Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dear Church of England: from a gay ordinand.

NB: This was written prior to my selection conference in November. I've since heard back and I've received a positive recommendation to train for ordination.

Dear Church of England,

It's me. I'm one of yours - one of the very small cells way out on your western limb. You don't know me very well, but I'm part of you, even if you don't notice me most of the time.

It's been a long journey, CoE. From finding in you a warmth and embrace I'd never known, and the unlikely friendship we struck up, to that strange moment two years ago when we looked at each other and suddenly realised we were both thinking the same thing about priesthood. The past two years have taken us on quite a rollercoaster, haven't they? You've been busy grappling with grumpy synods and a restless global communion, I've been busy grappling with the bells at eucharist and how to girdle an alb.

And now it's all coming to a head. In seven days time I will arrive in Cambridgeshire for three days of intense, gruelling assessment. I'll meet a panel of strangers who will poke and prod into each darkened corner of my personality, penetrate me with questions, observe and note my reactions. Then they'll sit and pray and come up with a report deciding whether or not to recommend me for ordination training.

This is it, CoE. This is the moment that decides the rest of my life. 

So I have something to say, just before I go. I want you to know what it is you're asking of me.

I'm gay, Church of England. I'm gay and I want to give you me.

I'm offering you myself: my hands and feet, my energy, my time, my intellect, my career. And I'm doing it gladly, because I believe in you. You're asking me to give you my entire life in service, to lay it down on behalf of the poor, needy, vulnerable, wounded and lost. You're asking me to work six days a week, sometimes for fourteen hour days, to live on the job, and to bring my family with me. I understand that. That's the call.

But, apparently, for me the call is more.

For me, I'm only allowed to serve you if I'm celibate for the rest of my life. I'm never allowed to marry the woman I love – or I'll be sacked (you've made that clear). I can never bless a marriage of friends who share a gender. And according to this transcript released last week, I can never become a bishop unless I am silent about my sexuality.

I love you. I love your bumbling, old-fashioned, slightly pompous traditions. I love your terribly English lack of cool. I love your willingness to roll up your sleeves and get stuck into the very ordinary mess of life, from foodbanks to Wonga to school assemblies.

But this – this is wrong.

You tell me that the reason I have to be silent is because bishops are a focus of unity. You tell me the conservatives will leave if you change the rules. You tell me the African churches will kick up a raucous tantrum if I'm seen to be accepted by you. You tell me I have to be silent, to be patient, to put up with the abuse. You tell me it's my cross to bear.

Well here's the thing. I love you. I love my conservative brothers and sisters. I love my African family. But I am exhausted with you sacrificing the LGBT community on the altar of a false unity.

We have borne the brunt of your fear of conflict for decades. We have hidden ourselves away, tucked our loved ones out of sight, for fear of upsetting our delicate counterparts. What is the cost of your strained harmony? It is our lives, our families, our happiness, our wellbeing.

Did you know that I ended a two year relationship to pursue ordination? Did you know that I wrestled with this call until I bled from the pain and the anguish of it? Did you know that I spent months weeping because I had to follow where God was calling, but how could I, when you demand I be celibate forever, and I don't have that gift? Did you know that deep in the depression this triggered, I came to the conclusion that suicide was preferable, because my only other options were to deny God's call (impossible) or to force my sexuality into repression and go without love and companionship?

And your communion is fraying. You confuse unity with agreement. You allow yourself to be held to ransom by selfish, loud voices who demand we disappear or they'll walk. You sacrifice your LGBT children so that those who refuse to live with difference get their own way. And you barely acknowledge the sacrifice you make of us.

Like I said – I love you. I even respect you. In seven days time, I will walk into a room full of strangers and tell them why I want to offer you a lifetime of service. But while I make this sacrifice, I want you to be honest about all the other, secret sacrifices you demand I make - and why, and for whom.

With love, prayers, and a dusty, stubborn hope,