Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Pilling Report and Trans People

One thing no one can accuse The Pilling Report of being is lightweight. It’s substantial enough that it’s going to take a while for most of us to come to a proper mind about its contents. However, I admit that my reading of the report has been affected by the fatigue induced by 'committee speak' and that awful wave of nausea generated by the feeling that straight cis people are trying to get their heads about ‘us’ again. So, please take the following comments with caution. I may have missed the point entirely. I know I can be a contumacious priest who says intemperate things, That is not my intention. I just want to get beneath some of the presenting headlines.

So, I want to reflect on one small aspect of the report that leapt out to me - its brief comments on trans people. In some ways they seem of marginal interest to the headline stuff – the ‘gay blessings’ stuff – and yet, I suspect, they indicates just how very far the church (and indeed perhaps wider society) has to travel towards respect, love and affirmation of queer people. 

The two paragraphs of interest (I've come across thus far!) run as follows:

‘The issues raised by the transgendered people we met were not primarily about sexuality as such, but about feelings of shame and exclusion in relation to gender.’
&
‘This report focuses on questions concerning same sex relationships. However, the group believes that the experiences of those with transgender or intersex conditions raise important theological and pastoral issues. Some of these issues were outlined in chapter 7 of 2003 House of Bishops report Some issues in human sexuality and the Church of England needs to address them.’

Pilling uses the latter paragraph to help narrow the purview of the report. At one level, this is understandable. The report is already vast and Pilling wants to keep the attention on sex relationships. There is also much to be said in favour of clarifying terms. And, I guess, from the point of view of dealing with a massively divisive matter within the church, the move in this paragraph permits the authors (and the church) to postpone trans and intersex discussions to another time. However…

However, I’m currently struggling to properly comprehend the meaning and implications of these two seemingly insignificant paragraphs. I suspect this is to do with the fact that I was one of the trans* people Pilling ‘listened to’ as part of its process. I cannot speak for other trans people involved in the process, but I don’t quite recognize the substance of the discussion I took part in in the phrase ‘The issues raised by the transgendered people we met were…about feelings of shame and exclusion in relation to gender.’ I’m not even sure what that phrase means. ‘Shame’ is a powerful word which gestures towards an experience common among those who have been abused or belittled. So perhaps the phrase means, ‘Trans people raised issues about being made to feel ashamed about being ‘differently’ gendered within the church.’ And indeed the silencing of and shaming of trans people on grounds of being trans does happen in the church.

Yet, my memory of the conversation I took part in – and I have a notoriously dodgy memory! – has a different feel to the one gestured towards by the comment above. The conversation I remember took very seriously the reality that being gendered bodies – trans or cis – is the theatre and ground for our sexual lives. Being trans (as with being intersex) has profound implications for how one figures one’s sexuality and is left to negotiate the minefields of church perceptions of terms like ‘orientation’ or ‘sexual politics’ or ‘sexual ethics’. That is, while being trans has massive implications for how one is perceived as a gendered being, it also has massive implications for how one's sexuality is figured.

Perhaps then I’m just being a little precious about how matters significant to a tiny group (which includes me) have seemingly been reduced to one slightly opaque sentence and a follow-up paragraph. Maybe that’s it. But it may just be something else.

When Pilling says, ‘The group believes that the experiences of those with transgender or intersex conditions raise important theological and pastoral issues…and the Church of England needs to address them,’ I wonder if it quite comprehends what it’s saying.

It is noteworthy that Pilling treats trans* and intersex as ‘conditions’. The use of that term does tend to set off my ‘pathologizing’ klaxon. That is to say, in talking of ‘conditions’ one has already placed trans* and intersex in the categories of medical pathologies, measured against a normative standard (I guess, gender dimorphism). I appreciate that many will argue that placing trans and intersex in discourses of ‘variance’, ‘illness’ etc is an appropriate move. It is certainly a common one. I only want to flag up here that such a move is an increasingly disputed one and the fact that Pilling deploys the term without scare quotes indicates how very far we are yet to come in appreciating the implications of difference for our understanding of human being/s.


