Rainbow Sunday

Today (16th March 2014) is Rainbow Sunday, an initiative started by Inclusive Church to celebrate and affirm LGBT people in our churches. At the church where I am children’s minister, we marked Rainbow Sunday in Ark, our children’s group, with discussion, stories, prayer, and the creation of a beautiful rainbow altar frontal. Then we took our altar frontal into church, put it on the altar, and I had about a minute to talk to the congregation about what we had been doing and why.

All Saints has sometimes tended to keep our message of inclusion “under the radar”, as a colleague put it this morning, occasionally mentioning sexuality as an afterthought in a list of groups we are not excluding, but “not making a big thing of it”. Our congregation is in every sense a broad church, and I am aware that there is a very wide range of views on this subject. Today felt a bit like sticking my head above the parapet!

This is (roughly) what I said:

“Today is Rainbow Sunday, the day in the church calendar set aside for affirming and celebrating LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans*) people in the church. The rainbow, as we know from the story of Noah, is a sign of hope. It has long been used as a symbol by the gay community to represent the hope of equality, a brighter future, and the right to be and to celebrate who God made each person to be.

The church does not have a good track record when it comes to how we have treated gay people.  Too often our brothers and sisters have been hurt and rejected simply because of who they, these precious children of God, are.  Still, when equal marriage becomes a reality at the end of this month, same sex couples won’t be able to get married in this church, to experience that joyful celebration and blessing of their love as part of the body of Christ. Still our church leaders are too slow and too hesitant to speak out against the support shown by some of their African counterparts for violently homophobic laws.

Still, in so many ways, the church fails to be the face of God’s justice and love. And I believe God weeps for that.

At Ark this morning we’ve been looking at the last two verses of today’s gospel reading, which N will read for us [John 3.16-17]. Everyone who believes inherits eternal life. Jesus came not as judge but as saviour. How can we hear those words and not be moved to do our bit to right the wrongs done to our LGBT brothers and sisters?

And so today we are making this small start. We are saying that discrimination is never the will of God, and that in this church we will not accept it. We are saying that there is nothing about anyone that is not fearfully and wonderfully made by God. And we are celebrating in all the colours of the rainbow the fabulously diverse group of people God calls us to be.”

 Then the vicar led us in this prayer, which I wrote for the occasion:

“Loving God,

We thank you that each of us is made in your likeness

And that every aspect of ourselves is a gift from you.

Help us to celebrate and treasure each other

As your precious children.

We thank you for the rich diversity of sexuality and gender

And pray that we may come to value one another

And support each other

As we grow more and more into the people you made us to be.

We thank you for the example of creativity and love

Shown by our children today

And ask that we may all face you and each other

With the openness and honesty of a child.

May your church become ever more like Jesus,

Filled with the generous love of the Holy Spirit.


Here’s a picture of the altar frontal:


And finally, a quote from one of the children who helped make it: “it’s to show everyone who comes into our church that God loves them just how they are”.


Come as you are

It is fair to say that time-keeping is not a strong point at the church where I work. Our main Sunday service starts at 9.45. At 9.43, approximately half the congregation will be there, some of them even sitting down. By 9.50, most have arrived. A steady trickle will continue until at least the sermon, with the odd one or two continuing to come in at random intervals throughout. Some will arrive just in time for coffee afterwards.

Me. I’m obsessively punctual. I hate being late, and will go to great lengths to avoid it. And to be perfectly honest, it drives me up the wall when other people are late. So how do I feel about the time-keeping at All Saints? Actually, it doesn’t bother me at all. It has done, but it doesn’t now, because I’ve come to see it as part of how we welcome people as they are.

To take a not-unusual example from the other Sunday, I was chatting after the service to a mum of two children, who told me about the awful week she’d been having. It had clearly been one thing after the other, culminating in the realisation that various factors involving changed timings of a rugby practice for one child, an unexpected dance workshop for another, and a husband on nightshifts, meant there was no way she’d be able to get to church on time. “I nearly didn’t come,” she said, “and then I thought loads of other people come in late, no-one’s going to mind. So I came. I missed the sermon, but I got here in time for communion. I’m glad I came, I really needed it today.”

Here is an example of exactly the sort of person who most needs us, the church, on a Sunday morning. Busy, stressed, snatching time between family commitments, but desperately wanting the comfort of belonging, community, communion, drawing near to God to be refreshed and renewed, ready for the next long slog of a week. And if we were the sort of church where people turn and stare and tut when you come in late, she wouldn’t have come. It’s as simple as that.

So no, I don’t mind when people wander in half way through the sermon. I don’t mind when they take their children to the toilet in the middle of the prayers (after a loud “but Mummy, I need a poo NOW”), or when a toddler is laughing or yelling, or when the two old ladies behind me carry on with their conversation throughout the Eucharistic prayer. Because that’s part of who we are. It’s part of being a family, God’s family, as we gather at his table.

It’s part of how we welcome people. Jesus doesn’t wait for people to be sitting in neat rows and listening quietly before he welcomes them. God says “come as you are”, and so should we.

But we’re so far off from that, aren’t we? So far from accepting and welcoming people however they are, whoever they are. We might be ok with a yelling toddler, but what about a drunk adult shouting the odds? A couple of old ladies talking, fine. But what about someone talking to voices only they can hear?

Mental illness, addiction, disability, family breakdown, challenging behaviour, poverty, a dozen other things that make up what professionals politely refer to as “chaotic lives”. Are we really ready to say “come as you are”? Or do we mean “come as you are, as long as it’s not too disruptive to how we do things”?

If we believe in a God who loves unconditionally, extravagantly, outrageously, and if we believe Christ calls us, as the church, to be his body in the world, how can we place limits on that love? How can we say “we love you if…” “we welcome you unless…” Those are things we’ll never hear God say. And if we the church say them, in our words or actions, rolled eyes or tutting, disapproving glances or avoided eye-contact, we place limits on that love which are nothing to do with God at all.