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Life of gay people in the church

Richard Kirker. Image from

Richard Kirker has, for the last 30 years, been among the leadership of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in the Church of England. He’s stepping down soon. New Statesman, profiles the Rev. Richard Kirker and provides some insights into his work at the helm of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

For the first half of that time, he fought a lonely battle to get church leaders to discuss sexuality. Now it’s hard to get them to talk about anything else, but not in the way he had in mind. Homosexuality is at the centre of a global struggle for the soul of the Anglican Communion, and as gay people are accused of bestiality and demonic possession, the Church seems to have become a repository for the homophobia unacceptable in the rest of society.
If Rowan Williams has issued any rebuke, it has been barely audible until recently. Gay-friendly before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, he now reserves his chief condemnation for the North American Episcopalians who have elected an openly gay bishop. Many of the archbishop’s former close gay friends have been left reeling by what they call his betrayal.
“The situation is appalling. Life for gay priests is immeasurably worse than when I started doing this job, because of the obsessive scrutiny of those who hate us,” says Kirker, a battle-scarred 56-year-old whose shoestring organisation still numbers no more than 2,000 members. “Many people have given up the fight and left the priesthood. Others do not join it because it’s not worth putting themselves through the indignity of interviews that intrude into personal morality in a way that was once never considered desirable or necessary. It is now official policy to ensure that gay people who don’t give a commitment to celibacy are not selected for ordination.”

Read it here. It isn’t just ordination, either. I’m aware of gay people being refused licences to perform non-stipendiary lay ministry in my diocese because of their ‘lifestyle’.

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Will the Christian of the future be a mystic?

Picture of cross from St Mark’s Abbey Camperdown

(This is actually a post I wrote in 2004…)

Reading today a sermon by Dom Michael King OSB, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery at Camperdown, I was struck by two things he wrote about.

Here’s some of what Dom Michael said (I’d encourage you to read the whole sermon, though):

Eminent theologian Karl Rahner produced volumes and volumes of commentary on God, redemption, the life of grace. Scattered throughout the tomes of long and often convoluted sentences are short and clear statements recognized as seminal insights which continue to be much quoted. One of those statements bears a relationship to what the Christian must be today. “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all” (Theol. Invent. XX, 149). By mysticism, Rahner explains, he does not mean some esoteric phenomenon but “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.” He goes on to comment that the source of spiritual conviction comes not from theology but from the personal experience of God. This statement, made late in Rahner’s career, is similar to the comment reported of Thomas Aquinas at the end of his life about his volumes of theology being so much straw.

If monasticism is to mean anything and be of any value in the coming age, it will be within this context of the living experience of God. I think we could paraphrase Rahner to say “Monastics will be rooted in contemplative prayer or they will not exist at all.” A deep experience of God, constantly renewed, will be necessary to offset the threats to faith from a defiantly secular and even atheistic culture. What is already true today will continue to be the norm in the future: only monastics committed to an intense personal prayer life beyond the communal structures will find the joy and transformation that this life offers.

Monasticism sinks its roots into the real world of God by seeking an ever deeper union with God in prayer; this vocation is a ministry of prayer by which a community makes itself available to God as a channel of grace for Christ’s saving mission in this world.

I have been profoundly affected by a statement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in a sermon preached in Washington National Cathedral in 1984. He thanked Christians around the world for the help that had come to South Africa through their prayer. But he was not making the usual connection about prayers for a particular intention: he was not thanking us for including his suffering people in our prayer intentions. He was making a deeper connection: “Sometimes you may not feel like praying because your prayers are insipid. There is a dryness, and God seems miles and miles away. But because you are faithful, you say to God, `I want to pray, and I offer you these thirty minutes, God, even if its means fighting these awkward distractions,’ and because you are so faithful, someone in South Africa suddenly receives an excess of grace; inexplicably it appears.”

Archbishop Tutu was not thanking us for remembering his people in prayer, but just for praying; for God in unseen ways uses the availability of our hearts to heal other hearts and other situations around the world.

This is an insight from the ancient Christian tradition of prayer which understands the deeper connections beyond request and response. Though not all prayer is petitionary, because of the mystery of the Incarnation all prayer is intercessory; the divine pattern is for human beings to be channels of grace to one another.

