08 July, 2010

Celebrating Diversity (pars ii)

The Evangelical prospective

The motion presented by the Rev Tony Higton at the Synod debate of 1987 was the first proper tempt of the conservative Evangelicals to draw the attention of the Church of England on her traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage [cf. Peter Coleman (1989) 164]. It came in response to the Gloucester Report and it created much tension. Remarkably, the motion was curbed by the intervention of the Bishop of Chester who had served as Rector of All Saints, Langham Place; 'the Chief Evangelical Church in London' [Ibid. 169].

Since then Evangelicals have been fairly outspoken in their views about homosexual individuals. Their understanding of the Scriptures does not allow them to favour a supportive ministry amongst the LGBT community. Furthermore, they advocate the possibility of change for homosexual individuals. For instance, the Bishop of Rochester has recently called gay people to repent and be changed [cf. Jonathan Wynne-Jones, "Change and repent, Bishop tells gays", The Telegraph, 4th July 2009]. David Field used similar words in Radical Disorientation where he sees homosexuality as 'the embrace of barrenness' [David Field, "Radical Disorientation" in David Peterson (edit) (2004) 64] and 'self-loathing narcissism' [Ibid. 77] amongst other pejorative aspects. It is precisely the various attempts to change and cure the LGBT community that have distanced many individuals from the Church.

Only one of three major Evangelical parishes in London has replied to the author's invitation to illustrate their ministry. Nevertheless, the words of St Helen's, Bishopsgate offer a more positive prospective: "we seek to reach all people with the message of the Gospel and all are welcome at everything we do. We do not and never have run healing courses for LGBT people" [Sydnie Jordan, Assistant to the church manager, St Helen's, Bishopsgate (Aug 2009)].

The Roman Catholic prospective

In 1986 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a letter – Homosexualitatis Problema – addressed to Roman Catholic Bishops concerning the pastoral care of homosexual individuals in an attempt to clarify the Church's stance on the matter. However, since then the Roman Church has been involved in a debate about this subject and the Archdiocese of Westminster has been looking for pastoral solutions in line with the Vatican's directive.

The former Archbishop responded to the needs of London's LGBT community by allowing the church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Soho to hold fortnightly services specifically aimed to gay people. This project took the name of Soho Masses [cf. http://sohomasses.googlepages.com/] and it comprises a vital part of the Assumption's program of outreach. As the name of the group suggests, the Eucharist is just the 'main event' of the pastoral work performed there. Soho Masses offers invaluable help for gay Catholics in deepening their relationship with God and it also provides to the Archdiocese a direct experience in this field. Nevertheless, questions should be raised about the appropriateness of welcoming gay people in an environment entirely detached from ordinary parish ministry. The Assumption's runs the serious risk of attracting London's gay Catholics into a safe haven which in the long term could resemble a ghetto more than a place of dialogue and reconciliation. A similar mistake is arguably made by the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) [cf. http://www.mccnorthlondon.org/] by creating a non-denominational 'counter-Church' in opposition to the mainstream traditions of Christianity. In both cases, these churches incur in a basic pastoral deficiency in celebrating diversity in a way that could lead to integration. More importantly, they seem to forget the vocation of Christianity to be the overarching metanarrative above every social order.

There are two functioning Roman Catholic churches in Soho: the Assumption's and St Patrick's, Soho Square; however because of the particular pastoral orientation of the former, this small area is divided between a 'gay church' and a mainstream one. This dichotomy is particularly visible when considering the practical and often unsolicited ministry of the latter. For example, the clergy of St Patrick's offered Anointing and the Blessed Sacrament to those injured in the 1999 nail-bomb attack to the Admiral Duncan public house as the wounded sheltered in the square. The priests ministered to those injured disregarding their denominations or their purpose for visiting the Admiral Duncan. St Patrick's is neither a 'gay church' nor it has been designated by the Archdiocese to be a centre for gay people. It simply is the Roman Catholic parish church of Soho and thus it reaches out to all the people of the area.

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