Sunday, 7 February 2016

Everyone Matters

Jersey has 13 Parishes!

That’s what I though on reading this, printed very recently on an online biography:

“The Rev’d Canon Dr Gavin Ashenden, is at presently a part time parish priest, looking after a small parish on the Island of Jersey, part of the Channel Islands, just off the coast of Normandy France, where he took semi retirement in order to be able to write a little more.”

As far as I know Vicar of Gouray is not the same as Rector of St Martin or Grouville, and Gouray is a district church rather than a Parish Church. But perhaps that doesn't look so good on a CV!

Gavin regards the practice of homosexuality as sinful, and sees this as “always there in the Bible and in the ‘lived experience’ of Tradition “ On a blog posting which has since been removed, he said this:

“‘God spoke to me’ about the practice of homosexuality; (though His views were always there in the Bible and In the ‘lived experience’ of Tradition if I had not come at them both skewed to provide a different answer;)- so I went to my friends, and told them that while still being deeply fond of them, I was going to take a different view of the practice of homosexuality.”

He regards more liberal wing of the Anglican church as misguided and ensconced in “vapid self indulgent spirituality”. According to him, liberal Anglicanism is “defined by a decadent liberalism – a spirituality that celebrates the nice without being able to deliver it; a spirituality that surrenders to secular narcissistic hedonism its the authority to make ethical analyses”

So I want to tell you a true story about someone I know about how these attitudes feed through to pastoral care. This is recounted in “Journey Round Jersey’s Parishes”, and the individual concern recently died, so I think it can be told to a wider audience. You can find his full name in that book when he tells his story to Robin Pitman, but here, I shall refer to him just as “RF”.

You can decide for yourself where it is the more self-righteous churches who either ostracise or (almost as bad) marginalise gay people are making the better ethical analysis, or those who accept and include and welcome those people.

This happened in Jersey, and not so very long ago.

He was married, but discovered that he was gay, and his marriage deteriorated, and he left the family home. Here is what he told Robin Pitman:

RF makes no secret of the fact that he is gay, but I knew that he had been married and with children. He spoke openly and poignantly to me about this: `I was married in 1959 and in subsequent years we adopted a son and a daughter and then had a daughter of our own. Within our marriage there were problems, and one day my wife told me that she was never going to have sexual intercourse with me again. From that day our marriage deteriorated and I then left the family home.

“I recognised homosexual tendencies in myself, but during my marriage there were no one night stands or anything of that nature. I now lived alone, moving from one flat to another. Eventually I met my current partner, David, and we have been together now for seventeen years.'”

RF described his faith as follows: “It has been as solid as possible, despite some of my distressing encounters with various church authorities. It is my faith that has kept me going. I needed it and it has seen me through. It has kept me on the straight and narrow. I believe in the creed that we say each week and I pray at night. Truly I cannot not go to church on a Sunday.”

“As a young single man RF was a very active member of the congregation at St Peter. After his marriage came to an end he was a popular churchwarden at another of the Island's churches where he assisted at Communion, took Communion to the sick and read the lessons. `I went to discuss my situation with the Rector and was honest with him about myself and my sexuality. The Rector said that he would ask God what to do with me. God, according to him, answered and said that I was not suitable for any of my church duties.“

“Later I had what for me was a worse experience at another church where I was on the church committee and an active member of the congregation. A powerful lady churchwarden came up to me and said, "Are you a homosexual?" I replied in the affirmative and she answered, "You see, we have a problem."

“I rang the Vicar and sought his help. He supported me and told me that he did not want a member of his church pilloried in this way. He persuaded me to return to the committee for its next meeting. At that meeting the same lady pronounced, "I would like to say this: we all know that RF is very popular but we don't like his lifestyle." I felt that I had no alternative but to get up, put on my jacket and go home.'

“Another sad succession of events followed at yet another church where RF was quickly asked to read a lesson by the lady who drew up the rotas. He had only met the vicar each Sunday as he shook hands at the door. He then received a letter from the vicar, telling him that he should undertake no further duties at the church and that he should make an appointment to come and see him. RF took advice from friends, declined the instruction and went elsewhere. “

Someone suggested that he went to St Brelade’s Church, which is an inclusive church, and he was accepted, welcomed, and became once again part of the Church community: “I am not only tolerated but accepted wholeheartedly. I could not ask for anything better.”

Pitman concludes:

“RF has actively for many years raised funds for the Church of England Children's Society, and he is a volunteer on the General Hospital's chaplaincy team. It is a fair guess that RF has made a greater contribution to Christian living than some of those who have been too ready to turn him away from their own places of worship.”

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