However, if we park that point for a moment, my instinct is that the ‘theological and pastoral issues’ raised by, e.g., the existence of trans folk are precisely those which deserves not to be hived off, but must be brought closer to the centre. For what it means to be intersex or trans (and therefore for what it means to be ‘cis’) will increasingly become the focal points for our future understandings of what it means to be ‘desiring’ creatures. For – as Pilling rightly flags up – we are embodied and incarnated beings. We are bodies. Not mere flesh or meat, but bodies nonetheless. Surely if we are to begin to come to any sort of fullness in our understanding of sexual selves, we must return again and again to the body (of Christ?), to bodies and embodiment. And if we do that, trans and intersex folk and the ‘pastoral and theological issues’ (‘issues’?) we raise will not be elided and redacted away but reveal more about the story of God and us.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Dazzling Darkness - One Year On...



This is probably going to annoy people, but over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be talking quite a lot about Dazzling Darkness again. (‘Did you ever stop?’ I hear my brother Andy chirp.) For, to my amazement, it’s now a year old. And – given how big its publication has been for me – it seemed a good moment to reflect on its impact and what it’s meant for me.

This time last year was an extraordinarily stressful time. In addition to worries about how Dazzling Darkness might be received in the sometimes febrile world of the Church of England, I was dealing with the usual stresses of being a vicar and the many other commitments I had and have. However, looking back, I can now see that the fact DD was about to drop weighed very heavily on my mind.

As I’ve said to anyone who’ll listen (usually some poor chap minding his own business on the bus), Dazzling Darkness is the only book I’m ever likely to write that really feels like it matters. I know that’s pretentious guff, but if everyone has got a book in them, it feels like, for me, DD was the one. What I mean by this inflated rhetoric is that it’s the book that totally laid and lays me on the line. I’ve recently sent a new book manuscript off to my publishers (entitled ‘The Risen Dust’) and I think it’s a good offering. I think it’ll be a striking book about passion and resurrection. But it’s not a confessional book. If it exposes me to censure or praise it is at one remove. Because The Risen Dust is made up of stories and poems about passion and resurrection, the book feels slightly less personal. Dazzling Darkness - by trying to tell key parts of my life as a trans woman, as a lesbian and as a chronically ill person - could not be more personal if I tried.

Dazzling Darkness has been life-changing, but perhaps not in the way some people might imagine. Like all writers I wanted DD to sell lots of copies and, within its narrow and quite specialist area of interest, it’s done pretty damn well. I’ve also enjoyed taking the opportunities to speak which have arisen as a result of DD. The showy part of my personality has had a lot of fun. But neither of those things has been really that significant. The most important aspects have been two fold – firstly, the personal sense of liberation and, secondly, the unexpected opportunity to hear and share in other people’s extraordinary stories.

Anyone who is like me – that is, who is different from a perceived ‘norm’ and who occupies (even in my own lowly way) a public role like a vicar – is at risk of a ‘monstering’ from papers like The Daily Mail. Even in this age where the media has become ever more obsessed with ‘slebs and politicians, there is sufficient transphobia around that trans-based stories still take up news space from time to time. Ever since I’d been recommended for ordination training, I’d occasionally have cold sweats thinking about the phone call from a tabloid threatening a cheap exposé. When DD came out I don’t think anyone could quite be sure what would happen. My instinct was that given it was being published by a small theological publisher the level of press interest would be minimal, but no one knew for sure. Prior to the official launch, I remember chatting with a colleague at the cathedral about whether we needed to ensure we had stewards in case we had protests!

