by the Revd Nick Bundock, Team Rector of St James & Emmanuel, Didsbury
I just want you to re-read that phrase again because it’s really important.
Another way is possible.
I’m able to say that not as a theologian theorising about some future destination as yet unreached. I say it as one sent out over the boundary wall, as someone who has been to the future and has come back onto these pages to tell you what it actually looks like. I have become part of a new way of being the whole people of God and I want to share that with you. I’ve come on here to tell you that the stories of failure, hurt and exclusion on these pages don’t need to be put on a repeat loop.
I say ‘tell’ when actually I mean ‘show’. My skill with words is insufficient to tell, so I want to show you what the future looks like through a series of images. These are pictures that contrast sharply with the lived experience of those brave and wonderful LGBTQ+ siblings who have shared on these pages the horrific stories of malpractice and hurt. These images are all I have to offer. I cannot undo the wrongs that have been recounted on this blog, but I give what I can: hope.
This is hope borne of my own failure as a priest and church leader; the suicide of Lizzie Lowe in 2014. I come onto these pages not as an heroic white knight but as a repentant sinner, as one snatched as though through the flames. When I look at these images, as I sit here and type, I feel myself overwhelmed by the grace of God. Having been at the centre of a tragedy I am now privileged to be part of a radical and loving community of believers here in Manchester. We’ve crossed over the boundary wall and I’m only coming back here to tell you that there is plenty of room for everyone on the other side.
As you look at the photographs that follow, I invite you to dwell on them for a moment. Notice the expressions on people’s faces. Notice the poses, the position of each person relative to another. These are, of course, all pre-covid and that in itself is a source of emotional content, pay attention to that too. All of these images were taken on Easter Day 2019 by photographer Hannah Beatrice, I want you to notice one thing above everything else: the joy.
I’m not sure what first brought Adelaide and Kathryn (centre) to St James and Emmanuel but they are newly married and very much in love. Old and young, white and black hands reaching out to other hands in joyful unity. Nobody in this image is arguing about the meaning of Romans 1!
I have just said the words ‘The Peace of the Lord be always with you’ and the community is living out that peace as ministers of reconciliation.
This photo reminds me of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…’ (2 Cor 15:18). This, my friends, is what reconciliation looks like when robed in flesh. What a contrast to the mean, thin theology of exclusion that has imprisoned so many churches – ironically a kind of anti-evangelicalism.
The second photo shows me with Augustine Ihm, who is soon to be a curate here at St James and Emmanuel (subject to visa). Again, notice the joy, notice the harmony of black and white, young and old.
The penultimate photo shows a long-standing member, Mike (left) who has joined me in moving from a conservative to an affirming position. He has his arm around one of our many Iranian members (right).
One of the miracles of inclusion is that once you make a community safe for the LGBTQ+ community you find that other minority groups feel safe in your church. Heck, I feel safe in my church these days. Since we became inclusive we’ve baptised nearly two-hundred Iranians and Kurds at St James and Emmanuel and many have stories of miraculous conversion.
In my final photo, Paul is reading us a prayer he has written. Paul lived in a sheltered community with other adults with learning difficulties.
Paul died this year and is deeply missed. I don’t know why we now have a community of adults with learning difficulties. All I know is that we didn’t have one before we welcomed our LGBTQ+ friends into our church.
I want you to see in this small selection of photographs a picture of hope. The Church has perpetrated a great harm upon our LGBTQ+ siblings, but another way is possible and, more importantly, it’s possible for even previously ambivalent or hostile communities to enter this new emancipation – we did.
I remember a conservative member, just before he left the church in horror at our move to inclusion, warn me that St James and Emmanuel would become like Jerusalem in Ezekiel 10. The Spirit was grieved and would leave us and take us into exile for our sins. What I have joyfully discovered – the paradigm shift is so profound I can still barely understand all its implications – is that we were in exile and it’s Lizzie’s death that has led us back to Jerusalem.
Over the past year we have founded the Church for Everyone movement as a place to share the Good News of inclusion and reconciliation and to share practical insights and good practice. Not just in the area of sexuality but also race, gender, disability and age. We’d love to include your stories so that alongside the exposure of genuine hurt, misery, manipulation and abuse we can also begin to chart our way to a better future. My vision for the Church of England is that it be a Church for Everyone.
I don’t want a future where people have to point to one or two inclusion successes but to an entirely new way of being God’s people spread from one corner of the land to the other. My aim is for St James and Emmanuel to simply disappear into a sea of inclusive and loving churches where love means love and inclusion is the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps that’s something we can do together?
I’ve read Annie’s story, Peter’s story and those of Kate, Yve, Stephen, Jamie and all the others and here I address them personally. I’m so sorry about what has happened to you and I’m also sorry that I haven’t addressed your stories directly. I hope that my reflection and response is helpful. I am both a penitent – I’ve been part of the problem and I acknowledge the harm and pain I’ve caused you, but also a bearer of hope – it’s your emancipation into the full life of the Church that will become its salvation and it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to behold when it happens.
For more information about Lizzie Lowe please visit https://stjamesandemmanuel.org/beyond-inclusion/