from his father, potentially sharing everything he has with his son. The brother has never been opened to the experience of being fully accepted, fully alive, fully himself with immense potential for creative change in his own world. He is bitter and jealous and small-minded.

Changing Attitude started in 1995 with a small vision. I could see that unless conversations between different parts of the Church of England were encouraged to take place, there was little hope of movement within the Church. Attitudes change through encounter with difference.

Changing Attitude began to change dramatically through our involvement with the 1998 Lambeth Conference, working alongside Integrity. Our world view and our ambition grew larger. We began to mature as an organisation, structures developed and a board of trustees was appointed.

The challenges have increased in the intervening years, mostly as a result of events external to the organisation. At the trustee meeting last Saturday we were challenged yet again, but this time the challenge is to change from within. We have been challenged to develop our work and resources to a size commensurate with the opportunities for change that present themselves over the next three years. The trustees are thinking about how Changing Attitude can become a more expansive organisation, occupying more space in the Church and having a bigger impact.

To generalise wildly, I think the involvement of LGB&T people with the Church of England has allowed us to occupy the minimum space possible, metaphorically, emotionally and physically. Some manage to break out of the limited space and are more openly gay and more confidently present. Others inhabit minimal space, in the closet, secretly gay, avoiding trouble.

Recent revolutionary events come to mind as I contemplate the possibility of Changing Attitude occupying more space in the affairs of the Church of England. The Occupy Movement is the most obvious, and in particular the camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral which provoked Giles Fraser’s resignation and his decision last week to give up on anger with the Church. The Arab Spring and the occupation of Tahrir Square also come to mind, not that CA is planning anything so dramatic – the courtyard at Lambeth  Palace, anyone?

The Church of England’s own revolution began in the Autumn with the failed vote at General Synod for women in the episcopate. Being the C of E the revolution wasn’t of the dramatically intense variety but the fallout is working its way through the Church and I expect much to change in the next 5 years with an equally intense movement to prevent change.

The challenge to Changing Attitude is to believe that now really is the time when LGB&T people can occupy a more appropriately sized space in the Church commensurate with our numbers and with the energy, creativity and spiritual resources we bring that impact on the Church. One of our tasks is to re-imagine and energise the holy and sacred in life and creation.

Will it happen? Only time and the workings of the Holy Spirit will tell.

What might prevent us? Our tolerance of the small space the Church is willing to let us occupy. The lack of courage that prevents us from letting go of the known, apparently safe space. Fear of becoming the people God has created us to be in all our fullness.

Women in the Church are being confronted with the same challenges. Are women going to fill a space in the Church equal to the space occupied by men?

Changing Attitude is being encouraged to expand, to say yes to God and live more fully into our vision of a more inclusive Church where all God’s children can expand their energy and gifts to fill the space with glory.


  1. Kate says

    Chris Bryant makes the interesting point that every single person who has so far given testimony to the parliamentary committee on same sex marriage for the churches has been male. And though I’ve not watched it all, I think that amounts to 12 – 15 people. Lots of women in small boxes out back there, I think: very telling.

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