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t experienced some pretty cheap transphobia over the past year. Most of it has come via the internet. This is hardly surprising. I guess people enjoy the internet’s capacity to create the effects of both proximity and distance. When someone is pilloried or insulted, the perpetrator relies on the medium’s immediacy for effect, but also feels safely at a distance. However, transphobia aside, I’m stunned by how liberating DD has been for me. While I still know only too well how some journalist might write a nasty story about me, I feel congruent with the world. When someone calls me a ‘tranny’ I can (whilst acknowledging the nastiness) say, ‘Yeah. I know. It’s in the book.’ If someone tried to do a ‘sex change exposé’ I can say, ‘I got there first.’ There is a real power about disclosure on one’s own terms.

Perhaps I was naive, but I was genuinely surprised when – a few weeks after DD came out – people started getting in touch with me about their experiences of being gender-variant or gay or, well, just being different in the church. With hindsight I can see that that was not entirely beyond possibility. I guess for someone who’s supposed to be reasonably smart I can be very thick sometimes. I have to say almost all of the conversations I’ve had with people off the back of DD have been a privilege. But I am stunned by how the book has opened up a space for people to share the most remarkable and often painful things.

The simple fact is that, even if I feel I’m in a more spacious place as a result of being out in the church, the church remains a terribly difficult place for trans* and queer folk to be. I sense we are very slowly getting there as an institution, and Manchester has felt in a kind of vanguard, but there is a terribly long way to go. If my conversations with those who’ve got in touch with me via email, phone & in person have been mind-blowing and sometimes heartbreaking they have inspired me to not give up. At a personal level, I know my decision to go public might have future implications for stuff like my employment in the church. I am currently in a place where I feel well supported, but I could see how DD might be held against me should I wish to move parish. But as I see it, it’s better to be congruent than hiding something I’m proud of. like it was an ugly secret.  

As ever I want to thank my family for being heroically and amazingly supportive. And to everyone who’s read or bought a copy of DD – even if you hated it – thank you! The support and love I’ve experienced over the past year – in the church and without – has been mindblowing. Ta. xx

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Liberation in Simple Things

Everyone faces complicated decisions. Most people - perhaps because they live lives trickier than mine - no doubt make difficult decisions more often than me. In this brief blog post - my first for ages! - I thought I'd reflect on a tricky decision I've recently made.

As a result of changes in personnel in Manchester Diocese a casual clergy vacancy for General Synod has arisen. I've been flattered that a number of colleagues have encouraged me to stand and, truth is, I spent a long period thinking I would put my name into the hat, even before I received that encouragement. It hardly needs me to point out that the C of E is poised at another delicate and potentially decisive point in its complex history. General Synod has an important job of work to do regarding women as bishops. Furthermore, ongoing debates about matters of gender, sexual and wider social justice - matters close to my heart - are going to be crucial in forthcoming sessions. I'd be lying if I didn't think I had something to offer in these areas. Maybe I'm deceiving myself but I also thought I might stand a realistic chance of being elected.

Yet I've decided not to stand. And that decision feels - in the face of my ego and vanity - right and good. My ego says that I could make a valuable offering and perhaps offer an articulate - even a distinctive - voice, but that's not been enough to convince me to throw my hat in the ring. I know that standing would have been very far from guaranteeing election, but I also thought, 'Oh my, what would you do, if you did get elected?'

In recent months, I've been trying to be honest with myself and - if I can dare a bit of piety - honest with God about energy and focus. I've spend the past few months trying to be clear minded and realistic about my energy levels and capacities. It's been a sometimes challenging process of stripping back some things - some of which are precious to me - and refocusing on others. I suspect that - in the midst of the frustration and sometimes boredom of General Synod - if I had been elected I might have had a lot of fun, challenge and interest. But, because I would have wanted to do the job well, I would also have taken it very seriously. And that would have knackered me out again. It seems to me that ministry - whether understood as parish ministry or more broadly as being a creative priest in the world - relies on space and play and wonder. And I reckon that if I had stood and been elected, I'd have been sucked back into ridiculous overwork again. General Synod might not have been too much to handle on its own, but when wrapped up with a very full life, I think it would been too much.

