The old order. The C of E, LGBT, and holding on.

We’ve all known those churches. Old churches. Old not just in age but in feeling. The ones where the average age is about 70 or more, who feel they really ought to try and attract some young people.

So what they do is change the hymns. Make some of the hymns more modern. Some of the elderly folk really like Kum Ba Yah, and maybe will even go as far as “Shine Jesus Shine” although the organist insists on playing it at a slow march. They might even include a sentence or two in the pewsheet that the church “particularly welcomes young people”. Whenever there is a baptism, they smile really broadly at the young families, although there are a few at the back who really don’t like the noise they make. But, you know, you’ve got to be welcoming.

But surprise surprise, these new techniques don’t work. After a while the grumbling about the new hymns increases, and they appear a bit less often. Those who were keen to try and welcome young people feel betrayed that none of them have ever turned up.

What no-one has thought of doing, because they are trying to welcome “visitors” to “their church”, is to learn how to be hungry for new insight into God, by asking people outside the church about their views on God. No-one has thought about how to seek God in new places, because they already know what God looks like inside the church. Because keeping the church the same, or more or less the same, is in fact the priority, and welcoming young people is an optional extra. Young people are required to keep the church going, not to change it. And as long as the church “sees us out”. All the people in those churches are kind, Godly, devout. But tragically, they think they’ve got enough of God to not need any new perspectives. They think it is their own understanding of God which needs to be stewarded into the future not the pilgrim path itself.

Such churches close.

I’ve just finished reading the C of E report on human sexuality. It feels like a report from a very elderly church on how to be welcoming to new people. The tragic thing about it, is not just that the level of welcome is akin to that described above, but that it seems to read as though there really aren’t any LGBT people in the church at all, as though there is no insight or knowledge, understanding or common gound with LGBT people. And that is after three years of conversations.

It calls for compassion, of course. We should be nice to people. Good. It also tells us that various things need to be revised, clarified – with no steer on how they should be clarified. It calls for a new tone and a new understanding, but crucially without any actual change in practice, or guidence.

It’s the clickbait compassion of the internet – let’s be nice to one another, as long as it involves no more than a click of a finger to post a “like”

I’ve always been a great believer in that old phrase, “when you pray, move your feet” Prayer, good intentions, without action, is a whited sepulchre. Love always calls us to do something, whether it is to change something in ourselves, or to change something in the outside world. Love is always dynamic, never a static object. And because God is love, that means that God is not a noun but a verb, calling us to be different.

But like those elderly churches who are hoping to look welcomnig in order for their infrastructure to be stewarded, it feels as though the level of desire to see God differntly, to understand how God is moving in an arena they don’t yet understand, is almost nil.

I don’t identify as LGBT, and I can only imagine how personal and cutting this report feels to folk whose lives, personalites, souls, feel undervalued by this. But I do feel like I’m part of a generation and a people who the church wants to look welcoming to, but doesn’t want to listen to.

It makes the C of E feel like an anchor which is steadfastly refusing to be hoisted up. And I wonder how long it can be before the rope holding the church to God starts to fray.

About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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10 Responses to The old order. The C of E, LGBT, and holding on.

  1. mags52 says:

    Amen to that Pip. When I was the Diocesan Youth Officer I spoke at Synod and suggested that the Church welcomes young people and hopes they will stay quiet until they’re at least forty when they can take up the reins of keeping the Church just as it has always been. Everyone laughed. It isn’t funny. I was in my fifties and still wouldn’t behave enough or commit myself to keeping the Church the way it has always been to be truly welcome, so leaving felt like the only option. From a distance the whole experience of 50 something years as a church goer feels quite bizarre. We must allow and encourage one another the freedom to seek a new insight into the Divine rather than insist that we know what God is all about. None of us has the faintest idea – we’re all just guessing.
    As for papers on human sexuality – the days of needing these is over. The Church needs to catch up and start fretting about something really important.
    But having said all that I still love the old girl (the church not my partner – though I still love her too) and long to see her flourish.
    Margaret x

    • frpip says:

      A church which doesn’t have room for you in it is a church which is far, far too small. My only comfort is that it is not the Bishops who are the church, but you and me, and the rest of us.

  2. mags52 says:

    And some of us are outside the walls but still inside the community – as long as people like you are there. x

  3. Pip, this is one of the very best posts you’ve ever written. Thank you.
    Nothing seems to work, and it is a matter of both anger and despair that every attempt is repudiated, when it is intended to encourage people, and become a dynamic love.
    Small example in an old, old church, of trying to reach *round* the barriers. With cautious permission, I printed [free] non-denominational 3-fold leaflets to display in the country church for visitors – and visitors took them in quantity, leaving thanks in the Visitors’ Book. The new Wardens removed the leaflets, meditation area [with picture, sandbox, books] and burnt the small sofa…
    Another house-move, a different church – and here is the complete illustration of what you are saying. Liberal theology went out with the arrival of the new Rector, an ex Policeman, whose approach you might be describing in your post… there is nothing for the young families and they have left; and increasingly there is nothing for the shrinking remnant of consistently large congregations – even his Vicars are moving away [yes truly, one has retired, two have sold their houses and gone]
    Much used to be written about the ‘need’ for the Church to die, so that it could be reborn; perhaps that is a subject for further thought?

  4. Different approach from the newly-resigned Queen’s Chaplain, may be of interest.

  5. iolaire1 says:

    I am no longer a member of any church, precisely because of this kind of falseness. I rarely find God moving in that place. So I have moved outside the confines of the church.

    • dbobstoner says:

      but God is still there for you, and every member of the LGBT+ community. The Church are God’s people, not a specific denomination. Let God’s love surround you now and every day. Let us continue to pray for change and, with our feet, move to stand alongside our LGBT+ family, and either echo their words or ensure that their silence is heard.

  6. Celia cliff says:

    Sounds just like my church, although there are a few of us under 70. Any references to LGBTI and the response is that “””everyone is welcome, of course, but as we say, love the sinner, hate the sin” – so what sort of a welcome is that. I keep pushing the New Commandment of ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, but getting nowhere. It is very frustrating.

  7. The CofE is doubly cursed: Establishment ; Heritage. In short, worldly encumbrances.

  8. Pingback: The Church of England and THAT House of Bishops Report – Stephen Spillane’s My Opinion

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