THIS WEEKEND the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Revd Paul Bayes, will join the celebration of Open Table, an ecumenical Christian worship community which offers a warm welcome to people who are: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) and all who seek a more inclusive Church, writes Kieran, one of our Local Missional Leaders.
It's not our bishop's first visit to Open Table. We originally invited him to join us as we were inspired by his sermon at his installation in November 2014 about a table made by a poor but generous carpenter:
Bishop Paul explicitly mentioned 'gay and straight' among those for whose company Jesus longs at this table, to receive his 'absolute welcome'.
So we asked him to join us for the first time in July 2015 - we hosted two other bishops before this, but this time we were allowed to publicise the visit, during which he presented the Open Table community with a print of a modern icon called Urban Mission by Yvonne Bell, which shows Jesus in a city among a diverse group of people, framed by the words from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
In return we gave him a lapel pin in the form of a rainbow cross.
He also allowed us to record his reflection, in which he charged the community with a mission to give
as a gift to the wider church, which struggles to receive it:
The publicity around Bishop Paul's visit to Open Table was one of the catalysts that led to the community spreading beyond Liverpool - one year later there were four Open Table gatherings, now two years on there are ten groups sharing the Open Table vision hosted by three Christian denominations, with plans for at least four more groups to follow, and many more enquiries about sharing our experience.
His first visit appears to have made an impression on him. In November 2015, Bishop Paul mentioned Open Table in a reflection on his first year as bishop of Liverpool at the Anglican National Fresh Expressions Conference held at Southwark Cathedral. As a result of the dialogue we had begun, my husband and I became authorised by the Diocese of Liverpool as Local Missional Leaders to enable the growth of the Open Table community in Liverpool and beyond, which we began in March 2016.
In June 2016 Bishop Paul contributed to Journeys In Grace And Truth: Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality edited by Jayne Ozanne, which was sent to all members of the Church of England's governing body, General Synod, as they took part in 'Shared Conversations on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality'.* At Bishop Paul's invitation, we included a brief history of Open Table, which has further contributed to the community's growth. Bishop Paul explained why he contributed to the book in a radio interview with BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme (starting at 11 minutes), and a video interview with Christian Today:
The theme of Liverpool Pride in July 2016 was 'Icons' - one of our community chose to march carrying a photo of Bishop Paul in recognition of his growing support for our community - she wrote of her experience here.
In October 2016, Bishop Paul wrote the first of three blog posts for Via Media News, Jayne Ozanne's website set up to continue the dialogue begun by the Journeys In Grace And Truth book. In it he quoted me, or rather me citing a member of the Open Table community, who summed up our community's core value as:
It was also an affirmation of the righteous anger of LGBTI people in our churches
In February 2017, Bishop Paul served as a spokesperson for the Church of England's House of Bishops in response to the news that General Synod voted strongly to reject a report on same-sex relationships and marriage. He also shared his speech to Synod and made a statement to his diocese:
On the same evening as Synod rejected the House of Bishops' report, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement held an event to mark its merger with Changing Attitude and relaunch as OneBodyOneFaith. At the event, each guest received a free poster - one of the designs was inspired by Bishop Paul's call to 'be warmly angry'. This design is now available as a poster, postcard and greeting card from the OneBodyOneFaith shop.
At the Chrism Mass, one of the few occasions when people from across the diocese come together to worship, at Liverpool Cathedral during Holy Week in March 2017, Bishop Paul shared the story of his niece and her civil partner, and their child whom he baptised. He shared how when they moved to a new area the local Anglican church:
In a sermon at the Service of Thanksgiving and Commitment after the OneBodyOneFaith AGM in May 2017, Bishop Paul reflected on the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:24-31), a powerful choice as it echoed one of the most powerful speeches in the debate at General Synod:
This same story has had a powerful resonance for me in reconciling faith and sexuality, which I have written of here. It was moving to hear Bishop Paul reframe this story and draw on its lessons as the Church continues to wrestle with LGBTI identities:
In July 2017 Bishop Paul spoke in the debate calling on the Church of England to oppose 'conversion therapy' which seeks to change the orientation or identity of LGBTI people and make them conform to heterosexual and cisgender norms, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that such 'therapy' is in fact harmful. He began:
He also mentioned that he was 'privileged and proud to be associated' with Liverpool Pride, which announced him as a patron of the charity last month.
At the Liverpool Pride festival, he spoke at the muster of the march to more than 8000 people, as you can see here:
Finally he marched with the Open Table group and friends from at least six other churches, more than 70 of us in total. When we marched with his photo in July 2016, we couldn't have imagined he would be with us in person this year!
So he joins us again to preach and preside at the Open Table communion service, Sunday 20th August 2017, 6.30pm at St Bride's Liverpool. Join us if you can - I will share his reflection here later this month.
* My husband and co-facilitator of Open Table Liverpool, Warren Hartley, took part in the Shared Conversations for the Diocese of Liverpool - you can read his reflection on the experience here.
Originally published on abravefaith.com