So, maybe I will consider standing in the future. There are times and seasons for things, after all. I've been surprised by how much I've 'angsted' over whether to stand or not. But hard as it is to say no to things, I am slowly learning to let there be room for more important stuff than busyness.

Monday, 29 July 2013

We're All Cavemen - Equal Marriage and Popular Perception

'We're all cavemen still.'
This was the assessment of my cleaner (Yes, I have a cleaner...I'm *that* middle-class) when I outlined the Church of England's position in relation to equal marriage.

She'd asked - not unreasonably - whether the good old C of E would soon be marrying gay couples in church. As most of you will now be aware, the C of E will be legally excluded from conducting marriage for gay couples. When I explained this, her response was barely disguised disgust. She is not - as far as I aware - religious in a conventional sense (and she's not a member of my congregation) but she has shown sympathy for the kind of work I do and what St Nick's is basically about. But her assessment of the C of E - 'We're all cavemen' - felt all the sharper because of that. As far as she is concerned, the C of E (and presumably all traditions which deny gay people a full and proper celebration of our commitments) is in the Stone Age.

As ever with me, I indicated how at a personal level, this situation is not how I'd like things to be. I still feel the future of the C of E - as a national church seeking to serve local communities - lies in enabling local priests to exercise conscience on this matter, just as they do over divorce. Otherwise a bleak future awaits in which not only gay couples continue to feel let down and excluded by their local Anglican church, but also very many of their friends, families and supporters. A bleak harvest of antipathy and perceived irrelevance will, I fear, be reaped. My cleaner represents a perspective that is more typical than many within the church's bubble of holiness are inclined to acknowledge: that our queer sisters and brothers are simply just part of us. Our local communities and their friends and families, both straight and gay, just see LGBT folk as ordinary normal human beings.

My cleaner's final words on the matter also struck home. She concluded that the church is happy to say gay people are part of the church, to use their talents and their gifts (including their financial offerings), but it's shocking that the church cannot properly show them respect and give them equal standing. I didn't quite know what to say. Perhaps my cleaner's words do not quite capture the full truth, but there's enough truth in it, for it to hurt.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Changing Attitudes: +Justin, sexuality and the local context

Last Monday I was invited to 'represent' the 'Church of England' for a Sixth Form 'Day on Spirituality and Religion' at a local high school. Many faith traditions were represented including Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and so on. In the morning Year 12 students were given an opportunity to attend small workshops led by faith reps - something I very much enjoyed - but the afternoon was taken up with an open panel discussion in the main hall. Here the sixth formers - themselves coming from many faiths and none - were given a chance to quiz the representatives at length.

It was - in a quite potent way - a reminder of the extent to which social attitudes in my part of Manchester have shifted in the past few years. In his opening address to General Synod, Archbishop Justin talked about a revolution in sexual attitudes, signalled by the nature of the Lords' debate about equal marriage. The discussion in an ordinary Manchester school last Monday underlines that comment in my local context. The discussion we had about equal marriage was both thrilling and a profound warning to a complacent church.

Sixth formers can be notoriously provocative and excited about testing how far they can push things. (I remember only too well what an irritating and contrarian kid I was.) Thus the opening panel question, 'What is your view on gay marriage?', asked by a smiling lad was in part a punt to see how we'd react. The resultant 45 minute debate was, in contrast, compelling and revealing.

As no one else on the 15+ strong panel seemed ready to dive in and answer the question, I decided to go first. I laid out my own personal view - that I welcomed equal marriage & should prefer to marry gay & straight at God's altar - but acknowledged that the C of E has yet to come to a mind on this matter and C of E priests would be barred by law from solemnizing marriage for gay couples.

