Update – this blog post is featured in an article in the Herald newspaper.
I think it is appropriate to post on this blog the invitation that I shared with the congregation last weekend.
We are currently living through a period of social change, as the Scottish Government finalizes its plans to allow same-sex couples to get married.
Now, the churches tend to react in their own distinctive ways. Christians are not of one mind about whether marriage for gay couples is a good thing or not. However, it is clearly coming.
Over the summer, I’ve been contacted a number of times by people who have asked me whether they can come to St Mary’s Cathedral on a one-off basis on Sunday 26 August 2012. The reason for this is that the Roman Catholic Church is declaring this coming Sunday as National Marriage Sunday and has said that it is setting up a special commission – a new body which will be “charged with promoting the true nature of marriage”.
Now, I believe in marriage. I believe in marriage for straight couples. I believe in supporting family life. I also happen to believe that marriage should be open to same-sex couples who wish to publicly declare that they are going to be faithful, stable and loving in the same way that straight people can. I believe in Equal Marriage and hope it comes soon.
The trouble is, the rhetoric that is currently coming from the Roman Catholic Church on this topic can be hugely negative. We saw that on Scotland Tonight on Thursday evening when one of their spokesmen once again asserted that gay people live shorter lives than straight people and seemed to suggest that people needed to be “warned” against being gay. I don’t think that it is unreasonable to describe it as homophobic and that is a word that I almost never use. It is also my view that the attitude of the Scottish Roman Catholic Church’s hierarchy seems to be at odds with the membership of that church whom I generally encounter as gentle, respectful, caring and kind.
Now, the fact is, not everyone at St Mary’s Cathedral has the same views on this topic. The truth is, the people at St Mary’s Cathedral tend not to have the same views about many things, as it happens.
However, we all do tend to agree that everyone is made in the image and likeness of God. My congregation is not a place where people question whether gay people are loved by God. We know it is true that everyone is loved by God.
The people who have contacted me about this upcoming Sunday to ask if they can join us for a week are quite varied. Some are straight people and some are gay. Some are Roman Catholics who simply don’t want to be told what to think about this topic and who reject the current rhetoric coming from the Scottish Roman Catholic Church. Others have no connection with that church but simply want to turn up to a church on that Sunday where the message is of compassion and love. Indeed, I have been contacted by a couple of atheists who said that they would like to come to church on that day to mark a particular anniversary and wondered whether they too would be welcome. The answer, of course, was yes. All are welcome in this place. (And they won’t be the only atheists there either).
It is a worry to me that atheists might think themselves unwelcome in churches. What kind of messages are churches sending out to convey this? There’s not a congregation worth going to that wouldn’t welcome such a person.
I have spoken to my congregation about the invitation that I want to reinforce this weekend and I have asked them to put the word about amongst their friends. If they know anyone in this city who would like to worship with us this week rather than worship in their own church for one Sunday then the message is clear. Everyone is welcome at St Mary’s. We don’t preach hatred. We don’t preach or teach bigotry. We stand up for the simple love of God. If anyone wishes to join us for one week as respite from the message preached in other places then they would be welcome to join us either this week or indeed on any Sunday.
The main service is at 10.30 am on Sunday. Roman Catholics will find the service is very similar to the service they know. Those from other traditions will find elements of the service that resonate with their own experience too. The music ranges from good to fantastic and is led by our wonderful choir and musicians. Those who are unfamiliar with church services will not find the service difficult to follow. The building is warm and welcoming and the congregation is gathered from all over the world and from very many faith traditions.
There is also a meditative, calm evening service at 6.30 pm on a Sunday evening which particularly features glorious choral singing as the choir and clergy sing the psalms and prayers of the day. It is the case that quite a few people come to that service who go to different churches on a Sunday morning. That kind of ministry that you can dip in and out of is part of what Cathedrals offer.
This is a congregation where we try to ensure that everyone is welcome and this is a church where everyone can receive Holy Communion if they wish to do so.
Having asked the congregation to share the news with their contacts that this is a Sunday when those wishing to join us for the first time are particularly welcome, I’m repeating that message here on the blog. If you are reading this and want to come then simply turn up on Sunday. It is a busy church, you won’t be singled out or made to do anything odd or strange, just come and enjoy worshipping in a congregation that is trying to be open, inclusive and welcoming.