When I was on my pre-ordination retreat before being ordained deacon, I found myself even more restless and emotional than I expected to be. I decided to go speak with the person guiding us through those two days. I burst into tears before I could even sit down, crying so hard, I could barely speak.
‘It’s not God,’ I managed to say. ‘I know I’m called by God to be a priest. It’s not what I would ever have imagined for myself. I am scared. But I know this is what I am called to.’
She smiled as I laughed at my own ridiculousness and inability to express what I really wanted to say.
‘It’s the Church,’ I sobbed. ‘The institution. I just don’t think I can do this. I don’t know that I have the strength to part of an organisation that causes so much hurt to so many people. It’s so much more comfortable to remain on the margins, ready to run when it gets bad.’
* * * * *
Just months before, I had been having a conversation with a gay man I love very dearly, and he was asking about equal marriage and the Scottish Episcopal Church. I explained our canon law and its restrictions. I also explained how the church in which I was going to be serving my curacy had been blessing same-sex relationships for decades.
‘But,’ I told him, looking him straight in the eyes, ‘I believe in marriage equality. I believe that human love and relationships which reflect God’s love for us should be celebrated and blessed. I feel strongly enough about this to do whatever is necessary to be able to solemnise a marriage between two people of the same sex, and if it looks as though it will never happen, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay.’
* * * * *
In a completely different context, on a completely different issue, I heard Palestinians say over and over again, ‘You stand by in silence and do nothing. That’s what hurts us. That’s what confuses us. Why don’t you speak about the injustice here?! Why don’t you act?!’
* * * * *
This past week, I’ve had these conversations playing on a loop in my mind. For the first time since I was ordained, I have felt ashamed to wear my dog collar. My heart is breaking for my LGBT family, friends, and colleagues. And I am angry at — and deeply sorry for — my own past silence.
At heart, I am a reconciler and a pastor. I don’t shy away from conflict, but I do shy away from division. I want to listen to what hurts. To heal what is wounded. To bind up the brokenhearted, as the psalmist puts it.
I think the recent statement from the bishops on the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014 has done a lot of harm, regardless of whether that was its intent or not. Plenty has been written about it elsewhere (Changing Attitudes has a good overview), and, though I do not agree with all that has been written, I have little to say that has not already been said.
But, ironically, I have hope that a lot of good may come from this.
It’s the kind of good that only happens when the Spirit sails freely above the constraints of the institution, stretching Her wings widely as She suddenly takes full flight.
The past week has been full of difficult conversations, conversations which have kept me awake at night, conversations which have forced me to my knees in prayer, conversations that have left me in tears with frustration and confusion. But they have been the best kind of conversations because they have been so honest: they have shattered assumptions, bridged divisions, and some have unexpectedly been suffused with gentleness and grace.
But what gives me real hope is that I hear people talking again about what drew us to the SEC in the first place, the kind of leadership that has inspired us, the prophets who challenged us, the ministry we felt called to, the prayer that roots us.
There is work still to be done. So much work. Hard work. Without a doubt. There will be more difficult conversations. And more division will likely come before reconciliation.
As I was reminded on that pre-ordination retreat, the Church is Christ’s. And Christ loves the Church, his bride. He loves her despite all her flaws and foibles. He loves her despite her wandering eye and her repeated affairs with power and worldly recognition. And he calls her again and again back to himself and the pure love he has to offer.
I want to renew that promise I made before I was ordained to do everything I can to ensure that we are able to solemnise all marriages in Scottish Episcopal churches, irrespective of the sex of the two persons involved.
I will still listen. I will still try to heal. I will still try to reconcile. But friends, I will no longer silently stand by and do nothing as I watch the hearts of those I love be broken.
At the moment, darkness and hurt and confusion abound, but in the midst of it all, in this Advent-time of hopeful anticipation, the Spirit is moving. Something is quickening here, now.