An Engagement in Lockdown
Last month, my partner and I got engaged. The Saturday evening I asked, I think it took us both by surprise. We were just starting to settle into life in lockdown, suddenly spending all our time together, more reliant on each other for comfort and support and then, before I knew it, the question was out – thick with expectation.
I realise in hindsight it was a weird time to get engaged, but when you know you know right? There’s not much planning we can do in lockdown really, and goodness knows if we’ve got any idea about a date. However, what we do know, despite the celebration, the joy, the cards and gifts through the post and the congratulations on zoom, is that when we do tie the knot, we’ll be getting civilly partnered, not married, and it won’t be in our church, the church we first met, the church we fell in love.
As a result of our genders, it is not possible for us to get married in a Church of England Church. Fine, you say, it sucks, it hurts and it’s unfair, good riddance! You can get married somewhere else (maybe at a URC or Unitarian church, or a Quaker meeting house) and have prayers of blessing and you’ll work out a way.
Yes, but…I’m also on one of those ‘vocational journey’s’ and a marriage to my female partner would effectively close the door on a way of life, a rhythm, a role, that I feel God is calling me to, whenever that may be. By making a lifelong commitment to the person I love, I also don’t want to shut out, potentially forever, to where I think God might be releasing or sending me. So, yes, with all the joy and the celebration and the wonderful life giving support from our church community, it is also tinged with sadness and pain, disappointment and loss that such an option is not currently possible.
Now I know that God exists in everything and everyone, and will exist in our private civil partnership, in our huge party, and through our own creation of worship and liturgy (outside of a Church of England building) because God is all in all. However, despite these deeply held theological beliefs it doesn’t half feel a bit unfair, and you know what, in this time of lockdown, ever more obvious that this inequality is not just daft, or discriminatory, but it models exactly what I think Jesus calls us not to be, exclusionary.
The Church of England, like everyone else has had to adapt to a pandemic, a crisis, a new way of living of epic proportions. Suddenly our reliance on the parish, weekly giving, church plants, evangelism, church structures, the Eucharist, leadership, doctrine, systems and buildings look altogether very different. Suddenly we have been sent out, whether we like it or not to live and cope in this new and uncertain world. It is a liminal and transient time where we don’t know which way is up. It’s like our Christian theology has been thrown into the air and we’re desperately trying to catch the pieces as they fall. On good days, like today, I think this is a jolly good thing. The Church of England has been increasingly questioned and criticised as an out of date fringe institution. The relatively recent publication of that pastoral guidance only rings true to that belief. However, one of the big ecclesiological ‘things’ that keeps feeling like an Anglican is that the Church of England is also fallible, deeply human and like everyone who ever steps into a church building, always in need of forgiveness and grace. This is not a bad thing, we create structures that don’t always work in the way they were intended to and it’s our responsibility to shift, change, and develop, as God works through us, opening up new and exciting possibilities. Often, I find it difficult to defend it, it feels like the opposite of the call of Mary in the Magnificat, the structure is the mighty, and it’s not setting the people free. In this new uncertain world where suddenly the church doesn’t have so much power, where people are realising they no longer need church buildings to encounter Jesus and where their desire for the Eucharist is good enough it raises big questions about the institution and even bigger questions about the state of belonging, especially in a denomination that has in the past been very quick to say who is, or isn’t in the ‘club’.
My hope is that when we meet again, because we will meet again, in parish rooms or in house groups, Sunday mornings and midweek gatherings that we will be kinder, gentler and really push for social justice and equality. We’ve suddenly been taught what it’s like to lose each other, sometimes much more painfully than we could have ever expected, and it this absence that I hope will bring us closer to each other and to God.
Maybe, instead of fighting about who gets to get married where, obsessing over the mutual consensual sex life of a priest and their spouse or partner, and then wondering why people don’t feel the Church of England speaks for them, we could actually use this time to learn about friendship, generosity, mutual self-giving beautiful love that exists in the relationships of so many queer couples, so many Christian queer couples. Maybe, as church buildings seek to find their place again, they can open their doors, resist oppression, challenge silence, bring hope to their community and accompany everyone making life long commitments through blessing, love and friendship.
It’s awful that it’s taken a pandemic for us to question our privilege, our power, our structures of safety, but when everything is stripped away, it really challenges us, calls us, empowers us to not take the easy route, to hope for something more, to really embody what it means to be an equal disciple of Christ.