Reflecting on the Memorial Service
As the heavens opened, literally, the light, warmth and welcome from Hinde Street Methodist Church was immediately appreciated by all those who walked through the doors dripping wet.
Representatives spanning the many denominations and traditions in Christian faith community sat side by side. The church was full of LGBT+ people and their allies, politicians and leaders, all who feel strongly about the impact of faith exclusion on the suffering and harm to many LGBT+ people of faith.
The atmosphere was initially pensive, with some feeling moved to tears before the service had begun in response to the memorial space created as they, and we, carried those remembered tenderly in both mind and heart. For some, there was tangible shock at seeing faith sector leaders from many different denominations and traditions visibly present and paying respect to the impact the debates around LGBT+ inclusion, have had, and continue to have on those most directly affected – LGBT+ people.
The service followed a simple structure: an outline of why we had gathered, recognising that in many of the debates about ‘who’s in’ and ‘who’s out’, ‘who’s welcome’ and ‘under what circumstances’ and ‘who’s not’, LGBT+ people have often been forgotten, overlooked or silenced. The cost of suffering, the cost of exclusion, and of loss of life, have rarely been acknowledged in the presentation of these debates. We gathered together to acknowledge the cost.
After reflecting on the words of Romans 8:38-39, which states plainly and simply that nothing can separate anyone from the love of God, each person in attendance stepped forward to lay a white flower of remembrance for those who suffer and those we have lost. As the Fourth Choir sang a beautiful tribute, Not One Sparrow is Forgotten, we built a tapestry of flowers. As we sang together, we laid down the words, the actions and the silences experienced in these debates that do not affirm this central foundation of unconditional divine relationship for all.
We paused in a minute’s silence to remember those no longer with us, standing in a grief that for so long has isolated and silenced LGBT+ people, feeling somehow a little less alone as we grieved together.
As a few stray phones rang out with the national alarm testing, it felt somehow poignant, rather than disruptive, that the whole country had received an alarm notification at the same moment that we remembered those we have lost.
We turned our attention to focus on what we have the potential to be and are called onto, and reflected on the image of the one body in 1 Corinthians 12, in which every part of the body is valued, respected and needed in equal measure; in which diversity is strength, more than strength, a necessity, for wholeness. If one part suffers, we all suffer. We recognised just how far we are from the place we need to reach. We recognised the change it would require from everyone in the room; a change we make together, reconciled in grief and in hope.
As the Fourth Choir sang In Paradisium, each person laid their purple flower, as we envisaged the change we so desperately need and acknowledged that it begins with the people gathered together in Hinde Street on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We reached out spanning the diversity in the room and between traditions to create connection between each person gathered, to physically represent the one body we strive to be, listening to the Choir sing Christ Has No Body Now But Yours. Encompassed in this reach and subsequent connection were attendees who long ago decided to stay far away from church community in light of the pain and suffering it had caused, but with great courage and integrity had walked through the doors of Hinde Street for this act of memorial.
It was very simply an image of hope that, despite an honest reckoning of the very real challenges we face, somehow stood tall. It was a compelling image of what we have the potential to be, regardless of where we are, and a symbol of belonging founded on a divine love that knows no bounds. For those few moments, it felt like coming home.
In response to the messages of thanks, appreciation and transformation that have followed, we offer a few reflections on this time spent together on the 23rd April, with an invitation to anyone who reads this and is drawn to being a part of the conversation, to reach out – we’d love to hear from you.
In response to several gracious invitations, we have promised our colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales that we would be delighted to join them to establish a similar time of memorial, closer to home in each of the four nations: we’ll keep you updated.
With every blessing
The Fourth Choir
From left to right: Fr. Lee Taylor, Andrea King, Fr. Jarel Robinson-Brown, Revd Peter Cornick
Photos at the top of the page from left to right: tulips laying in memorial, The Fourth Choir and congregation