Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greenbelt - OuterSpace Eucharist

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend I joined a group of church friends to camp at the Greenbelt festival at the Cheltenham Racecourse. Greenbelt is a Christian arts, faith and justice festival, which has been going for 39 years. This year's theme was Paradise Lost and Found.

I had an amazing time. So much to see and do! Talks on the environment; on ethical economics; on Muslim-Christian interfaith action; on an atheist's perspective of hope ...  much fun and fellowship with old friends and new ... Yoga in the morning; morning prayer with the Franciscan monks; Sunday Communion service with 15,000 fellow believers; sitting in silence with the Quakers; an Anglican charismatic Evensong ... live music; street performers and foraging for tea ...

The most memorable event of all was probably the communion service held by OuterSpace, a group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) Christians, and their family and friends. It is a group which is committed to the Church and to helping everyone find their way in the Church, no matter what their background.

I had decided to go along, because I wanted to stand with my homosexual brothers and sisters. I am aware of the continuing theological discussions and debates about homosexuality - but all that aside I wanted to show my love and support by sharing the bread and wine with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

On the evening before I had talked with another friend and we had pondered how a 'gay communion service' may be different from any other. "Perhaps it is more flamboyant" my friend mused, thereby throwing us both headlong into a fine stereotype which heterosexual people have of homosexual ones ... and I began to expect something like the Gay Pride of eucharists.

On the morning, as I entered the venue and left my muddy wellies at the door (did I mention it was a very muddy weekend??), I looked around the hundred or so people sitting on the floor. Not a stiletto or a false eyelash in sight!
What I saw was a group of ordinary people, and - apart from those who were clearly couples by their body language, how close they sat or how they related to each other - there was no telling as to who was and who wasn't ...

So how then was this service different to other communion services I have been to?

The answer is simply that it was the most gentle and welcoming and healing communion service I have ever been to!
By the words of the service and their tenderness, and by the warmth and encouragement in which they were spoken I understood something about the people who were present.
I understood that amongst the congregation gathered in this special service, there were people who had never told anybody in their own church about their sexual orientation for fear of repercussions; there were people who had left their church (or perhaps even their faith) because of the treatment they had received; there were people for whom this OuterSpace service once a year is the only time they can be truly themselves, without fear and worry ...
I understood something about the fragility and vulnerability of being a homosexual in a Christian church ...
And it filled me with great sorrow and sadness.

For me too, this Greenbelt weekend was something I will really cherish. For reasons which do not relate to my sexual orientation, this was a time of great freedom and liberty. The freedom not to have to curb my spiritual desires and appetite, to go out and try, taste and experience God's presence in abundance!
It was a time to spread my spiritual wings and to SOAR!

So my heart went out to my LGBT brothers and sisters. Nobody should have to hide who they truly are, or even have to pretend to be somebody else!

If in our churches there are people who have never felt able to show who they really are, people who sit in our pews and pretend to be somebody else, then we are failing as a church! Whether on account of sexuality or different ethnic, social or racial backgrounds, we should invite and empower people to be themselves and to bring who they are into the church community.

Instead of expecting people to 'become like us' before we welcome them into our community, we should say "You are different from me. Tell me about that. What can I/we do to make you feel welcome here?"

Let me end by sharing the prayer of the confession of sins, which was used in the OuterSpace service, and which really speaks for itself:

You made us to be one family,
yet we have divided humanity,
Lord, have mercy.

You were born a Jew to reconcile all people, 
yet we have brought disharmony amongst races.
Christ, have mercy.

You rejoice in our differences,
yet we make them a cause of bad feeling.
Lord, have mercy.

Thank you, OuterSpace, for a wonderful service.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Methodist pastor follows Ramadan fast

Before I leave Ramadan and Eid behind, here is a blog I have been following for most of Ramadan.
The wisdoms and reflections of Methodist pastor Wes Magrunder whilst joining his Muslim friends and neighbours through Ramadan.

It has certainly been an inspiration and encouragement to read. Thank you, pastor Wes!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eid Mubarak from me and the Archbishop!

Rowan Williams is the Archbishop in the Church of England and a man I greatly admire.
Here is his Eid Message for this year.

May I join him in wishing all my Muslim friends Eid Mubarak!

