Category Archives: News

Nothing will be impossible with God

In Nazareth, an unimportant village in a remote region of the Roman Empire, the angel Gabriel descended from heaven to ask a young, recently engaged girl to become pregnant with God’s son Jesus and usher in salvation for the world. But Mary was given a choice, she could have said no. She could have allowed her fears to overcome.

The ancient world could be vicious towards women and especially women who became pregnant out of wedlock. Mary’s imagination must have been running wild with possibilities. Joseph would leave her, she would never marry, she would struggle to find shelter and food, she would be shunned by friends and family. She would bear the stigma of shame and scandal for the rest of her life.

God had great plans for Mary, but would not force her to accept them. Like us, and like all people, God gave Mary freedom of choice. And yet God also gives comfort and reassurance to those who say yes to Him. He wouldn’t just ask great things of us and abandon us. “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God,” the angel Gabriel says to calm the terrified girl. “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Having the courage of faith to trust her life with God, Mary surrenders: “Let it be with me according to your word.” And so Mary, letting God into her to bring birth to his Son, becomes the first disciple.

In the poem “Annunciation,” the Roman Catholic poet Denise Levertov meditates on the courage and model faith Mary shows as she assents to God’s will for her life.  The poem asks us to to consider where God has introduced a journey before us, a plan for our lives and God’s redeeming story for the world, and challenges us to not turn away, in a moment of weakness or despair, from taking the “roads of light and storm”—the often difficult paths of the life of faith.

Annunciation

Denise Levertov

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’

From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Tuesday 2 July 2013.

Following Christ means transferring our security

SunriseFairfieldA

Each morning gives us an opportunity to renew our hope in Christ.

In the reading (Luke 9.51–62) earlier this evening, Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem for the last time.

Along the way, He meets three men who have heard His call in their hearts. These encounters teach us three tough lessons about what it means to follow Christ. This evening I am focussing on just one of them.*

To follow Christ, we have to transfer our sense of security. We have to relocate it from ourselves to God. Throughout our lives we have been taught to rely on ourselves for success and happiness, but we have to unlearn that lesson. We have to learn to rely wholly on God, plugging all our efforts in life into His Grace.

This is what was meant when Jesus answered and said,

Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Christ is trustworthy, but He is not predictable. When we follow Him, we have to agree to go one step at a time – He refuses to give us a full-life outline in advance. When we follow Him, we have to stop pretending that we can keep our lives under control by our own efforts. Accepting Christ’s friendship, we agree to follow Him, to put our lives under His leadership.

We are on an unpredictable adventure. We do not know where God will lead us, nor what He may ask us to do. When we join Christ’s army, we have to hand him a blank cheque.

We all want to make this transfer of security from self to God. Many of us are here because we know that we know God. By depending more fully on Him, our lives will be brought the meaning and fruitfulness that we all long for.

But how do we do that? How do we become more faithful followers of our Lord, more hope-filled disciples, more stable Christians? This transfer of security from ourselves to God is a virtue – the virtue of hope. Like all Christian values, it was planted in our souls like a seed when we placed our trust in God. It’s already there, we have to help it to grow, which we can do by exercising it.

One of the mot effective ways to exercise this virtue is by practising a long-standing tradition of beginning each day with a prayer – often called a morning offering.

This is a prayer we say before the day begins – perhaps immediately on getting out of bed, or perhaps after our shower and before we head to breakfast.

It’s a short prayer, putting everything in perspective: thanking God for the gift of another day; asking God for guidance and protection; renewing our promise to accept and do whatever He asks of us as we continue on the adventure of following His unpredictable path.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Sunday 30 June 2013.


* The other two are: 1. Following Christ means persevering through difficulties; 2. Following Christ means actively taking risk.

