03/10/17

The priest who welcomed the LGBT community into his church

By Michael Cox

Seamus O’Boyle was leader of London’s gay Catholic Mass for six years, until it came to an end under pressure from the Vatican in 2013. Now a parish priest in the borough, Monsignor O’Boyle speaks to Michael Cox about the bittersweet feeling of helping a hurt community which was again cast aside, and the changing attitudes of the Church to LGBT people.

In April 1999 neo-Nazi David Copeland, known as the London Nail Bomber, killed three people in the Admiral Duncan Pub on Old Compton Street, at the heart of London’s gay community.

“After the pub bombing in Soho where people got killed, there was a group of gay Catholic men and women who wanted somewhere to pray,” says Monsignor Seamus O’Boyle. But the Church’s teachings forbade this.

“They started gathering together in an Anglican church to have Catholic Mass. That was a bit of an anomaly really, to put it mildly.”

Eight years later Mgr O’Boyle was Vicar General, a senior position in the Church which made him responsible for every priest in London. He had an opportunity to do something.

He decided that after what the community had suffered, he wanted LGBT Catholics to worship in a Catholic setting.

“The move was to try and make sure this was happening in a Catholic parish instead, and that it was open to everyone.

“We looked for a church and it was decided that we would use Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street in Soho. I was appointed as the parish priest so I was responsible for what went on, in the sense of having an oversight of what was going on there.

“I was blamed for it all, being reported to Rome every five minutes.

The blame came from more conservative Catholics who did not want to see homosexuality being publicly welcomed by the Church. The furore over an officially sanctioned gay Mass began immediately.

“It was a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to that community. It was a very hurt community by the Church, and yet there they were wanting to be part of it. I think we did a very good thing by allowing that to happen, but others didn’t feel that way.

“More traditional Catholics didn’t like it much. There was a group who used to meet outside and protest, saying the rosary. It was just horrendous, really. And then writing every five minutes to Rome to tell them that we were doing this atrocious thing. All kinds of ministry of disinformation, it was awful.

“Sometimes the group didn’t help by reacting in a bad way to some of the criticism and trying to reign them in a bit was not always easy. The group meeting outside was always invited in, you know, ‘come in and see that we’ve not got two heads’.

“Actually it was a very traditional celebration of mass, just that there happened to be a lot of musicians…

“To go to a Mass on a Sunday evening and have 150 people there who wanted to be there and participate in that way was just extraordinary. It was causing more and more trouble, every five minutes there was another complaint so the Archbishop wanted to find a different way of operating it.”

The Archbishop at the time was Vincent Nichols, and as leader of all Catholics in England and Wales he was responsible for dealing with the Vatican and, ultimately, the Pope.

He shut down the Soho Mass in 2013, saying it conflicted with the church’s teachings on sexuality.

Archbishop Nichols told the BBC at the time: “The moral teaching of the Church is that the proper use of our sexual faculty is within a marriage, between a man and a woman, open to the procreation and nurturing of new human life.

“This means that many types of sexual activity, including same-sex sexual activity, are not consistent with the teaching of the church.”

The Mass was moved out of the jurisdiction of the Archbishop into a Jesuit church on Farm Street in Mayfair, where it has continued.

“A number of the Jesuit priests were involved in the Soho masses so it seemed like a natural progression,” says Mgr O’Boyle. “It’s still thriving.

“The problem with Warwick Street was it is a very tiny community, so that particular group swamped it. Farm Street is a much bigger community so to get them to mix has worked well. It means they’re not the only thing that’s happening.”

Mgr O’Boyle believes that despite initial approval from the Vatican, the Archbishop came under increasing pressure from the top of the church to end the LGBT Mass.

“Every step along the way, there was discussion with bishops, then Rome was involved and they were notified about what was going on. They were informed about it, it wasn’t like we were doing anything behind anyone’s back. But it wasn’t appreciated by everyone.

“[Archbishop Nichols] would go to meetings in Rome in all he would hear about was who had written to complain about Soho Mass, it became ridiculous and out of proportion. He was irritated by the reaction from Rome, so it was a neat way to bring it to an end at Warwick Street.

“And then I moved from there to here in Islington.”

Mgr O’Boyle thinks the attitude to LGBT people in the Catholic Church is changing, a shift largely driven by the actions of an unusually liberal Pope.

“Pope Francis has given people hope that the church doesn’t seem quite so judgemental or dictatorial about things.