To Muslim friends and fellow workers on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr 2012

It is a joy once again at Eid al-Fitr to send this message of warm good wishes to Muslim colleagues and communities, and especially to those friends and colleagues with whom Christians have enjoyed working together over the past year. During the long summer days this year the month of fasting has been particularly demanding. I trust that it has been a time of rich blessing, and that Eid will also be a time of joy and sharing.

As many of you will know, these are the last Eid greetings that I will be sending to you before I leave the position of Archbishop of Canterbury to take up a new role at the University of Cambridge. It was a moving experience recently to meet with members of the Christian Muslim Forum and to say a formal goodbye to this organisation which has done so much since its beginning in 2006 to foster deep relationships between our communities.

As I look back over the last ten years, it is clear that our relationship as Christians and Muslims has grown and deepened. It has not been an easy time, and there are huge challenges that we still face together. Nevertheless, we have learned how to quarry together the resources we have of a vision of human beings honoured before God. The word honour, I believe, is one we should learn to use more freely, and even extravagantly, when we talk about our human world. We honour human beings because God in his creation and in his dealings with human beings honours them.

In practical terms this honouring has meant that Muslims and Christians have been working as never before in international development to serve the world’s poorest people, and I want to recognise the huge amount of financial giving that the Muslim community pours out during Ramadan especially. It has also meant at a local level that Muslims have shared with Christians and others during Ramadan in service to their communities through the ‘A Year of Service’ initiative, in the ‘Near Neighbours’ programme and in many other ways.

I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had in these last nine or ten years of growing into a fuller knowledge of our relationship as Christians and Muslims. I have been privileged to be welcomed to a number of great Muslim contexts and institutions around the world and have found myself stretched and challenged. I have found it a great gift to be a small part in the mutual discovery and intensifying of relations here in the UK, and I am aware that we are modelling something here that is creative, fresh, honest and deeply hopeful. I pray and trust that the years ahead will see a deepening of these bonds and an even stronger witness to the whole world of real possibilities, of friendship and understanding and simple delight in our neighbours.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Ramadan charity

Having spent the last month fasting with my Muslim friends, I have given some thought to which charity to use this Ramadan.

I wanted a charity which gives to people regardless of their religious affiliation. It is so important to care for our fellow human beings without letting enter into our heads any hearts any inkling of whether they are 'believing the right thing' or 'more or less worthy' of my giving than anybody else.

I am giving because I can. Because I am blessed. Because I want my gift to bless others in turn.

Spending all day without food and drink certainly acts as a reminder of what it is like to be really hungry.
Whilst eating the meal before the fast (Suhoor) and the meal which breaks the fast (Iftar) I often thought about those people in the world who do not ever get to eat enough to stem the hunger and fill their bellies, who are constantly and permanently hungry!

So it only seems right to choose a charity which feeds the hungry in the world.

So I chose the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), which encompasses charities such as Christian Aid, CAFOD and Islamic Relief and which provides relief across the world.

As I am writing this, a worsening food crisis is developing in the Sahel region of West Africa. There are more than 18 million people under threat in arid areas of Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso. Erratic rainfall has contributed to a lack of grazing for animals and below average harvests in some areas. This in turn has resulted in unseasonably high market prices for grain, putting staple foods increasingly out of reach for many people.

Be blessed!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Without the children

This week my husband and I did something we have not done in a very long time, in 18 years to be precise. We went away over-night, just the two of us!  Now, our children are not little anymore - 15 and 18. And yet it seemed a big step to leave them alone at home for a couple of days

We had decided to try what we used to do before we had children: a long bike ride, followed by a night's camping in our little two-person-tent. Now, we are not twenty any more ... but that's no reason not to try!
So we packed our gear, checked our bikes, instructed our children, asked the neighbours to keep an eye, and off we went!

Strangely, I also wondered what it would be like, spending so much time alone with my husband. Would we be bored with each other? Or would we spend the time arguing?
We did neither!
It was wonderful to spend time together, cycling quietly, struggling and supporting each other up those unexpected hills, setting up camp together and sleeping (slightly uncomfortably) in that tiny tent.

All too soon our time was over and we headed back home.
All was well at home. (I think the children quite enjoyed their parent-free time too!)
Will we do it again? You bet!!