RADICAL INCLUSION .CO.UK
please do not erase our lives, our love, and precious parts of who we are
A Programme for true Radical Inclusion in the Church
1. February 2020: liaise with sympathetic clergy, inviting them to collectively commit in due course to public blessing of civil partnerships (at least) in their local churches or areas of ministry.
2. March/April: priests and PCCs to discuss their ways forward on public blessings, and ideally seek the support and engagement of their local church, through resolution at the church's AGM of parishioners.
3. May 2020: final review of the position reached by the 'Living in Love and Faith' process, and network decision to commence public blessings with effect from January 1st 2021.
4. Autumn 2020: networking and also possibly meeting in convention to finalise contingency planning.
5. January 1st 2021: from this date, all over the country, public blessings to commence.
Overall Strategy: to normalise the public blessing of partners who commit to each other, in multiple local churches in England, as one expression of good conscience and practice within the Church, and real radical inclusion. To operate as a network, because of the already-demonstrated vulnerability of individual priests being 'picked off' and sanctioned. To seek the support of PCCs, so the public blessings are the commitment of the wider church, not just the priest/minister. Where felt appropriate, to pass a public resolution to this effect at the Parish AGM, to give the whole congregation and community sense of ownership in this. After this first stage of the movement, to set a date (this is important to pre-empt further postponements) from which time, these public blessings will become available in signed up local churches, and through priests who believe in conscience that they should offer such blessings (there can be a list of signed up churches, mandated by their PCCs, and a separate list of signed up priests).
At any stage in these processes, Synod and/or Bishops may make their own moves to allow for local churches to follow conscience, but this should not delay the date from which local churches will commence such blessings: rather, the Church itself can 'catch up' later if necessary, to formalise the kind of freedom of conscience already practised, for example, in Scotland.
In the event that the 'Living in Love and Faith' resources do not point to substantive changes in the conservative 'status quo' (celibacy for life for gay and lesbian priests, no public blessings of partnerships except heterosexual marriages, theological vilification of gay sexuality etc) then it can be argued that the pastoral crisis for the Church is now so serious and so damaging, psychologically and in terms of mission and distraction from other pitiful needs in our communities, that the time has come to organise and act in love and grace towards one another and communities we serve beyond the church. This is not for priests' private doctrinal satisfaction, but because Christian witness and individual lives in their local communities are being so seriously harmed.
It is a matter of deep personal conscience and, as in the case of women priests, local churches urgently need the freedom to act in good conscience and faith, in a Church of England with diverse views. To dominate conscience is to crush a local church's flourishing. At this juncture, unless the Church allows freedom of conscience at the local church level, then local priests and PCCs need to find the courage to take grassroots action for the sake of individuals, couples and local communities. Yes, this takes courage but to fail to organise is frankly to allow a priest and whole church community to be infantilised into acting against their consciences and power to do good.
As Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, put it in a separate context: "Öbe warmly angry, be hot with anger, but do not boil away. Be warmly angry, but do not boil away. Feel what you feel, and turn the feeling to strength. Donít mourn, organise. Let the person you are in God speak out, so that your own desires and your own anger become the engine for a just world." Courage expands peoples' lives. As Anais Nin wrote: "The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom..." and "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." It is really true.
To date, process has actually acted as an instrument for controlling agenda top down in the Church of England, resulting in initiative after initiative, but no substantive change in allowed practice: process 'kicking the can further down the road'. That process has involved the pursuit of uniformity of practice, from the failed Anglican Covenant to repeated delays with no actual change to the conservative status quo. Process has failed to accommodate the conscientious beliefs of at least half the Church of England. It follows that since process is resulting in top-down control and domination of diverse consciences, process itself needs to be disrupted, from grassroots up, to create a new de facto situation and practice in the Church, that more honestly reflects where the Church actually is in belief. This is the way forward now being proposed by this website, which believes in true 'radical inclusion', reaching beyond slogan, to public affirmation, and public blessing of precious and valued relationships that matter so much in the life of our local church and communities.
It is possible to agree to disagree on issues of conscience, and take actions that may diverge from a 'status quo', but to do so with grace as well as firmness, courage and resolve. Conscience and social justice should not be dominated by someone else's convictions, when other people are harmed by those convictions. At that point it is no longer just personal viewpoint, it is people's lives beyond our own, and in opening to the compelling flow of God's love and grace, we are acting on behalf not of Archbishops' imperium but on behalf of the marginalised; and in the deeply-embedded imperative to seek social justice we may find ourselves acting in obedience to God. It is God who gives us conscience. The time to step up, collectively, has almost arrived because conscience is being crushed, and more simply because it's just the right thing to do. So, in the event that LLF in effect kicks the can further down the same road we have been travelling for over 50 years...
Grassroots realities need to be turned into practice, based on conscience, because this nation is being alienated by the Church when Archbishops effectively vilify decent loving couples in Civil Partnerships; or young people who are told their friends are sinning against God because of their gay or lesbian relationships; or citizens up and down the land who are aghast and disgusted when they are told that the Church believes their gay uncles, lesbian daughters, trans brothers, long-time hetero workmates are living lives that are wrong in God's eyes. The recent Statement of 'what the Church believes' has caused huge offence and hurt. It has alienated so unnecessarily. And yet, actually, that is NOT what the people who make up the Church actually believe. Half the Church (or more) believes that diverse loving relationships can each bring gift and blessing to others. We live with these relationships these days. We have opened up, by listening to conscience, and by witnessing the decency and care of couples who simply love.
At the very least, the de facto reality of a Church with diverse consciences needs to be respected, allowing each local church community to explore this for itself. This website strongly suggests that you do. And that you then set out to organise, and network, and make the de facto reality part of 'what the Church is'. People in power who want to keep delaying through repeated 'processes' can catch up later. But if they will not allow freedom of conscience, then local churches need to exercise that for themselves. It is perfectly feasible (Scotland has shown that) and if just 100 churches resolve together to start blessing diverse versions of 'loving couples', more and more churches will follow. Love just cries out.
"The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom..."
That day is assuredly being experienced in the Church today - the pain, the diminution, the tight suppresion of what should be open joy and unashamed devotion. When, in fact, the Church in many places is standing on tiptoes, ready to open up, ready to welcome, ready to radically include.
website and author: Susannah Clark
thecommunity (at) gmail.com