…If the Church had let me.

I am a gay married woman. Therefore, I cannot be ordained. This blog is part of my ministry to the Church, even if I cannot stand in a physical church building and preach as a Priest. I will aim to ‘preach’ one sermon every two months.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you O God. Amen.


Hello, dear friends of St Mark’s and St Peter’s! I’m so grateful to David and Keith for inviting me to preach this evening for the last time before we move to Birmingham, because I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this in a church again. I saw Sam Doubtfire in the supermarket the other day and I told him I was going to preach for the last time tonight and he said ‘well you’d better make it a good one!’ So, if you don’t like my sermon, you can blame Sam, because he’s inspired me!

It’s often said that the more you have the less you give away. Friends have sometimes made a joke about this to me in the past, saying ‘well how else do you think they got rich, except by giving nothing away?’ Of course, it’s a joke. We all know that the enormous disparity between rich and poor has a lot more to do with the capitalist system we live in than with someone counting the pennies and not being generous. But there is a truth in the idea that the richer we are the more selfish we become, and it has been backed up recently in a study by the US psychologist Paul Piff*, which I’ll tell you a bit more about in a minute. This truth should make us all feel very uncomfortable in the relatively wealthy West.

Jesus says in the reading from Matthew for today three important things: Firstly, that our heart is where our treasure is, secondly, that we cannot serve both God and wealth; and thirdly, that we should strive for the kingdom of God first instead of worrying so much about the security that wealth might bring. I want to unpack these three things in more detail.

Our heart is where our treasure is. If we care only about things that money can buy we will realise that those things are just objects, which might be nice to have, but which are no use whatsoever when we reach a crisis point in our life. What use is it to have state of the art TV when our loved one has just died or we’re going through a painful divorce? I’ve been through crises in my own life and I know that in those moments I really couldn’t have cared less whether I had a television or a nice sofa or anything else I might have had. All I wanted was someone to cry with, someone who would care about me enough to support and hold me when I was in pain.

On the other hand, Jesus says, if our heart is in the things of the kingdom: things like justice, compassion, and community, we will realise how valuable those thing are, because they are about connection- connection with God and with others. When you work for justice with others and build community alongside others, you feel a sense of solidarity which is powerful and moving and which cannot be replicated by watching the news on the television and doing nothing about what we see. When we show compassion to others, we realise that in blessing them we have actually been blessed much more by them, sometimes without even realising it.

We cannot serve both God and wealth. These are strong words from Jesus, but they get to the heart of everything that is wrong with our world. The study that was conducted by Paul Piff came out with some interesting and worrying findings. The study found that people who were better off were more likely to believe that they deserved to be better off because they were better in some way than other people. They were also more likely to behave in a more selfish and entitled fashion in all kinds of situations- for example not giving way to pedestrians on crossings or helping themselves to sweets meant for children.

There are many kind and generous people who are well-off. I am by no means trying to tar everyone with the same brush, but Jesus’ point was that there is a danger in becoming wealthy and in caring about how much wealth we have. The danger is that it makes us into people who are disconnected from those who do not have as much as we have. We begin to lack empathy, because we justify our relative wealth and convince ourselves that we deserve to have more than others. On a large scale, this is quite evident when we look at our natural reaction to immigrants and even to refugees. We feel entitled to the privilege we were born into and don’t want to share it with anyone else, even if they are suffering and have fled dreadful situations. It took the photo of a drowned child to make us begin to feel any sympathy at all for the plight of the refugees who we previously just saw as an irritating, marauding ‘swarm’. Other countries have long been sheltering thousands upon thousands of refugees- Lebanon for example has over 2 million refugees in a country the size of Cornwall, and half of all the refugees who have fled Syria are currently in Turkey. This refugee ‘crisis’ is only now called a crisis because it affects rich, privileged Western Europe.

