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Bread on the waters

by
01 July 2022

A parish priest reflects on a moving encounter with a confirmand

Alamy

I AM the incumbent of a market-town parish in Berkshire. A young man who joined the congregation about four years ago stepped forward this year to be confirmed. When we met to think about preparation for confirmation, and talked about why he was wanting to be confirmed now, he told me that his discovering of God was part of his journey as a trans man.

I was grateful and humbled that he was trusting me in this way; but I was also struck by the sudden realisation that everything that we had said over the past four years in church around human sexuality and personal identity had been heard by him in a very personal, specific, and profound way. Could this church be trusted? Was it a safe place? He had found God — or God had found him — but did he need the church as well?

I am not sure that we have said enough in church about God’s radical inclusion, welcome, and love — I am not sure that we ever could — but I am pleased that we said something; that we talked about the height and depth and length of God’s love in Jesus Christ for all of creation, and for every single person.

I am pleased that I went on the Pride march locally, and was in the photo in the local paper. I am pleased that we have a statement of universal welcome in the church porch, and, week by week, in the notice sheet. I am pleased that people in same-sex relationships hold, or have held, elected office in the parish, and sit on the PCC.

He particularly thanked me for putting Pride flags at the back of the church for people to take home around Pride weekend over the past two years. I remember being disappointed that more hadn’t been taken, and wondering a little bit why we had bothered; now, I knew, it made him feel welcome, and that we cared as a community about him, even though we were unaware that that was a message that we were sending to a member of our own congregation.

It was a reminder that churches are called to demonstrate the same integrity and truth as individual disciples: to live out what we believe, and what we are called to do, whether or not people are watching.

We might not have done as much as we should, but, as he talked to me, I was glad that we had done something; glad that we had done enough to make him feel that this was a family he wanted to be part of; glad that he felt safe enough to be telling me the story of his journey of faith; glad that we, as a church, had managed to make him feel welcome enough to enable him to keep finding God — the God who made him, and loves him, and delights in him, and in us all; and glad that, through our welcome and deepening friendship, we have found more of God’s love together.

For all of the times I have offered a blessing to the congregation, it now felt that I was being richly blessed in return, in the discovery that one of God’s precious and unique children had been starving, and we had fed them — without even noticing that they were hungry.

It made me realise how easy it is to get this wrong, but also how easy it is to get it right. What is true of our individual Church might, perhaps — wonderfully — be true of the whole Church of England.

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