Where love is, God is

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

1 John 4:16

The Living in Love and Faith teaching and learning resources were commissioned by the bishops of the Church of England in 2017 and produced in 2020. They explore human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage in the contexts of the Christian faith, changes in society, and disagreements in the church. During 2021 and 2022 the bishops encouraged church communities around the country to use the resources to learn together, to listen to one another and to God. The responses of the thousands of people who took part were gathered in a report, Listening with Love and Faith.

The bishops have been studying the Scriptures, reflecting on the Church’s tradition, engaging with the resources, and listening to the churchwide responses. Their task has been to discern God’s voice about what this learning means for the Church of England. The outcomes of their discernment are described in here: following this link.

Please do read the bishop’s pastoral letter, please do not rely on snippets from social media, which fail to do justice to their collective letter. As they say:

The differences among you are also present among us, the College of Bishops. We are partnered, single, celibate, married, divorced, widowed, bereaved; heterosexual, gay, bisexual and same-sex attracted. We have diverse convictions about sexuality and marriage.

A pastoral letter from the Bishops of the Church of England

I am not a priest in any other church but the Church of England, and love the way the Church of England is guided by tradition, reason, experience and scripture… to varying degrees of personal preference by each of us. The Church of England feels like a broad community, holding in tension differences of doctrine, while maintaining a unity over the core faith in Christ Jesus. I feel there is integrity in our individual and corporate search for knowledge and understanding in matters of Christian spirituality and teaching. My personal reflections can take me in many directions, but in my role as a priest in the Church of England I have a canonical obedience to my bishop. So while I share my personal thoughts here, I will continue to work within the legal framework that permits me the ‘cure of souls’ in the parishes of Marsden and Slaithwaite.

Personal reflection by the Interim Vicar of Marsden, Slaithwaite and East Scammonden, The Reverend Graeme Holdsworth

My wife and I have not always been Christian. When we were married we did not believe in God and there was no way we were going to get married in a church. What was the point of making vows to a God we didn’t believe in? We had as low-key a marriage as our family could accept, and we were delighted to be married in the Registry Office in Kingston upon Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The registrar told us it was a solemn occasion. We giggled. The Registry Office has long since been pulled down. (I am not aware whether this was an Act of God.)

Faded photograph of Carol and Graeme’s “solemn” moment. Giggle.

When we were a little bit older, we became curious about Christianity and began to research and learn about faith. During this time we were regularly told by Christians that God loved us. At first this felt like a glib statement from nice Christians… but after a few years we began to understand it for ourselves: in the light of Jesus’ life and teaching. We felt it was important to read scripture, to pray, and to worship with others in order to learn more about this divine love we were immersed in. We discovered that God is love, and that where love is God is. We discovered that God loved us and had always loved us, even when we had lived in denial of God.

Many years later, we were invited to another Kingston upon Hull wedding: this time it was a Church wedding, at St Ninian’s and St Andrews United Reformed Church. My friend and his partner were the first two men to be married at St Ninian’s and St Andrews after the URC agreed to register same-sex marriages. As I listened to the priest declare this to be a solemn occasion (and I watched them giggle) my thoughts about same-sex marriages were solidified: here before me were two men who loved God, who loved each other and that “where love is God is”. Who could deny the presence of God in this place? To deny that God was present would be to deny that my friends were in love. If we were to deny that they loved each other, it would question what any of us knew about love. Is my subjective love of my wife any different to my friends subjective love of each other? Who would dare to step inside our heads and define that? God knows… and God is love.

As I continued to reflect on the love that I had heard declared during in this church marriage, in the weeks that followed, another Bible passage came to lodge in my heart and mind. Peter (who was called Simon until Jesus met him and changed his name) had an experience in which the Holy Spirit rewrote the law about right and wrong. Peter was a good Jewish man who had never eaten food that Jewish teaching said was ‘unclean’. Yet, in a vision, God told Peter to eat this ritually ‘unclean’ food. When Peter objected, the reply came “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15). From this moment onwards the church had to deal with the knowledge that God could change the rules.

As a priest in the Church of England, I can only do what the law permits me, and I can’t do what the law does not permit. At the moment, the law does not permit me (and there are no legal words I can use) to solemnise a same-sex marriage in church. I am permitted to ask for God’s blessing on same-sex civil-marriages. However, my wife and I have never felt the need to have a Church of England priest ask for God’s blessing on our civil-marriage. We know that God loves us. And I know that God loves you too. If you married in love, then know these things:

Where love is God is.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me be explicitly clear. Once Canon law is updated, this priest, this Vicar, would be delighted to ask for God’s blessing on your civil-marriage, partnership or ‘end user license agreement’ regardless of whether you consider yourself lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersexual, asexual or even heterosexual.

Do not permit anyone to call profane, that which God has made holy by God’s presence.

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