A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Church of England is a relatively small world, so it always surprises me that there is another Fr Lee Taylor serving as a priest, although to be fair he now serves in the Church in Wales. For some reason I am frequently confused with him, although other than a beard we don’t look that similar. I have had emails, phone calls and social media contact all meant for the Other Fr Lee. So, imagine my not so surprise at turning up at the Lambeth Conference to collect my security pass to see the face of the Other Fr Lee smiling up at me. When I pointed it out to the person checking me in the response was, “Oh, I thought you’d changed” given that the Other Fr Lee is younger, thinner and much more photogenic than me I can only assume they meant changed for the worst!
The conference that began with a case of mistaken identity carried on in that vein really. I had felt quite nervous traveling down to Canterbury, rather like Daniel being thrown into the lions’ den, when they rolled the stone away at the end of the conference would I be found eaten alive by the homophobia or indifference of the Anglican Communion? So, it was with some nervousness that I walked to the stand that we were staffing, along with three partner organisations, wondering what the sea of purple clad bishops would make of it all. It would be a while before I found out, turns out they were on retreat for two days! But for the first two days I was there a steady stream of other exhibitors, stewards, chaplains, volunteers and bishops’ spouses made their way to the stand to thank us for having a presence, for being there. I may have had grandiose visions of challenging bishops by my presence, but in reality the real impact was among the LGBTQI+ people who were there to serve and support and who felt safer knowing we had a presence. We forget to our peril that the Church isn’t just about the leaders who have the voices, but the faithful service day in and day out of fellow disciples, serving Jesus in a Church that often doesn’t see them or they feel doesn’t want them.
Once the bishops began to make their way to the resource centre it was my turn to be on the other side of mistaken identities. My own prejudices and assumptions meant that when some bishops approached I physically tensed expecting some kind of push back or discussion. In fact, this rarely happened to me. But from some of those bishops and their spouses that I had wrongly identified as hostile I heard of LGBTQI+ children who they wanted to assure had a place in the Church, I heard of faithful LGBTQI+ clergy serving parishes, and I heard of organised groups for LGBTQI+ people in the Amazon and other places. These were the bishops and spouses that I had expected not to take our rainbow lanyards, but who took them to wear and to take home, who proudly and enthusiastically asked for their photo to be taken with us, who whenever they passed the stand would wave, smile, say hello and proudly show their lanyards. Other bishops that I thought would be supportive managed to not quite get to the stand, or when offered a lanyard replied, “I’ll leave that to others,” and who disappeared before a camera appeared.
There was another case of mistaken identity happening throughout the conference. The actual physical gathering felt a completely different experience from the online statements, reactions and commentary. Now, let me be honest, it was in no way a massive love in, there were tensions that could be felt, but there was also vocal and visible support. Did anything massively change for LGBTQI+ Christians? If I said yes you probably wouldn’t believe me, and that’s partly the fault of the Communion for not being bolder and more vocal about what did change. If I say it was nuanced, you’ll roll your eyes and say that the world that is watching us doesn’t care about our nuances, which would be fair. But to mistake the Anglican Communion as an institution belies the reality that it is a network of relationships, and in those relationships something did change. As people heard each other’s stories, about a whole range of issues, hearts and heads were changed. Those Provinces that previously felt they were out of relationship with the Communion for accepting same-sex marriage (and who the Archbishop of Canterbury was coming under a lot of pressure to break relationship with) have now been confirmed as being in complete relationship with the Communion. The threat of sanction or expulsion has been completely dismissed. That may take some time to filter down to the reality of the day-to-day existence of LGBTQI+ Christians but it is a massive change for the better, and gives scope for a potential positive outcome in the Church of England, depending on the outcome of Living in Love and Faith at General Synod.
There is a lot more that can be said, a lot more to process, a lot more that may well come out of this Conference. But one thing I came away with, tired, hot, frustrated and pleased in equal measure is that while the debates and statements and commentary fly around us, the quiet conversations of support, of encouragement and of blessing confirm that there is no mistaken identity in knowing that we are children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made as we are as LGBTQI+ Christians. The God who creates us, forms us, shapes us and who is calling us into being as who we can be is the God who knows us completely and loves us eternally. God’s Church for God’s World includes you and me, the work of OneBodyOneFaith continues to advocate for that on the larger structural levels but also at the most fundamental level of local relationships and flourishing of individual LGBTQI+ Christians. The Lambeth Conference happens every 10 (or 12) years, we continue the work every day.
Fr Lee Taylor, Volunteer Chaplain to Rhythm