Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Diverse Church six months on

One of the many downsides of MND is that it limits one's freedom of movement, not just in the small matter of daily living, but also in the bigger things of choosing how often to go out. It's a major operation, comparatively, to get out to a meeting, for example. I was sorry, last week, to miss two quite different meetings.

One was on Thursday, organised by the Oxford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship, entitled, "Evangelical witness in this diocese in the light of Pilling, Bishop Alan Wilson, and the appointment of a new Bishop of Oxford." In the light of the accompanying write-up and attached paper, this promised to be a meeting resisting any ground being given to the gay/equal marriage move in the Church of England. I wouldn't have minded saying a bit. I don't know whether I will hear any feed-back from that meeting. The other meeting was on Saturday in London organised by the Two:23 Network, a group who describe themselves: "Two:23 is a network of Christians, connected by LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues, who have discovered that God loves us just as we are. This realisation frees us unashamedly to include and encourage all to discover the love of God for themselves, pursue the call of Christ and live in a way that cherishes others just as God cherishes us." I suspect the two meetings could scarcely have been more different - except that they both included worship. Now that's interesting....

I did listen to the talk given by Sally Hitchiner at the Two:23 meeting, which you can find on their website. She was talking about the group she was instrumental in founding for young Christians struggling with the faith and sexuality, called Diverse Church. It's an impressive and widely encompassing group, which supports and gives hope to youngsters who had none before. I can't give an adequate account of its scope. For that I recommend listening to Sally's talk (on http://two23.net/). Here are two contrasting quotes from it. "Being gay and a Christian is rather like finding you have incurable cancer." "Finding Diverse Church and discovering that you can be gay and a Christian is like finding Narnia."

Two things I picked up are that it's a pastoral group, rather than a political one. In other words, it exists to care rather than campaign. The other is that it's undogmatic, except for insisting that God loves each of us as we are and as we were created. And so the group includes gay young people who live together or want to find a life-partner, those who have decided to stay celibate and one married to someone of the other sex. They all accept and affirm each other. Something they have in common is that they have all suffered acutely, usually from hearing the message that God considers them, or their feelings, an "abomination". Not surprisingly many have felt or been excluded from their churches - and it seemed from God Himself. You can see a couple of their stories in this film: Christian, it gets better.

One of the most moving initiatives Diverse Church has started is handing over its Twitter feed to one member each Friday who uses the day to tell their story. I regularly follow it. It is a brave thing to undertake, as although it is done using only initials, the potential is there for hostile reactions. For many, I understand, it's the first time they have "come out" telling their story, 140 words at a time. Somehow the gradual way the stories unfold echo the tortuous journey many of the members have traveled, and emphasise the joy they experience when they discover acceptance for who they are. In my view, Diverse Church (which is not a church in the conventional sense, but encourages the Church to be as diverse as was intended) is a remarkable group of young Christians. I've learned from them. I think the Church needs to listen to them.

Saturday was World Aids Day, and Diverse Church's Twitter feed led its followers in a moving prayer, sentence by sentence, with which I finish. I felt as if the person tweeting was praying from his experience and his heart.

I'm glad I can talk to you.
You’re always there -
even when my head is somewhere else.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed,
ashamed, afraid to face the future...
It’s hard living with a stigma.
It’s not what people say.
It’s what they don't say.
It’s the knowing smiles,
and the sheepish looks.
They all add up to a feeling of accusation.
I’m glad I can talk to you
Nothing surprises you.
You’ve been where I’ve been
You’ve felt the discrimination
Experienced the betrayal
the hurt
the name calling
the whispering in corners
the religious prejudice.
You make me feel whole again
You include me in
You make me feel understood.
Your extravagant generosity
leaves me speechless.
Words fail me as I try to say
Thank you.
You draw me
You give me a place in the picture
You tell me
I belong even when I can't believe.
Lord, you’re unbelievable!!

Heavenly Father, tonight we pray for those whose lives have been overshadowed with the fear of HIV. The prejudice they fear they'll face...
Tonight we pray for the people who are living with HIV/AIDS. Here. Abroad. Anywhere. We pray for protection over them. Love them.
Place your tender hand over them and let them know your presence. Let them know that you're carrying them through the darkest days
and walking with them even in the days they're feeling better. Heavenly Father, help to eliminate the stigma attached...
Help us to stress the importance of being tested, the importance of talking about it, and the importance of living without fear of being discriminated.
Heavenly Father, give us the courage to speak out to those who think the illness isn't 'their problem'. Let them know it is their problem...
It's their problem, because we're all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all created in one image, we all eat of the same bread...
we all pray to the same God. The same God who created us all in His image.
Tonight, and in the days and nights to come, just give those whose lives have been affected the love and courage they need...
Give them someone to talk to, someone who will listen and someone who will just make a cup of tea when things get too tough...
Show them your love that way. Use us to do your will.
In your name, we ask this and pray. Amen!