One day I won’t have to write about faith and sexuality. I don’t see that day coming any time soon but I can hope.
This post isn’t going to investigate the theological in/out, shake it all about around the interpretation of whether being a gay Christian is a fundamental dichotomy, whether I’m going to hell in a handcart or if I’m up a particular creek I’m up without a particular paddle.
Every time I’ve moved house I’ve contacted local churches and canvassed whether I’d be welcome in the church congregation and whether I’d be welcome to take communion (in whatever form that takes within that community). Coming out is both a wonderfully empowering and dreadfully difficult thing to do. The first time I said the words out loud to another person was frightening and I honestly thought the sky would fall. Having to come out to church leaders before stepping through the doors of their place of worship feels weird. Shouldn’t they just take me as I am? Plenty of Biblical precedent exists for welcoming the stranger, loving your neighbour and not wronging the sojourner. (And before you say anything remember we’re not playing the biblical hokey-cokey about whether gays are alright or not)
This is the email I sent to each of the churches in Wrexham in September (searched on the internet for list of churches in Wrexham, looked for places of worship listed on the local council website and used the “findachurch” website):
Hello, I’ve just moved to the Wrexham area and I’m looking for a church to attend. I was hoping you’d be able to outline your church approach to the LGBT community as I’m a gay man and was wondering if I’d be welcome to attend your church, join the community and take communion with you.
It always helps to be polite. My parents raised me to be polite.
These are the responses I received in the order that I received them from the end of September through to today.
- ChristChurch, Wrexham http://www.christchurchwrexham.org.uk/
“ChristChurch seeks to offer a welcome to all & we have fellowshipped with a number of folk in similar circumstances to yourself during our history (1995 to date).
Our communion table being open to all who are committed to following or finding Jesus.
In being fully open & honest with yourself we as a church would teach a traditional approach to marriage & relationships. This would be reflected via sermons & teaching etc when passages or themes we were exploring touch on these subjects.”
- St Giles Church, Wrexham http://www.wrexhamparish.org.uk/
“You are very welcome at St Giles’ and we have gay people and gay couples in the congregation. Our main service is at 11am on a Sunday morning so do come and join us”
- Gateway Church, Wrexham http://www.gatewaychurchwrexham.org.uk/
“You are welcome to come along to any of our Sunday meetings.
As with any new folk looking in at Gateway, I offer to meet up with them for a chat after they have been coming along for a while.”
- St John’s, Wrexham http://www.wrexhamparish.org.uk/index.php/st-john-s
“I’m afraid I don’t think that St John’s is the church for you, however. We do take a fairly traditional, conservative view of the Bible’s teaching about Christian lifestyle, and we have one or two members who would be likely to make things quite uncomfortable for you.
If you’re looking to join an Anglican church, I know that St Giles (in the centre of town) would be very open (and you wouldn’t be the first actively gay member(s) of the congregation). I guess the other Anglican churches would probably take a similar stance. If you’re not concerned about denomination, then you would need to sound out other churches, as you have St John’s.”
- A Healthcare Chaplain said
“Most of the churches in Wrexham would be open and welcoming to you, some more so than others and only a few would be overtly hostile.”
- Bradley Road Baptist, Wrexham http://bradleyroadbaptistchurch.org.uk/
“You would most certainly be welcome to attend our services. Note that we are an evangelical church that aims to derive our theology and practice from God’s Word as given in the Bible. These issues are really beyond the scope of a brief email. You would be welcome to discuss these issues further with us if you did visit the church.”
The responses from church run the full spectrum of opinion. The response that horrified me was from St John’s “we have one or two members who would be likely to make things quite uncomfortable for you”. I really appreciate the candid honesty from the church leader but also something is very very wrong. They’re aware of a problem but don’t appear to be doing anything to fix it or challenge it. If your church is dysfunctional like this you have a duty to work to fix it rather than warn people off coming to your church. There’s a tiny little part of me that’s curious to see how the situation would play out if I did turn up. But as Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins said “ain’t nobody got time for that”.
I also thought the response from ChristChurch and Bradley Road Baptists are interesting. Both come down to: You’re welcome but…
For me, as a person of faith, the message of Christianity isn’t conditional in this way. It’s a freely offered gift, it’s a call to intentional community and the strength of the church community comes from recognising and honouring the differences rather than trying to weed out the people that make us feel uncomfortable.
I emailed Wrexham Council asking if they would make it clearer on their website which churches were welcoming and affirming of LGBT Christians. They came back saying the list was out of date. Then a member of staff kindly got in touch and said that he didn’t think any churches in Wrexham were affirming and welcoming of LGBT Christians. I’m glad that’s not the case.
Some thoughts looking back over the interactions with the various church leaders:
1) Make sure your church website is up to date.
2) If you put an email address on your website make sure it’s checked, consider putting an automatic acknowledgement outlining how long people can expect to wait for a reply.
3) Make it really really easy for people to find you, contact you and make sure you respond.
4) If your church is welcoming of LGBT people don’t hide that fact. Tell them, make it clear on your website, on your church notice board and make it a reality in the way you behave in church.
Inclusive Church: http://inclusive-church.org.uk/
Accepting Evangelicals: http://www.acceptingevangelicals.org/
Not All Like That Christians Project: http://notalllikethat.org/
Gay Church: http://www.gaychurch.org/
Gay Christian: https://www.gaychristian.net/
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement: http://www.lgcm.org.uk/