 One example is: “Lord, you have brought me to the beginning of this day. By your power, keep me on the road to salvation ; do not let me fall into any sin today, but grant that all I say, all I think, all I do may glorify you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (catholic-forum.com)

As Christ Loves Us

We have just read [in John 21:15-19] that, after the resurrection, Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. To Peter’s confusion, the question was asked three times. Each time Peter answered in the affirmative. Jesus responded with “Feed my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus wanted to make absolutely clear what he wanted Peter to do. He wanted Peter to look after the other early Christians, as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

Earlier on in his ministry, before the crucifixion, Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.” (John 10:11)

As well as making sure that Peter knew he was to be a leader, Jesus was reminding him that he would have to make personal sacrifice, perhaps even sacrificing his own life, in his leadership role. As today’s reading said, Jesus “said this to hint at the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” According to tradition, Peter was executed by crucifixion, but at his own request he was crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to be executed in the same way as his master. This is why the symbol of St Peter is an inverted cross, and there is at least one knealer in this church with St Peter’s cross on it, although it is quite common to see it turned upside down by mistake.

In this country, we are very lucky. By the grace of God, we don’t have to fear the kind of persecution that Peter did. So what do “feed my lambs”, “shepherd my sheep”, and “feed my sheep” mean to us today?

The answer to that comes in another passage from John’s Gospel, this time from the Last Supper. John 13:34-35:

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other

For Peter, discipleship meant taking on the mantle of the Good Shepherd, even following Jesus in the way that he died. For us, discipleship means loving one another as Christ loves us.

Loving one another as Christ loves us.

To fully appreciate the power of that statement, we should ask “What does discipleship not mean?”

In my mind, the first and foremost thing that discipleship does not mean is hours of Bible study. That is not saying that it is not a good thing to read and try to understand the Bible, but the Christian who spends many hours in dry dusty libraries—as I have done, and I enjoy doing—is not a better Christian simply because of that study. The Christian who, because of circumstances, opportunity, inclination, or other reason, does not spend hours engaged in Biblical study is not a worse Christian simply because of the lack of study. Being able to open your Bible and find the 4th chapter of the Book of Habakkuk is not a measure of someones Christianity.

Discipleship does not mean anger. There were plenty of synagogues in Palestine in Jesus’ day. I think that pretty much all of them taught things that Jesus disagreed with. Did he camp outside them, waving placards with Old Testament quotations on them? No. He preached his message to whoever would listen, and in love he welcomed all those who came.

Discipleship does not mean holding a grudge. In today’s reading, Jesus appointed Peter as the new shepherd of the church. He appointed Peter. The man who had, a few weeks previously, denied him three times. In love, Jesus forgave.

Discipleship means love. Love for one another, as Christ loves us.

Peter fed the sheep with his ministry. When we love one another as Christ loves us then we are becoming like Christ. In our own small ways, are acting as shepherds for each other. It is with Christ-like love that we feed each other.

This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Saturday 29 June 2013.

Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God

From the treatise Against Heresies by Saint Irenaeus, bishop

The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by men, that he may give life to those who see and receive him. It is impossible to live without life, and the actualization of life comes from participation in God, while participation in God is to see God and enjoy his goodness.

Men will therefore see God if they are to live; through the vision of God they will become immortal and attain to God himself. As I have said, this was shown in symbols by the prophets: God will be seen by men who bear his Spirit and are always waiting for his coming. As Moses said in the Book of Deuteronomy: On that day we shall see, for God will speak to man, and man will live.

God is the source of all activity throughout creation. He cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures. Yet he is certainly not unknown. Through his Word the whole creation learns that there is one God the Father, who holds all things together and gives them their being. As it is written in the Gospel: No man has ever seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; he has revealed him.

From the beginning the Son is the one who teaches us about the Father; he is with the Father from the beginning. He was to reveal to the human race visions of prophecy, the diversity of spiritual gifts, his own ways of ministry, the glorification of the Father, all in due order and harmony, at the appointed time and for our instruction. Where there is order, there is also harmony; where there is harmony, there is also correct timing; where there is correct timing, there is also advantage.

The Word became the steward of the Father’s grace for the advantage of men, for whose benefit he made such wonderful arrangements. He revealed God to men and presented men to God. He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father to prevent man from treating God with contempt and to set before him a constant goal toward which to make progress. On the other hand, he revealed God to men and made him visible in many ways to prevent man from being totally separated from God and so cease to be. Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who live upon the earth, much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Friday 28 June 2013.

