The Archbishop of Wales must be very happy with one recent appointment up here in North Wales. In response to Dr Morgan’s apology for the “persecution” suffered by Lesbian and Gay people over the years at the hands of the church the Bishop of St Asaph has appointed the Reverend Sarah Hildreth Osborn as Chaplain to the LGBT community. She is the Rector of Llanrwst and three other churches, who added the name Osborn when she “married” her wife last summer. She is to provide a ‘safe space’, the Bishop says, “where people can learn and grow together, share stories, find healing and be encouraged in their journey of faith.” A bit like church, then. I hope the safe space won’t be like the ‘safe spaces’ students need to help them avoid any contact with people who have different ideas and beliefs that might offend them.
I’m sure this is also very good news for the congregations in Revd Hildreth Osborn’s four churches. These congregations have dwindled over the last five years, in one case from 35 to 7, so they will be very glad to welcome all those who previously felt outsiders, but now know they can be assured of a warm welcome in the Conwy Valley.
Bishop Gregory told his readers that the bishops, in their pastoral letter, ‘believe that the Gospel calls us to include gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church.’ I’ve been reading the gospels regularly over many years and in many different translations and I don’t think it ever gets quite that specific, but I completely agree with him that, as an Anglican, even a misfitting one, I should be honest and open, and treat everyone with respect. I’m horrified that the bishops had to write, in so many words, that ‘we reject absolutely violence or hostility’ towards gay and lesbian Christians—or anyone else!
Bishop Gregory began his Ad Clerum talking about Saint Catherine of Siena. She is one of the saints he would most like to meet. That would be an occasion when I really would love to be a fly on the wall. He adds that the values of her age are not the values of our own, and there are bits of her life and character which sit uneasily in the modern context. Yes, well, I can think of plenty of so-called values in our modern context that sit very uneasily with me, now.
Lastly the bishop commends St Catherine for her commitment to deep prayer and her passionate involvement in the world and the issues of the day.
I have been long retired and live in an idyllic isolated place but that doesn’t stop me trying to be involved with the world and the issues of the day, and I hope it never does, even if the passion becomes a little feeble at times. I also believe that as a Christian I should try to commit myself to deep prayer—well, I thought that was something Christians do.
In which case, why are the Welsh bishops apparently ignoring Archbishop Welby’s week of prayer leading up to Pentecost. Not only are the Anglican churches in England doing this but many non-conformist churches and chapels are enthusiastically joining in this great wave of prayer. There’s nothing remotely controversial here. Just prayer, and along with prayer the suggestion that individual Christians might like to talk about their faith over a meal, or coffee and cake, or a pie and a pint in a pub. That makes great sense to me, since those are two of the things our Lord spent a lot of time doing—eating and drinking with sinners and passionately wrestling in prayer.
So why on earth are we, in Wales, not joining in? There are no border guards between us and England. No one has yet built a wall across the A55. Is the problem that deep prayer is no longer advocated by the Archbishop of Wales or are our Welsh bishops simply not passionate enough?