What surprised me was the very mixed response my comments caused. There were a few jeers and boos. However, if I received a 'mixed review' (which - given the rather wishy-washy C of E style answer I gave - I suspect I deserved), anyone who offered a more conservative view took (in a polite way) a bit of a mauling. Thus, those who claimed that 'homosexuality' was a sin, or that marriage was for procreation, or could only be between a man and woman  and was thus ordained by God/gods/etc got panned. Those who were supportive of gay folk received very warm applause.

One teenager claimed that 'organized religion' was nothing more than a kind of corporate bigotry and, when I responded, my initial response was to take it on the chin. As a representative of 'organized religion', I said, I had to accept that the C of E -as a justice organization - had not been impressive around matters of gender and sexuality. (I then went on to outline the ways in which the C of E and others has stood up for justice, the poor and the vulnerable on many occasions & the way in which the church, like any institution, will contain a variety of views.)

Of course, if one spoke to many of those sixth formers individually I'm sure one would find a whole range of views on any numbers of subjects, including sexuality. As with the C of E, people will sometimes say all sorts of things to fit in with the group, but privately believe otherwise. However, I was blown away by these pretty ordinary, but, I suspect, very representative group of young people who attend a state school in south Manchester. 'Unplugged' and encouraged to share their views, their instinct was to show respect and love towards LGBT people. Their sense of justice was piqued by perceptions - sadly borne out in the majority of cases - that religious people are naysayers and 'down on the gays'.

Perhaps these young people's views will change over time. Perhaps they will become more conservative ...but on this matter? Once you start seeing others as ordinary human beings like you it's very hard to stop. Thank God. If the C of E hopes to connect in even the vaguest way with this coming generation, we've got a lot to come to terms with. As The Church Times reported it, Justin Welby used his first presidential address to the General Synod to call on the church to recognise that the "cultural and political ground" in Britain is "changing", and to "accept that there is a revolution in the area of sexuality, and we have not fully heard it". How right he is. Time we got with the programme.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Fear & (Self-) Loathing in the (ex-) Gay Community



When I was an undergraduate there was a guy, 'John', on my corridor in college who made an extraordinary claim. He said that, as a schoolboy, he’d been obsessed with the Nazis and not only their attempted genocide against Jewish people, but their persecution of gay people. He’d had maps which showed their extermination centres and his biggest regret at the time had been that the Nazis had failed in their vile plans. This confession was all the more startling because, by the time I’d met him, he was an out gay man clearly confident in his identity and sexuality. Unsurprisingly he was repelled by his former views. As a teenager he acknowledged he’d really struggled to accept himself for who he was and had been drawn to precisely the kind of regime which gave focus for his personal fear and loathing.

I’ve been thinking about John today because of a couple of striking stories that have been in the news. Firstly, the news that Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, has both made an apology to gay people for hurt and damage caused by Exodus' ‘ex-gay’ ministry and also has immediately closed the organization down (though we should be *very* cautious about how deep this apology reaches). He has acknowledged that he has never resolved his own attraction to and feelings for men. Secondly, I’ve also been chewing over the story in The Church Times which suggests that, even if clergy in civil partnerships publicly state they’re celibate, they still might not be accepted as eligible for the role of bishop.

When I met John at university he was, unless my memory is faulty, the first confident, out, gay man I’d ever met. I’d grown up in a village and gone to school in a small town so perhaps that’s unsurprising. However, it was still an age (the late ‘80s) when ‘being out’ was – even in university contexts – relatively rare. As anyone who knows me or has read Dazzling Darkness will know, I was – at 18 – utterly unable to acknowledge how messed up I was and far from ready to come out as trans.

The reason John’s story has stayed so powerfully with me was that, though it remains difficult for me to acknowledge, I too saw the appeal of the Nazi totalitarian mind. I was, unlike John, not exactly obsessed with them, but as an utterly screwed up teen I'd been secretly attracted to the idea that ‘unacceptables’ were wiped out by Hitler and his gangsters. One doesn’t need to be a hugely nuanced psychologist to appreciate that my fascination with the Nazis’ gigantic crimes was a ‘public’ way of dealing with my internal desire to wipe out what I perceived to be 'the unacceptable’ within.

