A place at the table
Above my desk I have a card from a Church of England school in south east London. I visited Trinity School in Lewisham a couple of times and met some remarkable young people. Some of those young people made wanted to make contact with Inclusive Church at the time when the women bishop’s legislation faltered in 2012. They were angry that the church could get it so wrong. They also expressed clear views about issues related to human sexuality, borne out of the experience of young people who were identifying as LGBT. I was deeply impressed by the maturity of the young people and felt that they could teach the wider church a thing or two about justice and inclusion.!
The school has a very clear statement about itself, called the ‘Trinity Vision’. http://www.trinitylewisham.org/about-us/trinity-vision.html
Part of this vision states that
“at Trinity there is a place at the table, where all have equal value.”
It is that ‘space at the table’ that I often refer to as I work with churches that are considering how to be inclusive.
Inclusive Church, is primarily an educational charity working to encourage churches to explore ways that they may become inclusive. As a Christian educational charity, some of how we do this work is ‘at the table’, in sharing bread and wine together. At times we may not agree, at times we may express difficult things as we explore together our understanding of inclusion – but to share bread and wine together is vitally important.
Some occasionally express surprise that we should break bread together with certain people or groups. There are occasionally comments made about how appropriate it is for people with learning difficulties to share in the Eucharist. ‘How can they understand what is going on?‘ As if sharing in the Eucharist is an intellectual exercise. The church continues to wrestle with how to welcome children at the table. Many speak to us at inclusive church about how we may appropriately include children and young people within the life of the church.
And then there are LGBTI people. It seems that for many it is this group who should not have ‘a place at the table’. Although not a campaigning organisation (we leave campaigning to others), creating a space and an opportunity to break bread together with the LGBT community is something that Inclusive Church sees as important. This is expressed in a number of ways.
- Churches and cathedrals that register with us as ‘inclusive’ are often quietly getting on with creating a ‘place at the table for the LGBT community in their different contexts. http://opentable.lgbt/
Open Table is an ecumenical Christian worship community which offers a warm welcome to people who are: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer / Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA) and all who seek an inclusive Church. Open Table began in Liverpool in July 2008, and in 2016 was affirmed by the Bishop of Liverpool who celebrated at their Eucharist.
There are now Open Table communities in St Helens, North Wales, Warrington, Wigan, London, Manchester, Stoke, Isle of Man, Sefton and more. Many of these churches are registered with Inclusive Church.
- Inclusive Church was privileged to celebrate the Eucharist for the LGBTI community at Greenbelt in 2014. The following year Greenbelt invited the Bishop of Buckingham to celebrate at a Eucharist for hundreds of LGBTI people.
- In 2016 churches and cathedrals across the UK responded positively to the Orlando shootings with vigils and special services.
- Inclusive Churches and cathedrals often mark their local LGBTI pride events by holding services to welcome people ‘at the table’. There are other events through the year where people from the LGBTI community are’ welcomed at the table’ - to mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance, in Manchester Cathedral the Trans community were welcomed to the main morning service. Many churches and cathedrals have made a point of marking World AIDS day with a service.
- Inclusive Church is often able to signpost people to events taking place around the country – for example the LGBT Mass at Nottingham Roman Catholic Cathedral as part of the Pope’s Year of Mercy http://www.inclusive-church.org/news/lgbt-mass .
The young people from Trinity school are encouraged to live out the ‘Trinity Values’ where ‘people have a place at the table and where all have equal value’. Those young people have much to teach all of us. Those Trinity Values are at the heart of what Inclusive Church is about.
Bob Callaghan. National Coordinator Inclusive Church