Early in 2004, Rachel started attending an evangelical Anglican church with her (female) partner. This was their experience.
My partner and I had recently moved to a new area, and sought out a church where we felt we could serve and grow. This church is a large, evangelical-moving-towards-charismatic church, where people alluded to something negative that happened three years ago, but no-one voiced what this was. They had never encountered ‘out’ gay Christians among the congregation. The vicar was in his late 30s, and had spent some time in a previous church supporting young gay Christians to be celibate, but had not previously met Christians living in a same-sex relationship.
The church was initially welcoming and seemed accepting of our relationship. This changed ten days later, after we had sent back a ‘yes we want to find out more about this church community’ welcome card. The vicar visited us to break the news that, although welcome in the church, our participation in church life would be severely restricted due to our living outside the will of God. He explained that the church had discussed ‘the gay issue’ the previous October, stating its stance that being what they described as ‘actively gay’ was outside God’s will. There had been tolerated dissent among the congregation over this position – the church was apparently willing to have pro-gay straight people participating fully in church life, but not pro-gay gay ones.
We were shaken and distressed by the visit, but decided to spend time finding out how this would impact on our membership of the church. All positions of leadership and ministry would be withheld from us, including any role involving being seen at the front of the church, helping with young people’s groups, church projects, etc. After prayer and discussion, both with each other and with the vicar, we agreed to abide by the restrictions in order to continue at a church that we liked and felt called to be in. These discussions were, to some extent, difficult for the vicar as well as for us and he often looked worried when speaking with us.
Over the following months, the church and its leadership held meetings and discussions that we only found out about by accident, which further prevented our inclusion in church life. The vicar ‘outed’ us to people we didn’t know, and acted in ways he had explicitly said he would not do. It seemed that we were seen as a threat by the church, that we had chosen to go there in order to deliberately challenge their theology, rather than as people seeking God. We were eventually unable to join a home group, or even to ask people from the church 20s group we were attending to socialise. During this process the vicar switched repeatedly from being considerate and kind to being attacking and hurtful, while all the time looking under stress.
We met a mixed sex couple at the church, who had lived together outside marriage, one partner of whom had only recently become a Christian. The church welcomed and included them, in spite of believing they were also living outside the will of God, and this made us feel further marginalised.
Finally we left, feeling unable to trust anyone in the church. Reality seemed distorted to the extent that we were becoming quite paranoid, and we felt that we had been pushed to the very limits of our personhood. On trying to explain to people in the church that we had felt there was no place for us and so were leaving, we were assured that we had not found the church unwelcoming, as it is a welcoming church. This was alongside blame that we had chosen to go to a church where our lifestyle is clearly seen as outside God’s intention; that we had led others in the church to anguish as they tried to embrace us while condemning us; and that we had not let others know that we were struggling.
(Taken from an article first published in Third Way Magazine, Dec 2004 – with permission)