Bread or stones?
This week sees us in something of a liminal space – the space between what was, and what is to be. After almost three years of speaking and listening, on Friday we will receive the House of Bishops’ report arising out of the Shared Conversations on human sexuality. There is a palpable sense of anticipation, which has led to me looking both backward, at the journey so far, and forwards, into the future.
Una Kroll has been very much on my mind these past few weeks – staunch campaigner both for women’s ministry in the church and for LGBT equality – ‘homosexual liberation’ in the language of her day. Una died at epiphany, at the age of 91. Her words, “We asked for bread and you gave us a stone!” when the bishops refused once more to move forward the cause of women priests in 1978, seem all the more prophetic and poignant as we face what I believe will be our own ‘bread or stones?’ moment.
In our time, will our leaders be willing to take the risk of following the promptings of the Spirit and moving towards a church which reflects and embraces a range of deep convictions about the place of loving same-sex relationships in our family and community life? Will they be open to the powerful reality of God at work in those relationships, a sign of grace and goodness? Will they enable us to take the risk of reflecting the radical inclusion of the gospel? A gospel which is good news for absolutely everyone, which feeds our souls and spirits and sets us free?
Or will it be another way they choose? The way of rigid denial, of failing to see and hear? Of denying the gifts and blessings God is longing to bestow on all of humankind. A failure not so much of discernment, but of courage and obedience.
At the same time as looking back on Una’s remarkable legacy, last week I was given a glimpse of the future. I met with Nick Bundock, vicar of St James and Emmanuel, Didsbury. Nick spoke to me about the church’s remarkable journey since the tragic death of Lizzie Lowe, whose parents are members of the Emmanuel family (you can read more in Nick’s article in the Church Times here). Nick spoke to me of grief, of confusion, and of the need for reconciliation. But he spoke too of the overwhelming and compelling sense of the need for change – the risk of change, the fear of all it would bring, the pain and rawness of the process – but the absolute impossibility of remaining in the same place. It was a profound and moving conversation, and I know its ripples and deep truth will have a lasting impact on our own work at LGCM.
But Nick also spoke about blessing. As inconceivable as it seems that the death of a 15 year old with her whole life ahead of her could be in any way redeemed – Nick spoke of the blessings that Emmanuel has discerned as a direct result, he believes, of their decision to embark on a journey towards full inclusion. Of course, some have felt led to leave the congregation and have found a new spiritual home – and that is always painful. But Emmanuel is a community characterized by deeper, more honest and authentic relationships, a renewed understanding of sin as that which damages people – an understanding which both challenges and liberates in relation to so many of aspects of our shared life, our social responsibility, our relationships with one another and with the planet.
And Nick spoke about the widening of the church family at Emmanuel – of the small but growing Farsi community now worshipping there, and of the increasing number of people with learning disabilities who have made Emmanuel their home. Because full inclusion means just that, and sends a strong message – everyone is welcome. Absolutely everyone. There has never been a more urgent need for the established church to be sending that message, loud and clear, to a broken and fractured world.
As I drove across the Pennines after my visit to Didsbury, thinking too of Una’s words, my overwhelming sense was this. Whatever we are offered later this week – bread or stones – our leaders need to be able to explain the choices they’ve made to good and holy people like Nick Bundock. To the people of Emmanuel, and to parents whose children are hurting, and continue to hurt, because they can’t imagine being able to reconcile their faith and sexuality.
It really is that simple; anything less sells God, and the gospel, short.
This piece was originally posted just prior to the publication of the Bishops' report GS 2055.