I often have to say to people: "it's more than
just about the gay thing."
From its beginning, Inclusive Church identified
a number of key areas where exclusion from church may be
experienced. This does include sexuality, but also disability,
mental-health issues, poverty, gender, and ethnicity. Many of the
people we deal with are hanging on to church by their fingertips,
because of the way they have been treated.
Inclusive Church is a charity created just over ten
years ago. At its heart, Inclusive Church sees inclusion
as a gospel imperative, and at the heart of what it means to be
Anglican. Although all churches would claim to be welcoming, we
encounter too many people whose experience of church is far from
The job of co-ordinator involves organising the
members who sign up with us, working with our volunteers to make
sure that our presence in social media and on the web is good - now
much more important than it ever was; supporting individuals and
parishes; talking to deanery synods; going to events like
Greenbelt, General Synod, LGBT Pride events, Mental Health Day,
Disability Awareness Day, and events that dioceses may run through
our contacts there.
The membership of Inclusive Church comprises
individuals and churches from a number of denominations and none.
Our purpose is to provide a network of churches where people know
they will receive a welcome and a safe place. It provides hope for
people who feel alienated by the Church. Second, is the way it
reminds the wider Church that these issues are important. Part of
our work is to speak truth to power.
Part of the decision to apply for this post
came from my experience as a gay man in a civil partnership.
Although I worked in very supportive churches, there was always the
need to be prudent with the truth about my personal life. Working
for Inclusive Church has allowed me to be fully open in a way that
I know some other clergy in a similar situation can't be.
I came to faith as a teenager, through the
ministry of Hugh Maddox, who came to be Rector of Sandwich in Kent.
Previously he been curate at St Martin-in-the-Fields, and so
brought to us a real sense of the gospel being relevant to social
action and justice. In many ways, my spirituality is still rooted
in a God who has a heart for the excluded.
I have a card in my Bible from someone who
wrote to thank me for helping them to know Jesus better. In many
ways, that's the stuff of being a parish priest, or should be.
Helping people grow in faith is a real privilege. In slightly more
measurable terms, I suppose I'm proud of the fact that, while
incumbent in Dartford, we managed the remarkable feat of bulldozing
the parish church and vicarage and rebuilding it as a Healthy
Living Centre. It took nearly 20 years, but was quite an
achievement for all involved.
Currently, my main project at Inclusive Church is a book
project in partnership with Darton, Longman & Todd.
I'm the series editor of six resource books about the core issues
of exclusion that we are involved with. There are 42 contributors
in total. The books are being published in pairs: Disability,
Mental Health, Sexuality, and Poverty have been published. The
books on Gender and Ethnicity will be published this spring.
I've been particularly touched by our work on mental
health and disability. Whenever I go out to preach about
Inclusive Church, someone always comes up to me afterwards to thank
me for mentioning mental-health issues. They share their own
experiences, and say it's the first time they have heard it
I've come to a whole new realisation about how
difficult and complex the needs of those who are disabled can be.
We assume that if we have a ramp and a hearing loop we can tick the
disability box. But if you need a carer, for example, you're not
able to be up and out very early. No way are you going to be able
to get to church by 9.30 in the morning.
We've run three conferences at St
Martin-in-the-Fields, and a young girl called Sarah came.
She had to courier her special chair into the conference the day
before, and courier it back the day after. She's young, vibrant,
intelligent, wants to be involved. . . I hadn't seen that world of
disability, but I get it now.
A lot of disabled people are quite isolated,
but a lot are using the internet and blogging. Getting to know your
local carers' networks helps you find out where disabled people
are. Have conversations with them, ask them how they would want to
access the church for carol services, weddings, and funerals. How
can we make it better, even if they don't want to access church on
every single Sunday?
If I'm not visiting a church on behalf of Inclusive
Church, I'm able to go as an ordinary member of the
congregation. In two churches I covered yesterday - 20 in one, 40
in the other - I was by far the youngest. If you're an ageing
congregation looking after wonderful listed buildings, a small
group of older people whose energies are needed for keeping the
show on the road, there's less time to sit and pray and discern
what God wants. There's very little energy and time to grow the
church and draw younger people in.
The institution hasn't realised that life is more
complicated than in 1952. It still runs on the assumption
that people are having their tea at 5.30, and available to come to
meetings at 7.30. It's a big shift, and no one knows how to turn it
round. So they keep on going as if nothing is different.
If clergy are not modelling an appropriate way to manage
time, how do we help our congregations? The internet has
changed our working patterns over the past ten years, but we
haven't worked out how to use these well.
I wish that church leaders had more time to
pray, to reflect on where God may be leading the Church in
I've just read A Theology of Gender by Rosemary
Lain-Priestley. Some of the statistics she outlined made
me angry. Women comprise half the world's population, and yet
represent 70 per cent of the world's poor. They do 75 per cent of
the world's agricultural work, but own only one per cent of the
Part of what makes me angry is the way in which
the Church as an institution is partly responsible for such
It's been interesting to see how people have been
reacting to Pope Francis's ministry. There seems to be a
genuine openness to his affirming of the poor. I think people want
the Church to be a place that is open and accepting.
Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited
and Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal have both been
important for me. These are both books about returning and coming
home to God.
I grew up very happily in east Kent, in
Sandwich. It's a beautiful medieval town, and one of the Cinque
Ports. I now live in Gloucestershire with Alan, my partner of 22
years, and our dog, a rescued German Shepherd called Cruz, named,
we think, after one of the Beckhams' children.
Churches could learn a lot from the welcome you get in a
gym. Twice a week I go to a spin class. This is a
high-energy, cardio exercise class using indoor cycling. Loud dance
music, disco lights, and Lycra - it's so different to many of the
things that I do as a priest.
I'm a firm believer in never telling God your
plans. I'm open to where God may be leading me in the
future as I reflect on my calling as a priest.
I'm a list person; so I am happy when
everything on my weekly "to do" list is crossed off.
Something that we both treasure is the novelty of having
free evenings. Alan was a teacher; so he used to be
working each evening, and I usually had parish meetings. We're
happy at the end of the day to sit down with a gin and tonic, cook
a meal together, and have an evening in - unless, of course, it's
I pray daily, and try to maintain some sort of
order to my prayer life by using the Daily Office. I pray for
people, specially for my cell group, being very aware that the
others in my cell group are all incumbents and incredibly busy.
They need prayer. I pray for the trustees of Inclusive Church, and
for particular friends. Having moved to Gloucestershire, I've been
able to settle into local church life a little, which gives me a
Christian community to be part of.
It would be interesting to be locked in a church with
Justin Welby. Before his enthronement as Archbishop of
Canterbury, he said in a radio interview that he would like the
Church to be "incredibly inclusive". I'd like to use the
opportunity to share with him something of what my experience of
the Church has been.
The Revd Bob Callaghan was talking to Terence Handley