“God is an intelligible space whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God is within all things, but not enclosed, outside all things, but not excluded, above all things but not aloof, below all things but not debased. God is supremely one and all-inclusive, God is therefore ‘all in all’” (1 Corinthians 15.28).
St Bonaventure (1217 – 1274)
This July will mark the eighteenth anniversary since Changing Attitude was formed to work for the full inclusion of LGB&T people in Anglican churches. The work of inclusion has evolved into a campaign for full inclusion which will spread ultimately to every Province of the Anglican Communion.
Our vision continues to evolve. Full inclusion means just that – the full inclusion of every person created by God, not in the Church of England or the Anglican Communion but in the Kingdom of God which is the image Jesus held constantly before his disciples.
We are campaigning on an issue which has huge implications for the Church and the Kingdom of God. In England we are campaigning in parallel with WATCH’s campaign for the full inclusion of women in the Church. Inclusive Church extends the vision to include race, colour, social status, disability and other groups of people for whom the Church has yet to become the fully welcoming, fully inclusive body of Christ.
Now, our vision is extending beyond full inclusion. In God’s economy of salvation, inclusion is really a second order concern, fundamental but ultimately secondary to the transformation of human lives, society and church through our encounter with the intimate and infinitely generous, self-giving, unconditional love of God. Changing Attitude is being drawn to proclaim an even more challenging and transforming message.
The Church maintains a system of worship and order, rules and habits which do not have as their focus the opening of people’s hearts and minds, souls and bodies, to God’s infinite, indiscriminate love. The system controls and inhibits the freedom of the Church as an institution and the local church as the body of God’s people, to believe and trust in our calling to live into the Kingdom
The Church is doing the reverse, maintaining a system which closes people down and keeps them in a state that is disconnected from the energy and intimate love of God. Too many of us have lived for too long as faithful members of the institution but knowing that something vital and fundamental was missing from our Christian experience.
The way into a deeper experience of God’s love was opened for me by Mark Santer, Rowan Williams, John Armson and other members of Westcott House staff in the years 1997-99, and alongside Robert Atwell, Chris Foster and Nick Holtam, now bishops, and Malcolm Brown now at Church House and Tina Beardsley, now a CA trustee.
I maintained my commitment to the way of prayer and meditation initiated at Westcott despite sometimes feeling lonely and depressed in a Church which lacked imagination and vision (notwithstanding the flair of Mervyn Stockwood, Roy Williamson, Keith Sutton, Peter Selby and others in Southwark).
The Way continued for me, opening a flourishing independence of mind and heart leading to counselling and therapy, training as a body psychotherapist using massage and eventually to the founding of Changing Attitude. I have felt as if I was swimming in the wrong pond much of the time, when in reality I was swimming into the deeper waters of God’s profound and indwelling love.
Around me, the world of the Church of England, although filled with many really beautiful people, looked increasingly weird, with many, many people who are living in a personal world that is disconnected from the God who was continuing to inspire me. Some in the Church became more and more obsessed with the question of my sexuality.
Those appointed to higher office in the Church (and many, lay and ordained, appointed to any office in the church (especially involving music) genuinely believe that God is more interested in appointing gatekeepers as bishops, priests, parish administrators, organists and choir leaders. People are appointed to patrol the church and the world, determining who is and is not a true believer and therefore acceptable or unacceptable to God. Church welcome is often very conditional.
This is clearly insane. Haven’t these people read the gospels or Paul? Well, of course they have. To suggest otherwise would be stupid. They are people who say they are Bible-believing Christians, standing firm and holding fast to mainstream orthodox Christian belief and truth. These are people who have tragically lost their way in the narrow confines of orthodoxy, intelligent, educated people in whom the spark of divine life struggles to enlighten their inner world.
Richard Rohr describes this whole tragic, painful scenario in Immortal Diamond, his most recently published book. Richard, a Roman Catholic Franciscan priest in New Mexico, has escaped the confines of deadening Church orthodoxy and practice. He is a contemplative who is alive with the love, compassion, vision and energy of the life-giving, indwelling, true God.
What do we do, we who have been faithful members of the Church and whose imaginations, hearts, souls, bodies and minds have been set free by God to live expansively and creatively?
Do we abandon the Church which is so constricting and un-alive and sometimes deadly for the health of our souls and spirits – or do we speak more confidently within and to the Church about the God we already know, God who revels God-self in transcendent glory to straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and to all prophetic, unconventional people?
It’s like coming out all over again (and those who have come out at LGB or T will know that coming out is a process that once started, never comes to an end). How do the contemplatives and prophets within our Church gather the confidence to come out to and proclaim what we know in the core of our being, that God is infinite love, alive and passionate in our souls and bodies, intimately transforming all relationships?
Who is going to bring the confidence to those individuals in churches and deaneries and dioceses and on General Synod and in Church House and the House of Bishops, opening them to talk about their personal encounter with God to a Church unable to resolve conflicts about gays and women because of a lack of confidence in the truth that God loves us all equally? Any discrimination is a failure to affirm the incarnation of God’s unconditional love in every human life.
Creating Spirit, brooding over the formless deep,
breathing life into all that is coming to be,
we open our flesh that you may breathe through us.
From the depths of your being
we praise you for the surge of life.
Holy Spirit, cleansing and cool from the mountains,
breathing into us air that is sharp and astringent,
we wait for the gift of holiness that is yours alone.
From the depths of our brokenness
we praise you for the balm of healing.
Life-giving Spirit, wind from every quarter of the earth,
breathing into our dry bones that they may live,
we lie as dead before you, silent as the grave.
From the depths of our decay
we praise you for the rise of new life.
Out of the Silence … Prayer’s Daily Round: Jim Cotter; A canticle for Pentecost, p487