A brave faith

One gay Christian seeking authenticity

Be welcome at this table – a liturgy for LGBT History Month

LGBT History Month 2017 logoFebruary is LGBT History Month in the UK – an annual festival to celebrate the lives and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people past and present.

The Open Table community at St Bride’s Church in Liverpool, which my husband and I host, is honouring the occasion in its gatherings this month.

LGBT History Month began in 2004, organised by Schools Out UK, a campaigning group for LGBT people in education. Each year it takes a theme from the education curriculum – this year it’s ‘Citizenship & Law’, as 2017 marks 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in the UK.

Open Table at St Bride’s Liverpool has met on the third Sunday of each month since June 2008, usually for a simple communion service. In July 2016 we began meeting on the first Sunday of each month for a bring-and-share ‘agape’ meal – a simple commemoration of Jesus’ last meal with his friends, as told by Paul in the earliest known account of the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), an act of self-giving love (agape in Greek).

When we gathered on the first Sunday in February, we were wondering how to respond to the strong feelings in our community triggered by the Church of England House of Bishops’ latest report on sexuality and marriage (You can read about St Bride’s Church’s response to the statement here).

We found and adapted a simple liturgy inspired by the Gospel reading for that Sunday, Matthew 5:13-20 ‘You are the salt of the earth.’

We offer it today in solidarity with LGBT+ Christians and allies, as the Church of England’s General Synod meeting in London debates the House of Bishops’ Report, who are holding a prayer vigil organised by One Body One Faith, the newly formed alliance of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Changing Attitude.

We will offer this liturgy again as part of our LGBT History Month communion service at St Bride’s Liverpool on Sunday 19th February, as we reflect on the outcome of the General Synod’s debate this week, and the Oasis Foundation research report released on 10th February which found that church teaching in almost all major Christian denominations fuels self-harm and suicide among lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

We will also share a reading in Polari, the coded language once used by gay men to avoid exposure in the era of blackmail and criminalisation, in solidarity with the students of Westcott House theological college in Cambridge who were disciplined for using Polari as part of an evening prayer service for LGBT History Month.

We adapted the following from ‘Service of Communion: A Ritual with Salt’ by Carol Wise, Executive Director of the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests. If you use it elsewhere, please acknowledge the source – you can find the original on the Institute for Welcoming Resources website (towards the bottom of the page).


Leader:  Salt – this mighty symbol of life and vitality. Salt is the only rock that we eat.

Salt preserves and protects against decay. We die from a lack of it. Interestingly, when we hunger, we crave food. When we thirst, we crave water. But even when dying from a salt deficiency, at no time will we experience a craving for it. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult for dying institutions to embrace the salty ones in their midst.

Salt – a blessing, a necessity, a holy substance, a tasty gift. No wonder Jesus spoke of it. It is only fitting.

Today we celebrate the salt that we are called to be. As a people called to justice, hospitality, love and healing, we offer to our churches and to the world the possibility of life, a protection against decay, an enhanced experience of flavour, health and vitality.

I invite us to consider the blessings that the salty ones pour out upon us and to celebrate that goodness.

Reader 1:  I bring the saltiness of those who have gone before us and cleared the path… the ones who have taught us the meaning of courage, who embodied integrity, who ruptured the death-dealing silence, who call us yet today to be bold, brave and bodaciously honest. Their virtue continues to be a blessing to us all.

All:         Be welcome at this table!

Reader 2:  I bring the saltiness of people of faith whose hunger and thirst for righteousness has called them to remain within their faith traditions, and by their presence, insist that the church be faithful to God’s call to hospitality and justice. Their hopefulness is a blessing to us all.

All:         Be welcome at this table!

Reader 3: I bring the saltiness of those whose hunger and thirst for righteousness has called them to leave the familiarity of their religious traditions to embrace new spiritualities, or live within the ambiguity of their exile. Their absence from our churches is a reflection of an unquenchable, life affirming spirit, and is a blessing to us all.

All:         Be welcome at this table!

Reader 4: I bring the saltiness of those allies who see in the liberation of LGBTQIA people, hope for the whole of humankind. Their willingness to stand in solidarity is a profound act of imagination and peace, and their generosity is a blessing to us all.

All:         Be welcome at this table!

Reader 5: I bring the saltiness of the most outrageous queens and uppity women and pesky peacemakers and annoying gadflies. These saints remind us that laughter and celebration are brazen acts of resistance and expressions of a strength and a passion that the world cannot take away. Their audacity is a blessing to us all.

All:         Be welcome at this table!

Reader 6: I bring the saltiness of all who refuse to be silenced and made timid by fear. Their songs of love, their prayers of hope, their sermons of outrage, their protests, letters, speeches, mailings, poems, tears, righteous defiance and shouts of indignation, are gifts of passion and a blessing to us all.

All:         Be welcome at this table!

Leader:      Let us take a moment to give thanks for those whose presence graces our table.

Prayer of Blessing

Leader:  Holy One, with hearts full of gratitude, we give thanks for this cloud of witnesses whose spirits linger among, around and within us. May the hope, generosity, audacity, and passion and life affirming presence that is present around this table and in this meal inspire us to be bold in our speech and strong in our commitment to a just and kind world where there is room enough for all at the table.

All:         Amen.

 


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