Faith and Pride 2013

Every evening during Belfast Pride Week (Friday 28 June to Saturday 6 July) we will be holding our short reflective services, 15 mins with Christ, at 6 p.m. in St George’s Church in High Street. We will also be going, as a group, to the launch of Belfast Pride on Friday 28 June, meeting at 7 p.m. in Costa Coffee in Victoria Square.

Supporting the Parade

Rather than walking in the parade, we will be standing on High Street, behind a Faith and Pride banner, holding pro-gay signs and cheering the parade on. The participants in the parade will then see our message of accepting, inclusive Christianity where love is love, regardless of  gender. The parade starts at 12 noon on Saturday 6 July. Our group will be assembling from 10.30 at St George’s Church on High Street.

If you are Christian and  would like to be involved, please contact us using this form.

“Don’t think I have come to make life cozy”

Here I am sitting while wearing the pink hooide. The principle is the same though. Photo: Michael Carchrie Campbell

Here I am sitting while wearing the pink hooide. The principle is the same though. Photo: Michael Carchrie Campbell

Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy.

Hard words indeed. In fact if they weren’t said by Christ himself, we might question whether or not they were actually Christian at all. Christ is about love, and meekness, and compassion, yet he said “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God.” (Matthew 10:34-39)

Very hard words.

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” That is a quote, not from Jesus Christ, but from Winston Churchill, but I think it helps us understand today’s reading.

If you have enemies it means that you have stood up for something, sometime in your life. There are many things a Christian must stand up for, and therefore being a Christian can sometimes mean you attract enemies. Your life is not cozy when you have enemies.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution [, said Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:10-12.] The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

There are things you stand for when you are a Christian—things like love, and compassion, and meekness—and because you stand for those things people sometimes don’t like you.

Between us, my husband Michael and I run Faith and Pride. We believe that you can be gay and Christian. That is what we stand for when we stand in our pink hoodies. As you can imagine that attracts a certain amount of negative attention, both from the Old-Testament-placard-waving and tract-distributing Christians that everyone in Belfast is familiar with, and from gay people who are aggressively secular, the gay people who would prefer that Christ is completely absent from Pride Week.

I won’t lie. That negative attention can be very wearing at times.

Don’t think that I have come to make life cozy.

Those aren’t really hard words. Like everything else Christ said, they are words of compassion. Like Winston Churchill, Jesus knew that standing for something means you make enemies. He warned us about that. When your life as a Christian is difficult, because of your Christian stance on any issue, we can be comforted in the knowledge that these difficulties were not unexpected. “What it means [said Jesus] is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds.”

Being a Christian isn’t always easy. Walking as Christ would have us walk, turning the other cheek and forgiving seventy times seven is hard in and of itself. Somewhat oddly, that meekness sometimes gives us enemies. When those enemies make our walk difficult we should remember that, because it is a Christian walk, all heaven applauds.

IDAHO Services 2013

Changing Attitude Ireland is hosting several events for IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) this month.

Date Time Details
Sunday, 12 May 2013 3.15 p.m. St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (map)
Speaker: Canon Mark Gardner
Sunday, 12 May 2013 7.00 p.m. St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (map)
Speaker: Canon Marie Rowley-Brooke
Sunday, 12 May 2013 8.00.p.m. St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny (map)
Speaker: Bishop Michael Burrows
Friday, 17 May 2013 8.30 p.m. St Catherine’s Church, Newry (map)
Organised in conjunction with Newry Rainbow Community.  An ecumenical evening of sacred song and reflections.
Sunday, 19 May 2013 10.30 a.m St Anne’s, Shandon, Cork (map)
Speaker: Jerry Buttimer TD
Music by Choral Con Fusion
Sunday, 26 May 2013 4.00 p.m. St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry (map)
Speaker: Archdeacon Scott Harte

@So_MeNI – Are you in? New Resource from Equality Commission.

We’ve been working with Roisin Lavery of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on the new LGB web resource So Me. So Me stands for Sexual Orientation. More Equality.

In the Commission’s most recent ‘Do You Mean Me?’ survey, 53% of LGB people were likely to consider they had been subject to some form of unfair treatment, up from 34% in the last survey in 2008.

