Tuesday, 2 September 2014

LGBT at a Christian festival

Outerspace is the LGBT organisation at the Greenbelt Festival, an annual festival that started as Christian music in 1974, and has turned into an ecumenical and interfaith celebration of arts, faith and justice. I went to Greenbelt for the first time last year on the coat tails of my rector who was speaking in one of the debates. It was only for a day, and not being one of those young people who enjoys rock concerts or festivals, I wasn't really sure how to 'do' a festival, so I enjoyed myself but left feeling like I hadn't really seen a lot.

This year, on the tip of a friend at church, I applied for an internship with the events company hired by the Greenbelt charity to put up, manage, and take down the site. This meant spending three weeks stuck on an estate in the arse end of the middle of nowhere (but don't get me wrong, it was gloriously beautiful http://www.boughtonhouse.co.uk/boughton-estate/), and during the four days of the festival itself [the August Bank Holiday] I experienced as much as possible of the music, arts, debates, talks, and worship that was put on outside of my shift hours.

Professionally and spiritually, I felt inspired and enriched. But I was a little blindsided by how much I was affected personally in my experience of the LGBT events put on be Outerspace. I had googled whether there was anything LGBT at the festival and resolved to go to the Outerspace stall. It was when I was there that I was delighted to find several LGBT events taking place as well.

There was a interesting debate about marriage, and how the church is dealing with it. It was a little sad to hear one of the participants advocating a third option to add the choices of marriage and celibacy, and seeming to be under the illusion that he was advocating something fair and just, when in fact his ideas were plain suggestions for inequality. There was a conversation about the general state of LGBT issues in Christianity, followed by lovely worship that included various LGBT Christians sharing their stories. The much acclaimed Rev Andrew Cain spoke of being the first ordained priest in the CofE to marry his husband after the UK instigated the marriage bill in April, and being stripped of his licence to minister; and a woman spoke of meeting another woman, falling in love, and feeling a call to marriage, but realising that she had to choose between that call and her call to ministry and ordination - she chose the latter and they are now civilly partnered as she starts her training. They sang an a cappella two part harmony duet version of Down By the River to Pray, and whilst the singing was gorgeous, it was the glances at each other that tugged at my heart strings.

These were all wonderful, but it was one other event that hit me to my core. At 10pm on the Saturday, one of the small venue marquees filled up with people, and so began the Outerspace Eucharist. It started with a quick introduction to Outerspace, and then there was an invitation to those who, since Greenbelt last year, had had an anniversary, gotten engaged/civilly partnered/married, or come out to stand up so we could celebrate with them. I was surprised and elated to see a member of my own home congregation stand up at the call for those who had come out; I made sure I went over to him at the peace and gave him a great big hug.

It was a solid Anglican service after that, barring the rainbow altar cloth and rainbow stole on the gay priest. His sermon made me cry. I don't remember all of it - I think it was mostly about how we're slowly getting to a good place with the church and we need to keep going - but he ended by holding up a piece of yellow paper. He said he had been tidying around the Outerspace stall earlier that day, and found it on the floor, and upon reading it, immediately wanted to send it to every bishop in the CofE, with a note saying something along the lines of "In regards to how you treat LGBT people and issues in the church, read and take note." He then explained that it was a child's wordsearch, and the theme was 'Tips For Keeping Friends'. And he read out the list of words to find in a quiet, measured tone, and it was this that brought me to tears.

Be supportive
Be encouraging
Don't tease or belittle
Be considerate
Talk openly about disagreements
Apologise when you've done something wrong
Listen to each other
Give each other a compliment
Be dependable
Respect each other
Be trustworthy
Care about each other
We try and teach our children to be good people and good citizens, and this list may seem simplistic in the face of the complex theological, scriptural, religious, philosophical, and sociological arguments about being LGBT in Christianity. But we cannot let the gumpf and fluster make us forget the simple truths we learnt as children in how to treat each other. The preacher was right when he pointed out that it sometimes feels like that has been lost in the conversation, and this needs to be fixed.

I've been lucky to not meet people who disapprove of my orientation. I have been blessed to find a church that not just accepts me, but welcomes me and even celebrates me! And I have 'known' that there's Christian support for LGBT people outside of my church as well. But at Greenbelt, I was overcome by the realisation that it was the first time I had truly believed it, because I experienced it, I saw it, and heard it, and my cup runneth over with the support and joy of Christians for LGBT people on a grand scale. It was heart-warming and inspired great hope for the future.

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