The ‘queer but so filled with self-loathing they want to persecute themselves’ trope is so pervasive it’s a cliché. From Cardinal Keith O’Brien through to Alan Chambers, queer folk have often so internalized cultural fear of difference that they become the most vocal agents of their own exclusion. Indeed, protesting too loudly about gay folk, or wanting them excluded from church or society and so on, has often been taken as definitive evidence of being in the closet. Fair or unfair, I’ve never quite been able to get beyond the feeling that anyone who gets overexcited about the acceptability of LGBTQ people in society or before God or in church may have some unresolved personal issues. That may be a little crude but it’s difficult to resist.

In some respects society has moved significantly since I went to university twenty five years ago. I may live in a metropolitan south Manchester bubble, but UK attitudes to LGBTQ folk have moved far in recent years. Nonetheless, let’s not pretend that queer folk, especially gay men, don’t get beaten up; let’s not pretend that trans* people get a fair deal in our media; let’s not pretend that prejudice isn’t real.

I’d like to think that young people are far more confident about their sexuality and gender than I or John or many LGBTQ people were twenty five years ago, but in my bleaker moments I fear not. Outside of the big cities, two women  or two men holding hands and kissing in public is probably not especially common. I suspect that in many schools it is still really tough to dare be out about being gay or trans*. I guess many wait till university or later to begin to be and express themselves.

And here’s the rub: my fear is that one of the environments which acts most strongly against sexual self-acceptance is a religious one. Even when the message ‘gay is bad’ is not explicit, the implication is ‘gay is not quite as good’. Indeed, that it’s a kind of impaired way of being a human being. I’m privileged to know a number of happy, confident Christian LGBTQ people who’ve had parents, families and congregations who’ve worked very hard to deflect and challenge the dominant religious narrative about being gay. Yet, ironically, an environment which focuses powerfully on the call to love and grow into the likeness of Christ so often invites people to be furtive and fearful. It rewards subterfuge and secrecy and invites self-loathing. It’s not always easy to come out the other side.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Being a bishop and being queer

This is the second time I've responded to a piece in The Telegraph in two weeks. I'm not sure this is a good sign (The Telegraph is hardly my news supplier of choice). Perhaps writing this blog post simply indicates how far I'm being sucked into increasingly febrile debates around gender and sexuality in the church.

After the relatively recent debacle in which the House of Bishops sought advice about whether clergy in civil partnerships could be excluded, de jure, from being consecrated bishop, John Bingham is reporting that any CP'd clergy in line for preferment will be duly quizzed by officers of the Archbishops about the state of their sex life. Queer clergy in CPs will need, in effect, to publicly state they are celibate in order to be bishops.

Quite apart from the horror of even trying to imagine *that* conversation ('Are you now, or have you at any time, been sexually active with the person you love & are committed to...who incidently is of the same gender as you?') the very fact that this General Synod paper exists is significant. It indicates just how very far the C of E is drifting from a society which is committed to a holistic and compassionate vision of humans as sexual and gendered beings.

I can no longer give a plausible account of the church's picture of human being, love and wholeness to a large section of my friends and acquaintances, some of whom have left church and others who are utterly turned off by its perceived judgmentalism. I might mumble about 'doctrinal rationales', 'about bishops as unity figures' but large numbers of intellectually questioning and caring people have just moved on. I'm not sure the church can ever catch up again.

If this General Synod paper were to be adopted as policy it would continue to treat LGBT people as the kind of folk who have to justify their presence in all aspects of church life. As ever I am reminded of that line Rowan Williams is reported to have put to George Carey when the latter was Archbishop of Canterbury: 'Who pays the price?' (Interestingly, I am inclined to say, 'In the long run, *all* of us...'; for though many LGBT people will rightly continue to see the church as a place not for them, the church will be diminished further if it continues its push towards the monochrome.)

