A CHAPLAINCY service specifically for LGBTI+ people is needed because a safe space and dignity cannot be guaranteed in every church, the diocese of Oxford has said.
Eight chaplains — lay and ordained — have volunteered for the service, which will offer “non-judgemental listening and support, and prayerful affirmation for LGBTI+ people, their families and friends”. It is open to anyone aged 18 and above who has “questions, concerns, or pastoral needs relating to issues of gender or sexuality”.
The diocesan website says that the service has been requested by LGBTI+ people in the diocese, who have reported that they “can find it difficult to find safe places in which they can open the conversations they need to have”, and that it will provide “a safe space and dignity for every person at a time when these cannot be taken for granted”. It also refers to “the problematic relationships between LGBTI+ people and the institutional Church”.
The service was promised by the diocese’s bishops in 2018, in a letter sent to all clergy which expressed concern about the “pain” caused to LGBT people and their families by the Church’s ongoing debates over sexuality (News, 31 October 2018). It now has its own pages on the diocesan website, in which it says that some LGBTI+ people do not know how they will be greeted by their local church, or if they will be permitted to serve: “Tragically, there are often stories of traumatic rejection by faith communities and experiences of exclusion, isolation, bullying and harassment. This is unacceptable.”
It is expected that the chaplains will “help the Diocese to learn from the insights they are gaining through this process”, although a spokesman emphasised that the service was confidential and that feedback would be “in general terms”.
The chaplains will work “within the House of Bishops guidelines on human sexuality” (the 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality statement and the 2014 pastoral document), “embracing a non-judgemental attitude toward persons in regard of their sexuality, welcoming and valuing every person as equal in the eyes of God”.
They include both LGBTI+ and straight people from a mix of theological backgrounds. Among them is the Revd Jonny Dade, an assistant curate in High Wycombe, who said this week that the service “exists to support all those who have felt hurt or marginalised by the Church, and so our role is not to make judgements or advocate for any particular theological position.
“Among those who seek out the Chaplaincy Service will be Christians who want to remain faithful to an historical interpretation of the Bible. To that extent, it’s important to have a variety of experiences and perspectives represented on the Chaplaincy Team, including those like myself who hold orthodox views.”
Another of the chaplains, James Lawbuary, a youth worker, described in an online film his coming out as a teenager and having “struggled through various different church situations”.
Some have questioned whether the creation of a specialist service is the right response.
“If the diocese has noticed that (some of) its parishes are failing a significant proportion of parishioners, then that needs to be treated as the serious and systemic problem it is — creating a parallel pastoral system like this is a sticking plaster on a gaping wound,” an ordinand, Ruth Harley, wrote on Twitter.
The chaplaincy was announced in an ad clerum from the Acting Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher, who said that he was “inclined to agree” with those questioning the content of the House of Bishops’ recent pastoral statement on civil partnerships (News, 31 January): “it presents the teaching of the Church on these matters as static and immovable.”