The new website is

“for LGB people in Northern Ireland – ´So Me´ (www.some-ni.co.uk).  It’s a hub for information and contacts, but also a new way for people to report anonymously, to share their experiences without having to give their names, and to access information, advice and support in a personalized, safe environment. So Me is linked to social media that are easily accessible to anyone.” — Michael Wardlow, Chief Commissioner.

If you believe you have been treated unfairly, you don’t need to put up and shut up,  ‘So Me’ is a new and additional way to access advice and information that could really help you deal with a situation in which you’re experiencing unfair treatment.

I’m proud to answer the question asked at the end of the video of “Are you in?”

Yes. I’m in

So Me NI

 

P.S. Watch out for Andrew!

Jeff Dudgeon MBE on the 30th Anniversary of Decriminalisation of Same-Sex Relations

On Sunday 28th October, Jeff Dudgeon MBE gave the address at the service to mark 30 years since the decriminalisation of same-sex relationships in Northern Ireland. We are grateful to him for allowing us to publish the text of his address here.

Thank you for the invitation to talk about the 30th anniversary of decriminalisation this very week, a moment to celebrate freedom and emancipation. A week where the most drastic of criminal penalties were lifted from a small but numerous minority.

It is worth remembering that in law books and in parliamentary debates, homosexual behaviour used to be referred to by the Latin formula “peccatum illud horribile” – that horrible crime – “inter Christianos non nominandum” not to be named among Christians. Men in early Victorian times when convicted of sodomy were hanged, something enthusiastically applauded.

A victory was won with the vote in the House of Commons but the response from the establishment here, and in London, was, and to an important degree remains grudging and hesitant. There were to be no reparations for the past as also was the case after the slaves were freed in the US – but not in the case of Germany at Versailles.

No Northern Ireland MP voted for reform, indeed several who were or had been gay actually voted against. A staggering fact. Colossal hypocrisy. Only in Northern Ireland which also reminds me of later amazing events concerning the family Robinson.

And there was to be no inclusion of Northern Ireland in consequent reforms like the age of consent and civil partnership, without yet another wearying campaign.

I have prospered, but our opponents in the ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign prospered mightily, becoming successive Northern Ireland First Ministers. Their campaign however failed, and it is they who are softening their now hard antagonism.

The lawyers for the UK government arguing against decriminalisation became respectively the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland (Lord Brian Kerr) and the President of the ECHR (Sir Nicolas Bratza).

Most younger people just can’t believe such criminalisation ever existed. Of course it was frightening, perhaps more in its potential than in its enforcement. But it could be, and was unexpectedly enforced in Belfast in 1976, when the authorities became agitated at what they took to be a conspiracy to change the law and of a new generation’s willingness to live openly outside it. Many were arrested.

Obviously we were able to look back thirty years on worse times – the German experience when many hundreds of gays were rounded up and the majority worked to death in concentration camps. But that had become history, just as the era of criminalisation is now history.

And younger LGBT people are now concerned about those inequalities and restrictions which might to me seem less onerous, but definitely not to them. I refer to the adoption issue, blood donations and, most controversially for churches, gay or equal marriage.

I have to say, I believe this last one will not come easily or quickly to England with the House of Lords likely to reject it, nor will it come to Northern Ireland via the Assembly. The courts will be the motor for change, as before.

And I have not mentioned disputes, particular to the Church of Ireland, like ordination. The Anglican church is, and will be, the front runner on many such issues but it would a great and unnecessary pity if they lead to splits and departures. I wouldn’t have said this in 1976 and rightly shouldn’t have, but there is a middle way and while acrimony should at all costs be avoided.

I was struck this morning, listening to former President Mary McAleese, in a Sunday Sequence interview with William Crawley, regarding her new book on canon law, by her words: “In charity and love the church must send a new message to our gay brothers and sisters.”

In addressing you now, I believe this Church, for one, has sent that message, and it is appreciated.

In return, we must avoid disrespecting religion and the Christian beliefs of many who are not advancing at the same speed.

I am of the view, in relation to some aspects of UK equality law, particularly employment discrimination, and in turn the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights – whose judgment in my case in 1981 obliged the government to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland and for which I am eternally grateful – that they need reviewed and refined.

