A response from Corrymeela to the vote by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland
08 Jun 2018
Today the text from Corrymeela’s daily prayer rhythm is the Sermon on the Mount:
‘So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.‘
It is an appropriate text for us to consider today, on a day when the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has decided that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender people in relationships are no longer recognised as communicant members; and when the decision has also been taken to refuse baptism to the children of LGBT couples.
As Corrymeela, we believe that to speak out, one must speak from the point of vulnerability and truth. We do not believe we are perfect as a Christian witness. We confess that in our aim of doing good we have sometimes let people down. We know this because they’ve told us and we believe them. We, too, struggle with the sectarianisms that infect us and from this place of recognition, we offer our thoughts on today’s decision:
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people — whether single or in relationships; with our families; with our friends; with our faith, doubts, experiences and insights — are a gift of God to our society.
Corrymeela is made better by being a community of inclusion. Far from diminishing our practice of the gospel, the incorporation of the gifts, leadership and insights of members of the LGBT community has deepened our practice of the gospel. In 1980, Rev. Mervyn Kington wrote to us urging us to be a place of welcome and respect for a group of gay men and lesbian women. A unanimous community vote was taken and since then Corrymeela has tried to be a place of dignity including LGBT people — their whole lives and families — at all levels of membership, work, leadership and belonging.
For us, our focus is not so much on the hereafter, but first on the here. Rather than worrying who will get into heaven, we are concerned with who is excluded from our own doors. For us, this is the practice of following Jesus. We remember that true discipleship is shown in the practice of love. And as we wonder whether our practice of love is adequate, we ask, we listen, we believe: we try to change. This hurts, but this is how we understand the gospel.
Corrymeela began in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. We are now joyfully an open ecumenical community with 170 members, and we share with over 10,000 people a year on programmes that hope to transform division through human encounter. Over and over again, we realise that change can cause fear. However, we have learnt that where there is fear, there is also the possibility of loving kindness, of learning, of being transformed ourselves. Much of our practice is rooted in the tradition of Irish Presbyterianism — with its great witness of dissent — and for this we are proud; and because of this we urge leadership and congregations of Irish Presbyterianism to reconsider today’s decisions. Today’s decisions deny and demean those who have already suffered enough at the hands of society and Christianity.
To turn to people who “hold something against us” (Matt 5:24) is where we will find an experience of God. This takes courage and humility. Both benefit us; neither diminishes us.
Today we are aware of the pain and hurt caused to many people as a result of the language, tone and outcome of the decision. We assert: You are dignified, welcome and safe. Your faith, families and relationships are honoured. We say this not in spite of our own belief in faith and reconciliation but because of it.
We invite all to join with us daily in our prayer for courage and a prayer for reconciliation.
Courage comes from the heart and we are always welcomed by God, the Croí of all being.
We bear witness to our faith, knowing that we are called to live lives of courage, love and reconciliation
in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of each day.
We bear witness, too, to our failures and our complicity in the fractures of our world.
May we be courageous today. May we learn today. May we love today.
God of Reconciliation
You demand much of us,
inviting us to tell truths
by turning towards each other.
May we leave our trinkets where they belong,
and find our treasure
by turning towards each other.
Because you needed this with us.
So may we turn towards each other.
Image By user:theodoranian – Own work, CC BY–SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18387