I want to describe the context in which I attended this conference so that you can understand the contrast it provided. I had been feeling a bit worn out recently and very disillusioned with the Anglican Church that had been the spiritual home for me and my partner for many years. We have many close and accepting friends there and had felt valued and affirmed by them. I had been an active member of this community for 15 years but a new Rector arrived and my relationship with my partner Chris which had been acceptable suddenly became unacceptable. The Rector was an evangelical and, based on his understanding of the Bible, he considered our lifestyle as unbiblical and that meant we were excluded from being fully involved in the church.
When I came to the EF conference I wanted to find some acceptance and a retreat from the months of arguments. I was hurt and battle weary and had had enough. The Rector and local Bishop argued that we were against ‘natural law’. They argued that in the beginning God had created male and female, clearly distinct and separate from each other in the same way that He had created a clear distinction between light and dark. It was a natural difference and so sexuality which expressed anything other than a heterosexual orientation of male and female blurred this God given distinction. Oh how blinkered and restricting this view is and what a contrast to the message of the conference!
The weekend as a whole was a wonderful and, as you can appreciate, timely celebration. God has created an amazing spectrum of gender and sexuality and if any clear distinctions exist then these are socially constructed and not God given. The conference was sensitively and gently led by Christina Beardsley and Michelle O’Brien who opened our eyes to the diversity of gender variance and expression of sexuality. We were made aware of the often painful journeys that sometimes need to be taken by folk to make the transition from one gender expression to another in search for an identity that fitted with who they were.
Several sessions were just given over for those of us there to tell our stories. It was moving and humbling to be part of these disclosures, to listen to folk’s struggles against societal expectations of how they should express being a man or a woman and how that should be expressed in relationship. We were encouraged to act out our femininity and our masculinity in movement and in sound. I know this sounds a bit heavy and serious but it was hilarious at times and real fun. As part of the final session on Saturday we danced together (a kind of mixture of the hokey-cokey and the conga!!!) finished off by a cat walk to music where we could express our femininity or masculinity in whatever way we wanted. It felt freeing and yet safe.
The Sunday session followed by the Communion service brought together our individual journeys to find our sexuality and expression of gender, with our spiritual journey. We were able to collectively acknowledge God’s acceptance and love for each one of us where ever we are on this wide spectrum of sexual diversity. Female and male, femininity and masculinity, gay and straight, intersex and transsexual, these are all expressions of God and the gift of sexuality. The lack of distinction to be celebrated not denied. For me it felt so good to be part of communion again in a place where I was accepted valued for who I am. It was healing.
There was quite a few of us at the conference who are outside of the established church and who appreciated deeply the opportunity to be part of a different kind of church fellowship where our sexuality and gender in whatever way it is lovingly expressed is celebrated and valued.
I felt valued and my relationship with Chris reaffirmed in such a loving gentle way.
Thank you to all those made this possible.