As one lawyer wrote: “There does seem to be a good argument for a different approach to cases where religious belief clashes with discrimination law…Although the protection of the holding of a belief under Article 9(1) of the European convention is absolute, the protection of manifestations of belief under Article 9(2) is interpreted so narrowly as to have almost no impact at all.

…As the UK Government recently argued [and I would say wrongly argued] before Strasbourg the reading of Article 9(2) by the European Court in previous cases has the effect that if people find their religious beliefs conflict with their jobs, they should either ‘leave their beliefs at home or get another job’.

Article 9 protects a poor form of religious freedom indeed, if it does not extend to either the workplace or the marketplace. The current approach is in danger of forcing millions of people to be hypocrites; able to act in line with their beliefs in their own homes or at the church, mosque, synagogue or temple, but having to put on a different face at work or in business. That is unacceptable and unworkable.

The writer added “But the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is also hugely important, and carving out exceptions would make it meaningless. Reconciling the two is difficult, but there must be a means of doing so that ensures religious freedom is more than just the freedom to believe what you want in private, and which celebrates and protects the fact that we live in a society which tolerates all kinds of different belief systems.”

I would however move in the other direction in relation to one aspect of Northern Ireland law (with its concomitant EU exemption), and that is the exception for schools from fair employment law when employing teachers. They can discriminate on grounds of religion, and do.

EU Council Directive 2000/78 reads deceitfully “In order to maintain a balance of opportunity in employment for teachers in Northern Ireland while furthering the reconciliation of historical divisions between the major religious communities there, the provisions on religion or belief in this Directive shall not apply to the recruitment of teachers in schools in Northern Ireland.”

In conclusion, may I pay tribute to Changing Attitude Ireland (CAI) whose efforts in the Church of Ireland have been illuminating and extensive?

We must also hope and pray that two of Northern Ireland gay society’s most assiduous reformers, PA MagLochlainn of NIGRA and Rev Mervyn Kingston of CAI who are going through the trial of accelerating illness are given respite, and can return to a degree of strength to continue their work.

Jeff Dudgeon MBE
28 October 2012

Belfast Pride 2012

The Albert Clock at 6pm. Photo: Gerry Lynch.

Every evening from Sunday 29 July to Saturday 4 August, as the Albert Clock struck six, people gathered in St George’s Parish Church to spend 15 minutes with Christ. While there is nothing remarkable about people meeting in a church, what was significant was each of those 15 minute services was, like all of our Belfast Pride events, part of the Belfast Pride Festival. After they were over, many of the participants went on to other Belfast Pride events. Every evening we witnessed a simple fact: you can be Christian and gay.

Each evening, a different speaker lead the meditation.

Date Speaker Subject
Sunday 29 July Pádraig Ó Tuama Fear Not
Monday 30 July John O’Neill Pied Beauty
Tuesday 31 July Simon Henning Can we remember our lines?
Wednesday 1 August Michael Carchrie Campbell We must be content to go on like pilgrims.
Thursday 2 August Andrew McFarland Campbell All One in Christ
Friday 3 August Harriet Long Can we make space for God revealing himself?
Saturday 4 August Michael Carchrie Campbell The noble task of man, to pray and to love

The music before and after the service came mainly from Songs of Taizé – O Lord, Hear My Prayer & My Soul Is At Rest (Volume One).

Film: Love Free or Die

On Sunday 29 July we showed the film Love Free or Die, which is about Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican Bishop.  Gene Robinson was shown to be brave, charismatic, and above all human.

The Parade Itself

People from Faith and Pride supporting the Belfast Pride parade. Photo: Phil O’Kane

Inspired by the events in Love Free or Die, on the day of the parade, we gathered outside St George’s Church, along with our friends from Changing Attitude Ireland, to support the Belfast Pride Parade, on both its outward and return journeys. It was a wonderful and humbling experience to get such a warm reception from the people on the parade.

Thanks

Michael and I could not have done all that we did without the help of several people, including Pádraig Ó TuamaJohn O’NeillSimon HenningHarriet Long, Father Brian Stewart, Pam Tilson, Many Mullin, and the Belfast Pride committee. Special thanks go to Mervyn Kingston and Richard O’Leary, who have broken much new ground for us, and who gave us many ideas for how we may give witness to a loving and inclusive Christianity.

And a Final Word

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