The last point that Jesus makes is that it is not good for us to worry about our own security over and above working for the kingdom. We see so many problems in our world which come from greed and selfishness, but also from fear and insecurity. The global arms trade is powered by greed and wealth, but it is justified through fear and security worries by world governments. The truth has been proven to be the exact opposite: the global arms trade is making the world more insecure by fuelling and aiding ongoing conflict in many countries around the world, and it is now also contributing to the refugee crisis we find ourselves in. In our obsession with protecting ourselves, we have forgotten that we belong to a global community and that we are all interconnected.

If we strive first for the kingdom of God, which is peace, justice and community, we will see that we are clothed and fed and looked after, because we will all care for each other. That’s what the kingdom of God is. But we have become disconnected from other people. We have built up hierarchies of human beings based on wealth and based on nationality. Some of us feel entitled and so want to keep all of our privileges for ourselves. And some of us exploit the fears of others in order to spread more fear and insecurity all the while making a roaring trade out of other people’s conflicts.

However, I want to end this sermon on a positive note, because there is so much hope despite all of this. The marches in solidarity with refugees have gathered thousands of people together in every European country and some of the welcomes given to refugees have been very moving. We can and will care for others once we realise that they are people like us. And here in Mansfield there are so many fantastic projects happening, and that is another reason- aside from the people- that we are sad to be leaving Mansfield: we were involved in so many great things!

When Ellie and I came to Mansfield, we were nervous of what to expect, but since we’ve been here we have seen evidence of the kingdom of God at work, as described by Jesus in this passage. We’ve seen it in your care for each other and for other people outside of the church, and in your overflowing generosity towards us. We were welcomed with love and as family, and at the times when we were dependent on the kindness of others, we were freely and gladly provided with practical help. We want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us and for all the love and support you’ve given us. And we want to encourage you to keep on being the kind of generous and caring community that you are and to keep building the kingdom of God whenever and wherever you can!


Originally published in the CHANGING ATTITUDE August 2015 Newsletter


Those of us who are Anglican have heard a series of readings about the bread of life from John chapter 6 in church over the past few Sundays. The readings begin with the fish and loaves miracle and end with Jesus claiming to be the bread of life, and claiming that people who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life. Many Christians who would not dream of thinking that Jesus is literally some bread and that his disciples should have literally tied Jesus down and started to eat him(!) nevertheless take the ‘will have eternal life’ part very literally indeed. I don’t mean that they believe in heaven- believing in heaven is not a problem. The problem is that they believe that it is only Christians who will have eternal life. But if Jesus was being metaphorical about himself, should we assume he was being literal about the other part? Let’s look at the whole section in John again and link it all up.

First of all, Jesus performs a miracle by using the generosity of a small boy and multiplying that generosity by five thousand. A generous spirit is all that is needed for none of us to go hungry. Jesus says to the disciples: ‘Let nothing be wasted’. This is a very important command for us to remember in a world where, on the one hand so much is wasted, and on the other hand, a great many go hungry due to a devastating lack of generosity. Jesus then says that he is the bread of life. Many who have been worried about money can understand that there is really no point in Jesus only talking in spiritual terms here, because we all need actual food to live. Jesus does seem to say at this point that only spiritual food matters, but if we take this section of John as a whole, he quite clearly also cares for people’s physical needs, because he provides food for the crowd. Jesus shows that even a small amount can go a long way if people are generous and behave as a community should. Poverty is not just about a lack of money: it is also about a lack of friendships and networks. When Ellie and I had one very precarious income between us, our friends, family and the community of our church helped us with everything we needed. The bread of life is communal generosity.

