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Inclusive Church in Gloucestershire

To celebrate Gloucester Pride this weekend, I asked the wonderful Simon Culley to share some thoughts on his work connecting the local LGBT+ community with places of faith, such as the Church of St Mary De Crypt, and vice versa. Here’s what he had to share –  I hope you enjoy! – Zoe:

It was a delight to be asked about my work in Gloucestershire, to be able to share some words about my passion.

Inclusive Church is an educational resource charity that works to help Christian churches and faith places to be more inclusive in several areas. I have put a portion of the Inclusive Church statement below. Please do check out Inclusive-church.org for more details of the full statement and the great resources they have to offer, including how to signpost your church as “Inclusive”.

“We believe in inclusive Church – a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate. We will continue to challenge the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality”

– Inclusive Church

I have brought my own personal spin to Inclusive Church by bringing the skills I have learnt from my day job as a community builder, trained by the Barnwood Trust, to create workshops designed to encourage and animate people and communities to figure out and think for themselves what inclusion means to them and what they want more of.

The workshops have been really fun to do and there has been great feedback from them. It has been really rewarding to give people the chance to talk about what is important to them and encourage them to think what small, positive actions they can take on their inclusion journey. I am taking them to a national conference in November, which is really exciting. The workshops can be provided for free in Gloucestershire. If anyone is interested, please email me on [email protected]

My relationship with the wonderful people at St Mary de Crypt has been a fruitful one. Having such passionate people with a heart for community and reaching out to all those on the margins means that it is a perfect fit and several of the events I have been a part of. It was an obvious choice to approach Nikki Arthy with the request to have a service there to celebrate Pride day. I am so grateful to everyone there for allowing this celebration to happen there.

I was asked by the lovely people at Pride for a faith presence at this years Pride in Gloucestershire, September 14th in Gloucester Park and I agreed straight away. I decided to try a multi faith tent as I know from my day job that if you bring different people together, encourage conversations over things they are passionate about, that wonderful things can happen. It is designed to be fun, with games and crafts, with a relaxed conversation area and prayer space. There is no agenda other than to invite people in who may have questions and make a safe space for people to find out more about faith in all its shapes and sizes.

I consider this such an important thing to do as I know from conversations that I have had with people that many people still avoid churches due to perceptions hat they have. I find this a real shame, as many families do not take part in activities in their local church and many people do not join in community activities due to thinking that either they themselves may not be welcome, or that they believe that they people in churches do not hold the same inclusive views as them. As many people will know church communities are wonderful places to be and a large amount of Christians are inclusively minded and have a real heart for people, regardless of who they are and where they come from. My hope for the faith tent is that we can show people that an ever increasing and large amount of churches welcome people and wish to show love and care no matter who they are.

It is great that the Open Church Network released a survey this year of people’s beliefs amongst church goers regarding LGBT+ issues that made for interesting reading. It showed that 13 % are openly supportive, 37 % are silent supportive and 36 % are questioning their attitudes and only 14 % holding negative views. It also found that 61% of people whose views had changed believed that this was down to better understanding or interpretation of the bible. This makes me very happy as this reflects what I know to be true and encourages me even further to encourage people to become part of their local church. Please do check out openchurch.network to find out more about this wonderful organisation.

I consider it so important to show a friendly face and be a loving presence at places like Pride. It gives a chance for people to tell their hurts and be encouraged that churches are changing and show that plenty of churches are welcoming and inclusive. It gives a great chance to show to people that churches are not the places of closed-minded attitudes that people may have believed them to be.

I am so grateful to all the wonderful people from all faiths that have volunteered there time to be part of this important mission and hope that it grows year on year and reaches out to the LGBT+ community, their friends, families and allies and changes people’s perceptions for the better.

-Simon