“He was interviewed [about homosexuality] and famously said “who am I to judge?” To hear a Pope say that when others seem to have been very judgemental and harsh was a real sign of hope for the LGBT community I think.

“He’s trying to modernise the church but he’s up against it. He needs to do it, which I think is why he’s right for his time.

“He doesn’t care what he does really which is great – he’s the Pope isn’t he? He can do what he likes.

“I think there are those who would like to stop him doing what he’s doing – the establishment would. Centuries-old structures of bureaucracy are not easy to break down.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for the Church.”

Complete Article HERE!

02/17/17

The clergy has moved on. It’s the bishops who are out of touch

Synod’s rejection of the same-sex marriage report shows the problem of having glorified administrators focused on unity at the head of the church

A delegate walks past protesters outside the General Synod at Church House in London on Wednesday. ‘The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.’

By

It rained in London on Wednesday afternoon. Then the sun came out. And so it was that when the General Synod of the Church of England met to discuss the acceptability of same-sex marriage, a huge rainbow appeared over Church House, Westminster. Even God, it seems, was making his feelings known on this one.

The bishops had produced a report after a three-year listening process. This itself was just another kicking-into-the-long-grass exercise. After all, who can refuse listening? So church reports that seek no change always call for another report and more listening. But had anybody heard anything useful? The report called for a “change of tone” towards LGBTI people – yes, they always do that, and always in the same patronising tone – but no change of doctrine. The bishops refused to budge on the question of same-sex couples getting married in church. And so the clergy of the C of E threw the report out, leaving the bishops angry and embarrassed.

Recalling the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel in the book of Genesis, Canon Simon Butler – gay, out and partnered – told synod: “I will not let go until you bless me.” Those of us wrestling for equal marriage will not stop until gay people are offered the church’s blessing. We bless battleships with missiles. But not the love between two people. And the problem here is not the clergy or the people in the pews. The problem is the bishops themselves, tense with self-imposed anxiety.

On the same day the report was being sunk by synod, a British Social Attitudes survey found that only 17% of Anglicans now believe that same-sex relationships are “always wrong”, the lowest level since 1983 when people started measuring these views. Back then, the figure was 50%. In the intervening years churchgoers, like the population in general, have dramatically changed their mind over homosexuality. And hurrah for that.

But don’t believe that this is all the church wants to talk about. In my parish, it’s a non-issue. We’ve had openly gay clergy ministering here and many gay people in the pews. While the bishops take themselves away to discuss fictional case studies involving problematic gay-related situations (NB don’t say problem gay people – that’s all part of the “change of tone” directive), we in the parish just get on with doing the stuff we’re supposed to. No, the problem is within the episcopate. They voted 43-1 for the report. And the one who voted against wasn’t some brave bishop registering dissent. It was the bishop of Coventry who couldn’t figure out how to work his voting console.

Such is the high degree of corporate responsibility the bishops feel, that even those sympathetic to same-sex marriage voted for a report that condemned it. Thus the bishop of Liverpool wrote: “For some, the sense of betrayal is particularly acute when applied to people like me, who have spoken of the need for change in the church. Where was I? What happened to my voice? How could I have been so weak as to stand with this document?”

The answer is always the same. The job of the bishops, the current lot insist, is to provide a “focus of unity”. That’s why when bishops retire, and are freed from the responsibility of keeping their dioceses together, they write letters to the papers saying how much they disagreed with what they used to have to support. The bishops tell themselves that they sacrifice their personal views for the greater good. And they ask us to feel their pain. Responsibility for the way in which this need for corporate double-speak has blunted the prophetic witness of the episcopate is squarely on the shoulders of the secretive process by which bishops are selected. It’s a process that promotes the same sort of people – glorified administrators who are good at “tone” and are not given to bursts of independent mindedness. None of which are qualities associated with the prophets of the Bible.

What Wednesday’s synod vote revealed was not only that the church continues to move in a progressive direction – though with the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of an articulated lorry. It also demonstrated the widening gap between bishops and their clergy. The C of E works best at the local level. Head office is out of touch.

Complete Article HERE!

02/15/17

Church of England in turmoil as synod rejects report on same sex relationships

Clergy vote against report by 100 to 93 in blow to archbishop of Canterbury as he tries to chart course between apparently unreconcilable wings of church

A member of the St Anselm community at Lambeth Palace walks past activists from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement outside the General Synod at Church House in London.

By  

The Church of England has been plunged into fresh turmoil after its general assembly threw out a report on same sex relationships in a rebuff to bishops following almost three years of intense internal discussion and intractable divisions.