Monasticism focuses and concretizes this insight for the Church. Our call is to become channels of blessing for the world by making ourselves more and more available for God’s action in and through us. Through the humility of deep prayer we are able to penetrate beyond the false self to our true centre, where God is always waiting. We prostrate ourselves interiorly, offering ourselves to God for the world. And God distributes gifts in our name, without our ever knowing where or how. Thomas Merton wrote: “In the economy of God’s grace you may be sharing his gifts with someone you will never know until you get to heaven.”

Even when my prayer and meditation seems hopeless and pointless, I am where God wants me to be, and beginning to be who God has made me to be.

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Jesus comes for all – the Epiphany or Theophany

The Theophany - an icon depicting the baptism of Jesus

Dear Blog

The Church has moved from celebrating the birth of Jesus, Christmas, to celebrating the fact that Jesus came not only to show the love of God to his fellow members of the Jewish nation, but also to the gentiles, the non-Jews. In the Church’s calendar, this season is known as Epiphany.

Lots of attention is given, rightly, to Christmas. But I often think that Christians overlook the importance of the Epiphany. In the Eastern churches the Epiphany (called the Theophany) arose as a general commemoration of the birth, childhood and baptism of Jesus – it is still, in the East, a very important festival. It was later adopted in the Western churches, and added to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

In any case, the Epiphany is a year-by-year reminder of the scope of Jesus’ mission – to bring the love of God to everyone. Jesus isn’t just the messenger of this love – he doesn’t just tell stories of the love of God, or preach sermons about them – in his coming, and in his life, death and rising to new life, he is a powerful testimony to the love of God. God loved the world – us – so much that he gave his only Son, to call us out of our lives of sin and brokenness, and lead us into eternal life (cf John 3:16). Our response to this message of love, and the extraordinary generosity of God is to love God, and to love one another.

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love–so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about–not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.

My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us–perfect love!

This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, and he in us: He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit. Also, we’ve seen for ourselves and continue to state openly that the Father sent his Son as Savior of the world. Everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son participates continuously in an intimate relationship with God. We know it so well, we’ve embraced it heart and soul, this love that comes from God.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day–our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life–fear of death, fear of judgment–is one not yet fully formed in love.

We, though, are going to love–love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.

If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (1 John 4:7-21, The Message).

Love is more than an idea, more than an emotion. One of the things I’ve come to realise in my life is that I can choose to love, even when I don’t feel like being loving. It is enormously freeing to depend not on my subjective emotions which can be biased and warped, but on the command of Jesus to love, and to serve.

Where is love going in your life? What drives it? What is at the centre of your loving?


PS: I was challenged by this reflection on Epiphany from Bishop Michael Hough of Ballarat.

It is with the coming of the Wise men that we know that Christmas is over, for we are then faced with one of the consequences of Christmas.  The Father sent the Son so that all men and women can know his loving mercy.  Our task, as we celebrate the Epiphany, is to take the Good News out into the world.  It is not a gift we were ever meant to keep to ourselves.  If we want to know how we are going as a Church, we should measure the level of our encounters with those who do not grace our pews on a regular basis.  Anything else would be a misreading of what it is God wants of us.  (Bishop Michael Hough, Bishop of Ballarat)

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Dom John Main – a hero

Painting of John Main by Brenda Bury of Montreal

John Main was a Benedictine monk who, guided by the Holy Spirit, offered the church the rediscovered and ancient treasure of Christian meditation.

He died 25 years ago, but the community he left, the World Community for Christian Meditation, is today a vibrant expression of springtime in the church.

There was a memorial Eucharist held in Westminster Cathedral on 29 December 2007. At it, Dom Laurence Freeman, the current spiritual teacher, delivered a homily which you can find here.

This is a small extract:

… [John Main] understood prophetically the needs and the crisis of modern Christianity – how it needs to sink back into its contemplative roots in order to branch outwards to a world – a world changing so rapidly that even the speed of change has already dislocated and uprooted several generations from their culture and their faith.