Jesus shows by his actions that generosity in a community is the bread of life. But he also speaks in spiritual terms about himself as the bread of life. He does not mean, as some may think, that Christians suddenly have no illness and no depression once they profess faith in Jesus. He is speaking more about the spiritual sustenance that comes from having faith. It is not a magic spell you cast when you say ‘I believe in Jesus’, any more than eating the loaves and fish that day meant that the people in the crowd never had to have another meal again. There is a spiritual sustenance which comes from prayer, meditation and worship. Faith does not do away with pain and suffering, but it sustains us through everything that we experience in life and gives us hope which goes on even beyond life, into what Jesus calls ‘eternal life’. God is the ground of all being. Knowing that we are in relationship with the ground of all being gives us a confidence that ‘all will be well’ (in the words of Julian of Norwich).

But there is a third type of sustenance that it is important to remember at this moment in time, as we think of all those who are being punished by the church currently for marrying the person they love: the sustenance of relationship. Not all of us are called to marriage, but for those for whom it is a vocation, marriage is a form of sustenance. We are sustained by the relationship we build and nurture with the other person. A marriage takes effort and work, but it is the type of effort and work which brings joy and feels immensely worthwhile and life-giving. This is also the bread of life. The fact that the church is trying to take marriage away from LGBT people and punishing LGBT people for marrying just shows how spiritually poor it has become. We need to pray for the lay ministers and the ordained ministers who are having their licenses revoked, and for those who feel called to lay or ordained ministry and who are not being allowed to go forward; but we also need to pray for the church, because it has truly lost its way.

SERMON FOR 31st MAY 2015 ‘Trinity Sunday’ (Isaiah 6:1-8)


In this morning’s Old Testament reading, God calls Isaiah to his special mission by sending an angel to touch his lips with a hot ember, thereby purifying him in readiness for his task. Isaiah is a prophet, and as such is called to speak out against injustice and wrong-doing. This leads to him having to speak out bravely against those in power, whether in the nation he lives in or in the worshipping community he belongs to. Prophets were often derided, mocked and sometimes killed for speaking out and yet they still felt it necessary to do so.

The church and the world still needs prophets today, and sometimes that might mean people prepared to go out on a limb and be dangerously isolated. I think we often consider that prophets are only a certain type of outspoken, brave person though. In modern-day language, we might call these people ‘heroes’- they might be people like Nelson Mandela or Ghandi. There is a real need for strong leaders like these people in certain situations, of course, and inspirational leadership can be very effective in motivating others to make change happen. However, there is a danger in always thinking that we must wait for a ‘hero’ in order to change the world for the better: while we wait for the right leader to come along, business carries on as usual in the world of violence and domination.

I began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ yesterday. Bonhoeffer was part of the Confessing Church in Germany under Nazism. It was the only church to resist and speak out against the violence and injustice it saw. In the introduction to the book, G. Leibholz says this: ‘The majority of the people in all nations alike does not consist of heroes. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others did cannot be expected from the many.’[1] I felt myself reacting very strongly to what I felt was inexcusable complacency from the writer. God does not call only a very few ‘heroes’ to be brave and stand up to injustice! I refuse to believe anything less than that God calls every single one of us to behave compassionately and bravely in the face of violence and domination. The examples of nonviolent resistance under Nazism were most effective when many people worked together, without any single stand-out ‘hero’: in Denmark, Norway, Italy, Holland and Bulgaria demonstrations, strikes, sabotage, and underground information networks were all effective against Nazi control and the extermination of the Jewish people there.

Actually, it is our ‘hero’ culture which prevents us from doing great and creative things as a community. We wait for heroes to lead us, and if they don’t come along, we resort to war and violence as a last (or sometimes first) resort. We are not used to being brave ourselves and so prefer the idea of armies and nuclear weapons protecting us, because it means we don’t have to think about or get involved with making the world a safer place ourselves. Believing in nonviolence means you have to put in the hard work yourself- you can’t just be passive or acquiesce with a saving violence. Changing the world through nonviolence is incredibly difficult and takes effort, but changing the world through violence does nothing in the long-term, and in the short-term creates ever more tensions between countries and peoples.