The C of E’s synod, meeting in London this week, voted on Thursday to effectively reject the report, which upholds traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman.

Although there was a clear overall majority in favour of “taking note” of the report, it needed the support of all three houses – bishops, clergy and laity. The clergy narrowly voted against, by 100 votes to 93, meaning the motion was lost.

The de facto rejection of the report is a blow to the authority of Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, who pleaded with the synod to accept the report as “a basis for moving on, a good basis, a roadmap”.

Welby presides over the House of Bishops, which has met four times since internal discussion groups wound up last July to chart the way forward between two apparently unreconcilable wings of the church.

Responding to the vote, Graham James, bishop of Norwich, said: “I can guarantee that the House of Bishops will consider carefully and prayerfully all the contributions made in the debate today.”

He added: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of synod and the wider church have said as a result of this report.”

Acknowledging that the next steps were unclear, Pete Broadbent, bishop of Willesden, said: “In this debate, we haven’t even begun to find a place where we can coalesce…. More conversation is needed. We don’t yet know the next stage – nor yet when and whether we can bring any further report to synod.”

The issue has dominated the current four-day session of the synod, and has been the subject of bitter debate within the C of E – and the global Anglican communion – for decades. At the moment, gay clergy are forbidden from marrying or having sexual relationships, and same sex marriage services are prohibited in churches.

In a debate lasting more than two hours, about one in three members of the synod requested to speak from the packed floor of the auditorium. Many contributions included personal testimonies from lesbians and gay men.

Jayne Ozanne of Oxford accused the bishops of putting “political expediency ahead of principle”. Fearing a split, they had “chosen not to lead but to manage”.

Simon Butler of Southwark, an openly gay member of synod, said that “only when fracture comes can new possibilities emerge”, and quoted Genesis: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

Lucy Gorman of York told the synod that “outside these walls, we are being heard as lacking in love”. No wonder, she added, that fewer young people were coming to church. “Why would people become part of a church that is seemingly homophobic?”

But those on the conservative wing of the church also expressed criticisms and some voted against the report. Andrea Minichiello-Williams of Chichester said: “All sexual expression outside a lifelong permanent union on one man and one woman is sinful.” Sexuality was a “first order issue”, one on which salvation depends. “That’s why it’s so important to speak clearly with regard to sexual sin.”

Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, said: “I honour the anger and, indeed, fury, of the LGBTI community who see in this report hard stones when they looked for bread.” However, he urged the synod to back the report, saying its encouragement for clergy to exercise maximum freedom within existing doctrine “may carry us to places we have not previously gone”. The report, he said, “cannot, will not and should not mark the end of the road” on the issue.

Welby, the final speaker to be called, said “how we deal with profound disagreement… is the challenge we face”. The church needed to be “neither careless in our theology nor ignorant of the world around us”, he added.

Before the debate, both James and Broadbent, who led the bishops’ group which wrote the report, apologised to its critics. “It has not received a rapturous reception in all quarters, and I regret any pain or anger it may have caused. And if we’ve got the tone wrong, we are very sorry,” said James.

Broadbent acknowledged it was “a pretty conservative document”, adding: “I do want to apologise to those members of synod who found our report difficult, who didn’t recognise themselves in it, who had expected more from us than we actually delivered, for the tone of the report. On behalf of the House [of Bishops], and without being trite or trivial, I’m sorry.”

While upholding traditional doctrine on marriage, the report said teaching should be interpreted with “maximum freedom” for same sex couples and called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for lesbians and gays while proposing no concrete change.

Following the vote, Ozanne, a leading gay rights campaigner on the synod, said: “I am thrilled that this report has been voted down. We now look forward to working together to build a church that is broad enough to accept the diversity of views that exist within it, courageous enough to address the deep divisions that exist between us and loving enough to accept each other as equal members of the body of Christ.”

Simon Sarmiento, chairman of LGBTI Mission, said: “I’m pleased the report was not accepted. I am sure the bishops will have learned a lesson from this experience which I know has been painful. I hope they will now consult widely and proceed wisely.”

Andrea Williams, from the conservative Christian Concern, said the report had tried “to straddle positions that cannot be reconciled”. She added: “This shouldn’t be read as a victory for the LGBT activists within the Church. The reason why this happened was because there was no clarity in which direction the church will go.”

LGBTI Christians and supporters of gay equality held a vigil outside Church House in Westminster, the venue for the synod, during the debate.

Complete Article HERE!