He was a man of the tradition but understood tradition in terms of roots and so he was a radical, indeed in his way, a revolutionary religious figure of our time. He read the signs of the times – as a son of the great Council – and saw that the old forms and structures need to be courageously re-visioned and adjusted to the spirituality of the new phase of history we have entered. For him – as for the monks of the Christian Desert he had learned from – this meant rediscovering the power of prayer as a way of personal, interior transformation. It meant seeing that all prayer leads to contemplation which is the ultimate goal of human life.

When the early church confronted the institutions of the pagan world it found it could not convert them. If you pulled down one temple, smashed the statues and killed the priests another temple would be built in another sacred wood and the old rites would be restarted. So – pragmatically and perhaps inevitably – the church changed its policy. Convert the temples into churches, re-hire and retrain the priests, make the old gods into new saints. Merge rather than compete. Thus the rich and wonderful era of Christendom began. But we who live at the end of Christendom may well ask how deep did the actual conversion process go. How well did the seed of the Word actually sink into the soil of the western mind? How is it that this great tradition was so vulnerable to new ideas, to science and technology, so resistant to democracy, individuality and modernity and eventually so helpless in the face of consumerism?

John Main did not wring his hands before the crisis of modern Christianity. He is a powerful figure of hope, a teacher of confidence and courage, because he understood that – in fact – Christianity is not collapsing but shifting into a new and deeper spiritual form. One might almost say it is just beginning. But he saw that its renaissance should not be preoccupied with rescuing or shoring up old failing structures, but, in the words of St Paul whose spirit he resonated so dynamically with, he could say,

Adapt yourselves no longer to the pattern of this present world but let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed.

(The painting is by Brenda Bury, of Montreal, and she retains the copyright therein.)

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The Institutional Church (Eugene Peterson)

What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

Eugene Peterson

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Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas Message to the Anglican Communion


One of the strangest yet most moving expressions in the New Testament is a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews (11.16): God ‘is not ashamed to be called their God’. The writer is talking about the history of God’s people. When they have been faithful to God, faithful in keeping on moving onwards in faith rather than settling down in self-satisfaction, when they are true pilgrims, then God is content to be known as their God. He declares himself to be the God of pilgrims, of people who know that their lives are incomplete and that they are still journeying towards the fullness of God’s promises. Visiting refugee camps in the Middle East, as I did this October, brings home so powerfully what it is to be literally and absolutely homeless, not able to be confident in any resources, inner or outer. People in these terrible circumstances will never be complacent, they will always be looking for a future. They are in the most obvious way those whom God is not ashamed to be with, people whose God he is happy to be. He is at home with the homeless. But it is also an image of God’s relationship with all those who are homeless or wandering in other ways.

What an odd expression, to say that God is not ‘ashamed’! It’s as though we are being reassured that God, in spite of everything, doesn’t mind being seen in our company. Most of us know the experience of being embarrassed by someone we are with – children are embarrassed by parents, parents by children; I have sometimes found myself walking down the road with someone who is talking loudly or behaving oddly, and wishing I weren’t there. But God is not embarrassed by human company when that company is turning away from self-satisfaction and ready to move on. We might think that God would be ‘ashamed’ of human company that was imperfect, confused, even sinful. But God is happy to be the God of confused and sinful people when they recognise their own confusion and face the truth of their need. That’s what the great parables of Jesus in St Luke’s Gospel are so often about, especially the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might be ashamed to share. So easily we decide that we would be ashamed to share the company of the sinful, the doubting or the outcast. But God, it seems, is not ashamed to be seen with such people. If he is ashamed to be called the God of any human group, the text from Hebrews strongly suggests that he is most ‘embarrassed’ by those who think they have arrived at the end of their journey, who think they have already attained perfection (compare St Paul’s angry and scornful words in I Corinthians 4.8 – ‘Already you have become rich!’). And it is clear why God would be ashamed to be the God of such people: they behave and speak as if they didn’t really need God, as if they didn’t really need grace and hope and forgiveness.

God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor – not only those who are materially poor, but those who are without the ‘riches’ of self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material resources and those who are ‘poor in spirit’ because they know their hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him.

May God give us every blessing and joy in the Christmas Season.

+Rowan Cantuar

And here is the Archbishop’s Advent letter to the primates of the Anglican Communion, on the current state of the Communion. Expect some words about it when I’ve had a chance to read it a few more times and pray.

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