Equally, I think of a comment a friend made in 2003 after the debacle over Jeffrey John's 'failed' appointment to the See of Reading. John was all lined up, but Rowan Williams (by now Archbishop of Canterbury) reputedly let John down. The rest, as we know, is history. My friend said, 'Well, I suspect that as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan thinks, 'Job well done' but, as Jeffrey's friend, he's just heard the cock crow.'

The story being reported by John Bingham has this general feel. That is, that at an institutional level, the church and its senior figures will think, 'This is how it must be...this is what a good job looks like...'. However, to someone carrying this policy out (unless they have a failure of humanity), it will be a bleak day indeed. They will instinctively recognize that asking the questions about celibacy and a couple's sex life has crossed an unhappy, inquisitorial line. They will have sacrificed compassion to institutional self-interest.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A new bishop for Manchester & a C of E beginning to accept equal marriage.



It is a measure of how out of the loop I am about Manchester Diocesan life that when I woke yesterday I had no idea our new bishop was about to be announced. Frankly, when I found out the announcement was imminent, I developed mild palpitations and a sweat. For a new bishop can be decisive for the feel of a diocese, especially if one feels one is part of a marginal or minority group. I greeted the news of the announcement of David Walker as our new bishop with real pleasure and, frankly, a bit of relief. (Though for a moment I did a double-take: the Dave Walker I am most familiar with is the Cartoon Church cartoonist. I had visions of Dave producing gentle satires of Manchester life whilst blessing inanimate objects and wearing a pointy hat.)

Bishop David Walker, however, has a record on social concern and interest in the needs of the vulnerable and marginalised beyond peradventure. He has stood up for the neediest and, as someone with family in the Midlands, I’ve heard good things about his pastoral sense. I sense that, at a time when the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are being treated with less and less respect, Bishop David will prove to be a potent ally for those in greatest need and will also be an advocate for a generous Anglicanism. I anticipate he will also seek to build on the deeply impressive work of Bishop Nigel with LGB&T communities in Greater Manchester. Indeed, the Pink News has reported that Bishop David would not, had he been in the Lords, voted against the equal marriage bill had he been one of the Lords Spiritual. I sense that our new bishop, a Mancunian himself, will be greeted very warmly when he and his family return back north.

Running alongside that particular piece of good news, The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Church of England bishops have decided to drop opposition to the Equal Marriage Bill, acknowledging the overwhelming will of both Houses of Parliament for an extension of equality to queer people.  Rather, the Lords Spiritual will seek to ensure that the legislation is 'tidied up.' It is yet to be emerge quite what this will ultimately entail, but it looks essentially like a defensive move to ensure that churches, clergy and laity will not be required to step outside their conscience and fundamental beliefs on marriage.

However, I, for one, very much he that this doesn't simply have the character of seeking to lock the C of E completely outside the exciting extension of respect and equality the Equal Marriage Bill proposes. Some clergy, including me, would actively rejoice should we be able to celebrate marriage unions for gay folk as well as straight; equally, it seems increasingly a social imperative for the church to find ways of offering blessing to civilly married gay couples. I do not see how we can seriously continue to be a National Church if we do not do so. I understand that in conscience some clergy would not wish to offer marriage in church for gay folk, just as they do not wish to solemnize the marriages of divorcees in church. But I do not see why there should be a lock out for all clergy.

For some of us this is no mere paper exercise in inclusion. This is simply about seeking to grow into the likeness of Christ and make his glory ever more available. It is about being faithful to God's grace as we've experienced it and wanting to rejoice with friends and family in love and relationship. Many clergy and laity may think, ‘Well LGBT people are nothing to do with me except as people to be called to repentance.’ For many of us, however, especially in places like Manchester, this matter is simply about loving our neighbours and friends and rejoicing in the ordinary and every day; it is about rejoicing in the fact that gay and straight folk are all bearers of the image of God and our faithful, loving unions can reflect her glory.