01/29/17

Gay pastor returns to Kenosha after being outed and ousted

First United Methodist Church to publicly apologize

First United Methodist The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe of Kenosha\’s First United Methodist Church, center, stands with members of the reconciling committee, from left, Jessica DeBoer, Len Wojciechowicz and his wife Laura. The church is welcoming back to Kenosha a gay clergy member who was outed and ousted from the congregation more than 30 years ago.

BY DANIEL GAITAN

The Rev. Kevin Johnson was outed and forced out of First United Methodist Church in Kenosha when he affirmed his gay orientation in 1981.

Now more than 30 years later, the church, 919 60th St., will publicly apologize for its actions during its Weekend of Reconciliation.

Johnson, 63, and his husband, Michael Shear, will travel from Palm Springs, Calif., to Kenosha for the Feb. 4-5 festivities, which will include plenty of preaching, prayer and tears.

“The invitation to host my husband and me was a long time coming. It was welcome, though it will not be easy,” Johnson wrote in an opinion piece published in The Desert Sun, the Palm Springs newspaper.

‘Devastated’

“More years have passed since my dismissal than my age when I first entered the church’s doors,” Johnson said. “Their 1981 rejection devastated my career dreams. I had to build a new life in the business world.”

For 20 years, Johnson said he was separated from his professional calling.

“That hurt badly. But I was never separated from my faith. I always sensed God’s love,” he said.

That helped him co-found Bloom in the Desert Ministries in 2002.

He said this is the first time since 1972 — when the United Methodist Church said, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” — that a local church is reconciling publicly with a former pastor affected by the decree.

News of Johnson’s return has sparked warm headlines across the nation.

“Times have changed, and young gay men are more confident in themselves,” Johnson told the Kenosha News.

Opposition

Official United Methodist Church law prohibits gay clergy, but the Kenosha church is one of a growing number of congregations now fighting it.

First United overwhelmingly voted last summer to identify as a Reconciling Ministries Congregation. It decided to welcome the LGBTQI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex) community, despite official restrictions still imposed by the church’s official disciple book.

“I’m thrilled to be able to come back and spend time with friends and meet new people having an influence on the congregation to be more inclusive,” Johnson said. “I am coming back with a full heart.”

Outed and ousted

The Rev. Kevin Johnson

Johnson said being outed and publicly forced out of a job in his late 20s devastated him.

He said a private conversation with a church member who questioned his sexuality was made public, which triggered the backlash against him.

“For years, it was very difficult for me to be a part of a church organization,” Johnson said.

“It was very difficult for the first decade after. I barely went to church at all. I had lost all confidence in human beings who claimed to be loving persons in the Christian church.”

Although Johnson made a career in business around the turn of the millennium, he felt called to launch his own ministry.

Bloom in the Desert Ministries in Palm Springs is designed to be a safe space and sanctuary for anyone experiencing spiritual abuse and religious discrimination related to gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnic heritage.

“I hope other churches who dismissed pastors for this very reason will do the same thing and decide that they want to be reconciled with the people they wronged in the past,” Johnson said.

Johnson left the Methodist Church and joined the United Church of Christ.

Accepting all Christians

The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe, pastor of First United, said he is proud of his congregation for its support of Johnson.

Lowe said homosexuality and Christianity are not incompatible, so reaching out to this community is honoring Christ.

“I think the whole idea of sexuality in the Bible and what kind of gets explained as the ‘Christian’ understanding of sexuality isn’t quite accurate and isn’t quite theologically grounded,” Lowe said, adding that the Bible fails to offer a clear-cut set of teachings regarding sexuality, gender and even marriage.

He said the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality are far more complex than a sound bite or single verse pulled out of context during Sunday service.

“People just say ‘(homosexuality) is in the Bible; here’s what it says,’ when there are so many layers and things are misinterpreted between Greek and Hebrew to English,” Lowe said. “You can be a Christian and be gay — and practice your sexuality.”

At the core of Christianity, Lowe said, is a spirit of radical reconciliation.

Welcoming everyone

Jessica DeBoer, a member of the church’s Reconciling Committee, said the church has made a commitment to welcome everyone as equals.

“It’s very exciting,” DeBoer said. “I think as more people know about it, it will help bring people in. It’s really important that we welcome everybody.”

DeBoer said few members of the church were around when Johnson was forced out, but the “wound” remains in the minds of many.

“This is absolutely a huge part of our past as a church family,” DeBoer said. “It was the elephant in the room, especially now that we have openly become this accepting congregation.”

Complete Article HERE!