A Message from the Convener of Affirmation Scotland
Few places were left at the table
From 8 – 10 June, at Scottish Churches House in Dunblane, a few members of AS and many more friends gathered for our first ever weekend gathering. Some called it a retreat, others called it a conference but by the end we all called it a great time which had far exceeded expectations. The weekend had been called ‘A Place at the The Table’ for we believe that everyone who loves God and follows Jesus has a place at his table, irrespective of their sexual orientation or relationships. We believe this and affirm it because there are other voices which deny a place.
At Dunblane we celebrated that inclusivity by sharing in the cooking as well as sharing a table – and we gathered around The Lord’s Table on the Saturday evening in response to the invitation of Jesus, who so often sat at table with those who the religious called sinners.
One person came because she said it was the first weekend she had ever seen in Scotland for lesbian and gay Christians. I did wonder how pioneering we were! Others came because they simple wanted to relax and be who they are for 40 hours in a supportive, worshipping community. Friendships were deepened and new friendships made. There was laughter like I have not heard for ages and a tangible sense of respect for each other, a generous love for each other, which the wider church ought to be jealous of.
The meat of the weekend was the Biblical Self-Defence Course on the Saturday. Also known as ‘Practising Safer Texts’ this day allowed for the study of the few verses in the Bible which refer to homosexuality … or do they? It was hard work, it was fun, it was punctuated by the singing of some old and new songs and as the day went by several scales fell from eyes and the Bible was being looked at in new ways. It was interesting to realise, for example, how many different ways certain Greek words have been translated into English in our Bibles – ways which must have reflected the prejudices of the translators. It was heartening to remember that the word homosexuality doesn’t appear n the Bible in its original languages – it only appeared in English in the mid 19th century – so what is the Bible talking about when it appears in the English text.
The day was led by The Revd. Lindsay Biddle, chaplain to Affirmation Scotland, and she would be happy to hear from anyone who might be interested in the course happening in their church congregation. Following the General Assembly, The Church of Scotland is committed to a period of reflection on sexuality issues and The Biblical Self-Defence Course would be an ideal way to make that happen in your place.
Speaking of The General Assembly, certain things happened at it which I believe are important milestones on the way towards the full inclusion of lesbian and gay people in the Kirk.
- In a discussion on the discrimination which ministers and others may endure in the church, sexual orientation was added to the list of other factors (such as race, disability, gender etc.)
- Kathy Galloway, leader of The Iona Community, spoke about the many lesbian and gay members of the community whose sexuality is not the only thing which defines them and is often not the most interesting thing about them!
- The report on Human Sexuality was warmly received by the Assembly and commended for study
- There was an impressive speech by a youth delegate encouraging the church to embrace diversity of opinion on the matter of sexuality
- The worst fears of a split in the church came to naught
- A flyer about Affirmation Scotland went into every commissioner’s mail box
- AS offered hospitality and pastoral care to all at St Columba’s by The Castle Church on the Wednesday afternoon of the assembly
- The Pension Trustees were challenged to make the pension benefits equivalent for civil partners as for spouses
- The liturgy on our website was used in television coverage of the Assembly
.All in all, for the first time ever there was a visible presence of lesbian and gay people at The General Assembly. This is significant and I’m very grateful to all who made this possible.
For the first year of its life, AS has been busy with an agenda set by the politics of The Church of Scotland – the debate on Civil Partnerships and the sexuality report. These issues will still be around but AS cannot be defined by them: there is a wider and more important work to do of being a supportive and affirming presence in the Church of Scotland and a network of lgbt people, friends and supporters from any denomination. We will build upon all that we have achieved in this last year and continue our pattern of gatherings every quarter for our members and friends.
Finally, we do want to welcome new members and extend invitations to come to our gatherings. Go to the membership page on this site to find out how to join.
It is hoped to repeat our retreat / conference … a second sitting at The Table? If you missed your place this year, plan to be with us next year.