The Irish News: Letters: Welcoming congregations for gays are in the minority

I am an openly gay member of the Church of Ireland and one of the unwelcome guests who turned up at the Slieve Russell Hotel for the Church of Ireland’s gay conference. Uninvited because I had spent months trying to ensure, by working carefully and responsibly in the background, that there was meaningful gay participation in the conference and had failed. Not a single LGBT person worshipping in a Church of Ireland parish addressed the gathering or any of its workshops. Not a single openly lesbian person, from anywhere, was invited to participate in the conference.

This is not a side issue. A few years ago, Changing Attitude Ireland put together a publication called Share Your Story which told LGBT people’s stories of life in the Church of Ireland. The depth of prejudice and sheer emotional violence faced by lesbians in the Church of Ireland staggered even me, as a gay man. In one incident a woman in Northern Ireland who had been a pillar of her church was found out to be a lesbian. The woman in question was summoned, alone, to a meeting in the church offices to be confronted by a gang of nine led by her rector. She was told that Satan had veiled her eyes, that it was an affront to see her worship God and was forbidden from receiving Holy Communion again. I would submit that this is not behaviour modelled on Our Lord who happily drank at the well with the Samaritan woman.

This woman was silenced at that conference because her experience of the Church of Ireland was too uncomfortable for our leaders to hear – both for the conservatives who think this amounts to ‘tough love’ and for the moderates who, in the main, have done little to challenge such vile behaviour. Silenced with her were the thousands of men and women like her who kneel in our pews living in terror that they will be discovered and that discovery will lead to ostracism.

Many clergy at the conference boasted that they would exclude me and people like me from Holy Communion because we love the men or women that we do and we are not ashamed of that love. Most of those clergy were from Northern Ireland, where welcoming congregations like my own parish of St George are very much in the minority.

Gerry Lynch, Belfast BT15.