On my penultimate day as a Pastoral Assistant, we hosted our first LGBTI Mass. When I arrived in the Parish a year ago it was something I had been keen to see us explore, combining our catholic tradition with our inclusive theology. Over time, for a variety of reasons, I must admit that I became less excited with the idea. Having originally bullied Fr Iain into agreeing to say one, upon his return from prolonged sick leave he in turn bullied me into following it through after all.
A lot of interest has been shown in the Mass, both positive and negative, and the poster advertising it has been viewed more than 60,000 times on Twitter. In response to this, and to a number of requests for copies of the liturgy, I am publishing this blog post reflecting on the Mass – along with the liturgy we used.
Feel free to use, change and play with it to suit your situation (bearing in mind copyright restrictions others may impose) – if you might consider hosting a similar service. Much of it comes directly from a Common Worship, but a few Collects and prayers come from the Inclusive Church resources on their website. The recent prayer written by Jeffrey John, calling on God to shake up the Church, is also included in the intercessions.
‘LGBTI’ and ‘Mass’ are two words that can barely be imagined together. That’s why I found the idea rather irresistible, a chance to boldly show that being traditional in your outlook doesn’t preclude one from being radical, with a theology firmly rooted in the world around us today. The greatest tradition of mankind is progress towards the Kingdom.
I originally had slight trepidations – having been part of a successful group in Gloucester diocese meeting every other month around an altar, I wanted to emulate some of that companionship without replicating a formula which might not suit our context. It was vitally important to me that we were in no way being patronising to the LGBTI community. Much as I admire a lot of the work done by LGBTI Christian organisations, there can sometimes be an ‘overly-nice’ edge to their work – losing sight of the cross because you’ve completely covered it with rainbow flags and beaming smiles. The Gloucester group handled that extremely well, so the pressure was on.
My response to this was to formulate a liturgy that drew upon what we would be doing anyway. We always have a Vigil Mass at 6:00pm on a Saturday evening, and I began with that service as my starting point. I wanted us to say: “Tonight we’re particularly acknowledging the struggle of LGBTI people, often at the hands of the Church, and reflecting on how we welcome LGBTI people into the Body of Christ. You’d be welcome to join us for that.” In that way, it becomes a safe space for people to perhaps find the doors of Church for the first time, or simply to ‘be themselves’ within a Church environment more than they are usually able – allowing them to explore the amazing diversity of God, reflected within themselves and each other.
The liturgy had to expand in order to reflect the prayers we wanted to offer, and we therefore added a time of ‘physical prayer’, lighting votive candles and placing them in the window sills. At the end of the service these were carried outside and placed at the foot of the cross. It was heavily based around our usual practice for the All Souls Requiem Mass, which last year was quite possibly the most moving service I have ever been involved with, and this allowed us to give the individuals we prayed for the same level of dignity as we do our departed brothers and sisters.
Since watching ‘Beautiful Thing’, in film and on stage, I have had a great desire to use ‘Move in a little closer, Baby’ as a Processional… If that sentence makes you balk, read the words carefully and imagine they are God’s call to us. While, for a few reasons, that idea had started to seem less attractive to me, in the end I knew it was the right thing to do. ‘Let us build a house where love can dwell’ has become a mini-anthem for both Churches in our Parish, so it was essential that we included it. Alongside that, and other musical choices throughout which we would normally be using for the Vigil Mass, Jo Winn-Smith, our Reader, suggested ‘This is It’ (I originally thought she meant the Michael Jackson version, in which he calls himself the ‘light of the world’..!) and ‘We are family’, both of which worked extremely well. They pushed the edge of what felt ‘right’, but by placing them as we did, surrounded by other music and deep, searching prayer – culminating in the Eucharist – I came away feeling very comfortable nonetheless.
We had 15 people in the congregation (compared with a maximum of 5 for our Vigil Mass normally), along with a lot of interest from people who couldn’t make it (August seems a good time to start, as it’s quiet so you can make mistakes..!). We also had a good number of requests for candles to be lit via. Twitter. More than half the congregation were new to our Parish, the majority had found us through Twitter.
Beyond that, it has provoked a great deal of conversation and debate around the Parish – in the most healthy sense. The Parish is strong enough to offer a welcome to LGBTI people, without just ticking boxes. Discussions over the theology of marriage as a sacrament, of the rights and wrongs of IVF, and of the very meaning of relationships have taken place in the last few weeks over post Daily Mass coffee.
Woodham Parish, where I have served as Pastoral Assistant (based at St. Michael’s, Sheerwater) is not a place to sit in the congregation and hear nice, bland, warm and fuzzy things. It *is* the sort of place where you are encouraged to open your heart as wide as possible, despite the inevitable fact that this will cause a great deal of pain at times, in order to form a deep connection with others, and with God. That’s why I am delighted to have been part of organising this Mass, why I’m delighted that it looks like there is a real hunger for it, and am delighted that the Parish will continue to offer similar services in the future to feed this need. Christ came to welcome all, even those on the outskirts of society, into the Kingdom of Heaven. That doesn’t mean taking rotten apples out to the peasantry, that means taking risks with prayer, putting the Church on the line, and being honest. We fail at that as a Parish, I fail at it as an individual, but we try..! If you fancy trying it too, why not give a similar service a go?