IT IS probably unusual for a life-long Anglican to feel nervous about stepping into Sunday worship. But, before a recent visit to the thriving conservative Evangelical church in which I grew up, I admit I walked with trepidation.
Just weeks into our civil partnership, it was the first time that I had returned to my childhood church hand-in-hand with my new spouse. I had mentally rehearsed calm, light-hearted responses to any animosity that we might encounter. I readied myself for thoughtless insensitivity or fiery pronouncements about our (lack of) salvation.
But the frosty reception I was afraid of never materialised. Instead, there were hugs on the door and catch-ups over coffee. My partner was welcomed by my past peer group, and folks who watched me grow up asked with interest about my training for ordination. It was exactly what you’d expect an overdue visit to a previous church to look like, and I was thankful.
Of course, had we been heterosexual newlyweds, we would have been greeted with excited congratulations, the passing around of wedding photos, and cooing over rings; but of this there was conspicuously little. Some would argue that such differences in treatment indicate an absence of the “radical new Christian inclusion” proposed by the Archbishops — that anything less than an equal welcome is no welcome at all.
In this Sunday’s somewhat troubling gospel, Jesus compares a Canaanite woman to a dog begging bread at the children’s feet (Matthew 15.20-28). Her response is humble to the point of humiliation, and it makes uncomfortable reading.
Imagine if privileged preachers were to suggest that people who are marginalised in churches because of gender, race, or class should simply be content with the crumbs that fall from the altar. There would rightly be outrage at such endorsement of institutional oppression.
At a personal level, though, I think that there is power in pursuing friendships across theological divides, even when they are not yet offered on equal terms. I will take it all: crumbs or loaf. It causes me deep sadness that my civil partnership will exclude me from exercising ministry in many Evangelical churches. But I am thankful for the people who, that Sunday, shared all the bread they could; their welcome, though perhaps incomplete, was a leap towards full inclusion in such a church.
For the Canaanite woman, her painful humility had power to disarm the theology that would have denied her access to healing. So, by forging relationships on whatever terms that they are offered, even while longing for more, I hope that I, too, might find power to disarm the attitudes that would keep LGBT Christians from radical inclusion.
Claire Jones will begin training for ordination at Cranmer Hall in September.
Canon Tilby is on holiday.