Rector Nick Bundock explains the motivation behind the changes that are shaping the parish of St James & Emmanuel.
The idea that something beautiful can emerge out of tragedy is the motivation behind many of the great myths, legends and stories we teach our children. From Cinderella sitting in her rags to the death of Harry Potter, there is a moment where all is black, all is dark.
As a church community here at St James and Emmanuel we faced that moment, along with the wider community of Didsbury, when fourteen-year-old Lizzie Lowe took her own life in September 2014. It was a moment when hope died and a light went out. Lizzie’s death was one of those moments of deep reflection when a community comes together and laments. We mourned, we reflected and we cried. We still cry. But we also resolved to change. Slowly, over the past four years the community at St James and Emmanuel has been reborn. It’s been painful at times, but because one of the key influences behind Lizzie’s decision was a perceived conflict between sexuality and faith, we have been changing ourselves from the inside out; making sure that this never happens again. St James and Emmanuel is now part of a movement sweeping across the Church which visibly welcomes, accepts and serves all people regardless of their sexuality, their gender, mental health or ability, physical ability, economic power or race. In undertaking this deep reflective work we’ve actually been reconnected with the fundamentals of our faith and a deeply loving and inclusive God who we’re rediscovering like an old friend.
Much of what we’ve been working towards was realised on Saturday 1st September when St James and Emmanuel Church, Home Community Café and Croma Didsbury organised and hosted Didsbury’s first Pride event. We were fortunate to have held the event on one of the last truly beautiful days of summer; the grounds behind Emmanuel were bathed in warm sunshine from the moment the doors were opened at noon until they closed in the evening. Over one thousand people poured into the event and the atmosphere was one of gentle acceptance and radical inclusion all wrapped up in a family-friendly party for all. We had music, we had dancing, we had food and drink and we had stall holders from across Manchester promoting inclusion in both the faith and non-faith sectors.
Watching all of this taking place in the grounds of a church were a crew from BBC North West and they made a deeply moving account of our journey for BBC’s Inside Out programme and a second, shorter piece for North West Tonight. Both of these films can still be viewed at stjamesandemmanuel.org
I appreciate that in the world at large the idea of inclusion as a topic for debate has largely been had, won and put to bed. Not so in the wider Church, sadly, and the events of 1st September caused some pain and controversy for our parish here in Didsbury after the BBC aired their films. Would I do it again? Yes – in fact you can put Saturday 31 August 2019 in your diaries now. As I said in one of the films, Lizzie’s voice deserves to be heard across Church and she has, unwittingly, unleashed a revolution of love. The amazing thing from my vantage point is that out of something so dark and so tragic something so beautiful is beginning to emerge.
Thank you, Lizzie.