I have been aware of Inclusive Church from its earliest days as people began to come together in response to the fiasco around Jeffery John’s nomination and then un-nomination as Bishop of Reading back in 2003. As early 2000s saw some big steps forward in the rights of lesbian and gay people in the UK, I was increasingly aware as a gay man of the lack of progress within the Church of England. Indeed in many ways it was a period when it felt like it was actually getting harder to be within the Church with any authenticity.
It was a period when I was wrestling with my own role within the Church, leading to the conclusion, towards the end of 2006, that there was no meaningful pathway towards my expressing a vocation to ministry in a formal way. So in 2007, I found myself in Southampton inadvertently beginning a fruitful career as a civil servant.
During this period, although I was aware of IC and supportive of its work, I was primarily engaged with YLGC (Young LGBT Christians) which had its origins as the “youth wing” of LGCM but by this time was almost entirely independent of it. The real value for me was that YLGC was focused on community rather than campaigning. Although I was an active part of my local parish, a space to connect and be myself with other young Christians was otherwise missing, as much as a space to connect with others who were LGBT+.
It was with YLGC that I began to go to Greenbelt, and so meet Bob Callaghan as he provided an enthusiastic presence on the IC stall. Through conversation with Bob at some point I found myself as IC’s Ambassador in Winchester Diocese (although I’m not sure I ever exactly “agreed”). Visibility is one of the opportunities that IC brings to those of us that really want to progress inclusion in contexts such as Winchester Diocese. It is a Diocese that identifies strongly towards the conservative end of evangelicalism (even setting outside the very particular challenges of our previous Bishop) and this dominant narrative can make you feel like you are the only one who thinks differently. However, with a small, but growing, number of churches signed up to IC, you are reminded that you are not alone. The resources IC offers help people articulate that their desire for inclusion is absolutely rooted in authentic and faithful Christian and biblical beliefs and values.
Although my starting point for engagement with IC was issues around sexuality, the broadening of IC’s work to address inclusion across the board is increasingly important to me. The exclusion of LGBT+ people often comes from the same or similar place as the exclusion of other people – even if the exclusion can manifest itself in distinct ways. I don’t want to be part of a Church that starts to include me (a white, reasonably well off, cis gendered, gay man) while in the same breath it shuts the door on people of colour, people with disabilities, people facing economic hardship and so on. That kind of inclusion is a veneer at best, a moving of the goal posts of who is in and who is out, and not the radical re-centering of the heart on God’s all embracing love we need and desire.