Home > Features > Finding the gift of a safe space

Finding the gift of a safe space

A safe space that creates honesty and faith sharing is a gift to the church and not a threat. That is the experience of one UCA congregation recently.

The idea of having ordained ministers or lay leaders who are also gay is abhorrent to some and welcomed by others, but many of these discussions take place without listening directly to the voice of gay and lesbian people or acknowledging their presence in Uniting Church congregations.

At a conversation series on homosexuality and leadership in the Church, hosted by the Progressive Spirituality Network at West End Uniting Church, this was definitely not the case.

Those who attended the conversations heard the faith stories of two people: one gay man and one lesbian woman. From a young age both had a strong faith, an awareness of a call to ministry, and both knew they were gay.

Both married and had children. One became a Baptist minister and the other was the wife of an Anglican minister.

Hearing their stories opened ears and hearts. Both acknowledged the pain of rejection because of their sexuality.

Anne James, now Senior Pastor at Metropolitan Community Church, said her sexuality and her faith have always been intrinsically linked.

“At four years old I both had my first crush on a female and I had my first conscious awareness of the God of love,” she said.

“My family was very rejecting of me as a lesbian. They did not attend my graduation, ‘what did you expect with your lifestyle choice’, and I was excluded from my sister’s funeral,” said Ms James.

“When they read my story of my journey as a lesbian and a Christian they began to change.”

Ms James also spoke of the damage caused by Christian groups who believe they can turn homosexual people straight.

The former Baptist minister who did not wish to be named said, “For so many years, I had prayed to be different. I had, at one time, even sought an exorcism.

“The time had come for me to be reconciled to what was my essential nature. I would reach out in friendship and love to that dimension of my being against which I had fought: but it would come at a cost.”

He said he had never experienced a need to ‘come out’; instead, he felt he needed to do the opposite.

I have experienced a deep need to ‘come in’ in order to explore the mystery and the meaning of it all. My deepest experience has been that of ‘coming home.’

“I have allowed any self-disclosure to be influenced by the words of Jesus when he counselled not to cast our pearls before swine because they would trample them underfoot and then turn and rend us.

“I need to tell you that I regard my sexuality as sacred to who I am and I have not offered that truth to those who have no capacity to respect it.

“The experience of one gay man is that the church rewards secrecy and punishes openness.”

Until such a time as he feels the church is able to offer a ‘safe space’ for homosexual people, the former Baptist minister will remain on the outskirts of conventional Christianity in the knowledge that God is bigger than the issue.

“I am content to live in the margins and not to be on the roll of any denomination within organized religion.

“My deepest truth, in relation to the visible Church, is that I belong nowhere but everywhere; to no one, but to everyone.

“I am content to be among the least in the Kingdom of God. I can only be who I am.

“It is my belief that the Church will find its way through this issue when it is willing and able to think much less about behaviours and much more about a way of being in the world: when it has as much respect for diversity as the Creator seems to have.”