‘You are among friends’ was the principal message given by The Right Reverend Dr Martin Warner, the 103rd Bishop of Chichester, as he addressed the Annual Conference of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) on Saturday 20th April.
This was the first time a senior Anglican bishop had attended a specific conference of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people. It came in the same week as the Archbishop of Canterbury had meetings with gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and also with members of the LGBT Anglican Coalition.
Bishop of Chichester, Rt Rev Martin Warner with LGCM CEO Rev Sharon Ferguson
Bishop Martin shared in the opening worship, welcomed the conference to his diocese and took questions. He said that the Diocese of Chichester values the LGBT community in its midst and that LGBT people have enriched the life of the Church and of the area. He identified himself with the conference strapline, ‘challenging homophobia, creating an inclusive church’ and told a story about a young person who was suicidal because of his inability to reconcile his faith with his sexuality but who was eventually saved by hearing The Reverend Dr Jeffrey John, the out gay partnered Dean of St Albans, speak at a festival. Brighton is a city full of students and young people, many of whom are similarly vulnerable, he added.
In answer to questioning Bishop Martin said he was not in favour of gay marriage on theological grounds but he felt the Church needed to find ways to honour gay relationships. These were different from marriage but deserved equally to be respected and valued. He announced that the ‘listening process’ (listening to the experience of LGBT people) initiated by the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which had not really developed in this diocese, would begin afresh. And he confirmed that being in a civil partnership is not necessarily a bar to ordination.
Nigel Nash, convenor of Brighton and Hove LGCM, said ‘we are grateful to Bishop Martin for coming to the conference and for delivering such a positive statement. This offers real hope for future cooperation’.
Dr Keith Sharpe, Chair of Changing Attitude Sussex, commented: ‘we are delighted that Bishop Martin has committed himself and the Diocese of Chichester to fighting against homophobia and for inclusion. Hopefully the renewed listening process will mean that a real and open dialogue can develop between the Church and the LGBT community. In the light of his remarks about marriage we also hope that Bishop Martin will vote for civil partnerships to be celebrated in Church when this is discussed in the House of Bishops’.
Rev Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of LGCM, said, ‘It was reassuring to hear the welcoming message from Bishop Martin which was sincere and heartfelt, and his response to the varied questions that were presented was honest even when the answer was not necessarily what the audience wanted to hear. This sort of dialogue allows for both parties to be heard and real progress to be made. I feel confident that a true listening process will be instigated and that the LGBT community in Bishop Martin’s diocese will find a welcome within the church.’