From Toleration to Celebration – Nick Bundock reflects on a memorable day
Life would have been a lot easier if I’d just quietly shelved the idea to hold Didsbury Pride 2018, the first ever Pride in Didsbury and on church premises to boot. But had we done that I’d have missed out on one of the most incredible days of my ministry. One clergy friend of mine wrote to me after the event to say:
The conversations were so moving. Methodists, Church of God of Prophecy as well as Anglicans sharing their stories of rejection, of anxiety, and yet of faith, hope and love. One woman was crying as she told me of her faith as a child and how she had been baptised (full immersion) aged 21 and then been made uncomfortable in her church. They hounded her out and she suffered depression for many years. She had given up on the Church but she said her awareness of Jesus’ presence had never left her. She continues to pray and to ask Jesus to guide her in life. Today was the first time in 20 years she had been able to talk publicly about her faith with another Christian. She was overwhelmed with joy and said that Jesus was there walking in the garden at Emmanuel Church. Needless to say I then cried too.
And it wasn’t just stories of pain and of healing, there was a real party going on at Didsbury Pride. Real fun, real laughter and, yes, lots of very good food, drink and dancing. We hear that Jesus liked a good party and was to be found with the ‘tax collectors and sinners’. Well count me in! I don’t blame him, frankly. If you had the choice of an evening of pursed-lips, finger-wagging and ‘safe fun’ or one of genuine acceptance, love, and a bit of inebriation, I know where I’d rather be.
Of course, I’m at risk of pointing fingers myself and that’s a danger to all of us on the side of full inclusion, but I will say this. The reality both then and now is that the real sinners were the ones who couldn’t bring themselves to join the party, who wanted to avoid being ‘tainted’ and were too busy upholding abstractions and putting laws before love. When did contemporary Christianity morph into 1st century pharisaism? Honestly, folks, it’s not a good look. Biblical literalism does that to you, it smothers genuine exploration and it turns neighbours into ‘projects’ for conversion.
Over the past four years since Lizzie Lowe died, our church has gone through the four classic stages of inclusion: toleration, acceptance, affirmation and finally to celebration. At each stage we’ve lost members. For some, Didsbury Pride was a simply a step too far. I think we’ve lost seven members to date. It’s sad – I love those people, but the truth is there are plenty of churches ready to welcome them. There aren’t as many for the huge numbers of LGBT+ folk who have no spiritual home in the Church of England – the church that seems to have forgotten that the clue to their mission is in the name!
It’s been a bruising few weeks for me, but they have also been the best days of my life. The main service at Emmanuel the day after Didsbury Pride was like the after-party. The church was full. We had kids and older members, Farsi speakers, people of colour from every continent and every background. I was joined at the altar by some of our LGBT young people and in a moment of pure beauty one of our adults with learning difficulties read a prayer he had written. It was like heaven on earth and I knew in an instant that all the pain had been worthwhile.
Some of our experiences at Didsbury Pride have been filmed by the BBC and will be aired on ‘Inside Out’ on 17 September.