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Interview: Sharon Ferguson, outgoing CEO of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement

06 June 2014

'It's going to take somebody very brave to stand up and say this is the way to set this clean'

I have never known a time when I didn't know God. Evidently I used to drive my mother nutty, asking to go to church from a very early age, even though my parents were not churchgoers themselves.

I knew in my teens that I was called to ministry. But I didn't pursue this avenue until I was 40, when I clearly heard God tell me that now was the time. My initial career was in residential social work and the care industry.

I went on to become a forensic psychologist before training for the priesthood. I worked on a sex-offender treatment programme, working with violent offenders - mainly helping with their rehabilitation, doing assessments to see if they were suitable for the programme, working on it, and then doing the post-assessments.

I do believe God can change us; but we also have a duty to protect other people. I'm always happy to give someone a second chance, but, equally, people have to be protected. The perfect creation has been completely damaged by us, and everything is affected by that. For example, all people are welcome to my church, but not all behaviours are welcome. We don't allow people to be disruptive in church, but that doesn't mean the individual isn't welcome. God loves us all, but we don't all behave very well.

My background was as a Baptist, but the Baptist Church isn't always welcoming of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered] people, and I wasn't very welcoming of their theology. We would have struggled to accept each other. The Metropolitan Community Church has social justice very close to its heart, as it is to mine, and they were very accepting of me.

I was ordained in that church, and started off in the Brixton (then Balham) church. Now I work in Camden. It draws people from everywhere - even as far as Leeds. I think only about two members of the congregation live in Camden.

My own upbringing, and the diversity of my work experience, meant that I was painfully aware of how much discrimination, exclusion, and abuse was perpetuated in God's name if you were "different" in any way. This made me passionate about sharing the inclusive love of the God I knew, and to fight discrimination in all its forms.

I don't think I can say if being CEO of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement [LGCM] has been the most important part of my ministry: often we are unaware of the depth of the impact that things we do can have on others. Certainly, though, it's given me opportunities to make a visible difference.

God drew me to the LGCM. I wanted a full-time ministry, and LGCM offered this.

Nothing can prepare you for the work: you have to trust God will give you what you need.

LGCM will exist as long as there is even a whiff of faith-based homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia anywhere in the world. LGCM has always believed that we are all God's children, wonderfully made in God's image, and that our sexual orientation and/or gender identity does not alter that fact.

There are quite a few other LGBT faith organisations, but LGCM is unique in being an ecumenical movement working across all denominations and none. Our membership used to be 80- to 90-per-cent Anglican, but now it's about 50 per cent, as other denominations are beginning to recognise the work we do as an ecumenical organisation.

I think Anglican bishops are hurting themselves, as well as other people, by not being honest about gay clergy. Jesus spent a lot of time talking about hypocrisy. It's the thing he hated above all things. If they are silent about their own sexual orientation, or speaking out against gays when they know they are gay themselves, they are damaging the work of God, and the work of the Church of England, and the LGBT community. Because people know. I think it's going to take somebody very brave to stand up and say this is the way to set this clean. I don't think it will be Justin Welby, but it may be his successor.

I'm leaving to care for my two adopted disabled brothers, as my mother is no longer able to do so. I grew up in an extended family which included aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, and foster children. While many of them are no longer with us, my family doesn't seem to have diminished, as I am constantly "adopted" by members of my congregation.

I'm also undertaking Ph.D. research into the biblical and theological understandings of non-binary gender. If you start with Genesis, it says in the Hebrew that God created both male and female - making it clear that every human is male and female. It's just a societal construct that we are either/or.

The passages in the Bible about eunuchs also have a lot of say about gender. Again, in Hebrew, there's an ancient term that talks about people who are sometimes male and sometimes female.

We also see gender variations recognised in other religions, such as the hijras in Hinduism, or Two-Spirit people in North American spirituality. There have always been those people who don't fit comfortably within the binary gender. I'll be looking at the impact this had on misogyny, and on how we spread the gospel.

I will also be continuing to support the work of LGCM, taking on the role of co-president of the European Forum; and will continue as Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in north London.

As for a favourite place, Kenya was very special to me; but, as I love the heat, anywhere hot will do.

I would have to choose two sounds: birdsong - there's something hopeful about it; and a baby laughing - the innocence and pure joy liftsmy spirit and makes me laugh, too. They both make me wonder how anyone could deny the existence of God.

Most influential were my grandmother, the Revd Elder Jean White, Bishop Gene Robinson, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They have all shown me Jesus at work in this world.

Apart from the Bible, I am a fan of science fantasy, and love the escapism that these stories offer.

With a congregation as diverse as mine, and with 40 per cent of them seeking asylum, most of my prayer-life is for their protection and well-being. However, the prayer I saythe most is simply two words: "Use me."

I'd choose to be locked in a church with Jesus, of course. But, just in case he's too busy, I'd welcome a few hours with my partner, Franka, as we don't get many opportunities for quality time.

The Revd Sharon Ferguson was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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