God calls us all to be prophets, not just the few. God calls us to the hard work of building community, resisting evil nonviolently, and speaking out against injustices which perpetuate war, such as the Arms Trade. The work of the Kingdom is not a work which can be done by one or two ‘heroes’ dotted here and there. It is clear that sometimes individuals can make an enormous difference, but our dependence on the isolated successes of ‘heroes’ throughout history has made the rest of us complacent, whereas all of us together could make much more of a difference. We all have a calling and God is calling us all to change the communities and the world we live in.

[1] The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, SCM Press 1948, p.27

SERMON FOR 22nd MARCH-  ‘5th Sunday in Lent’ (John 12:20-33)


In 1984, Ron Sider, the Anabaptist theologian and activist, addressed the Mennonite Church World Conference. He said this:

‘We must be prepared to die by the thousands. Those who believed in peace by the sword have never hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives…they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time… Unless we… are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic, vigorous new exploits for peace and justice…Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce conflict, we should confess that we never really meant that the cross was an alternative to the sword.’ *(1)

This fifth Sunday in Lent is when the Church officially enters into what is called ‘Passiontide’. It marks the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross and his ‘passion’ or suffering. In the reading for today, Jesus speaks fervently and poetically about his imminent death and the fruits that will come from it. In words which are hard for us to understand, he says that ‘If you love your life in this world, you’ll lose it; if you hate your life… you’ll keep it for eternal life’ (John 12:25). He speaks of how a grain remains only a single grain, alone in the world, unless it dies, in which case it then ‘yields a rich harvest’ (John 12:24).

Passiontide in Lent is a good time for us to reflect not only on Jesus’ death and what that means, but also on our own mortality. In Buddhism there is a philosophy of ‘detatchment’, which has nothing to do with being apathetic and uncaring to others, but rather means that we shouldn’t ‘cling’ to our pleasures, desires and opinions, because these are all to do with building up the ego, whereas the route to ‘enlightenment’ or what we Christians might call ‘union with God’ is a giving up of self, a surrendering to God and becoming one with God.  This ‘clinging’ of which Buddhists might speak is very similar to the ‘love’ of our own lives of which Jesus speaks. In the Greek, the word translated as ‘love’ can also be translated as being ‘fond of’. Jesus says that those who are too ‘fond of’ their own lives, who ‘cling’ to their own lives too much, will lose them in the end- they will not bear fruit in death. If we are not prepared to risk our lives for the Gospel and for others, our death will not produce fruit in the way that a life lived in self-sacrifice and service to others would do. We will make no change, leave no imprint in the world, we may even be forgotten quickly.

All this is not to say that human life is not precious- of course it is, as there is the likeness of God in every person. We should protect life and help ourselves and other people to live their lives fully, but sometimes there is a call to lay down our own egos and sometimes our very lives for something greater. Why are we so afraid of death? Almost all of us are- there is fear in the unknown. We know that it will come to all of us, but we would do anything to delay the inevitable. Again, this is not to say that it is not a noble thing to want to make people’s lives better and longer, and doctors and people who research into cancer and other diseases are admirable for doing so. It is just that we must not cling to our own lives where it is not appopriate to do so. If there is a greater cause for which we must be prepared to suffer and even die, we must carry our own cross alongside Jesus. And when the time comes for us to accept death, we mustn’t be afraid of it, for death is a part of life and, in losing our lives, we are, in the words of Jesus, ‘lifted up’ (John 12:32)- both into the life of God and into the life-cycle of the world.

The famous atheist Stephen Fry said recently and understandably that he didn’t believe in God because there is too much evil and too much suffering in the world. If God existed, said Fry, God would be ‘utterly monstrous’ to allow all these terrible things to happen. He was being honest in a way that many of us would like to be. The problem of suffering and evil has been an issue for believers since forever! How can we believe in a God of love who ‘allows’ these things? But what if our understanding of God is wrong? What if our understanding of life itself is completely skewed? What if that kind of thinking only views God as a ‘demiurge’ (creator god, pulling the strings) rather than that in which we all (meaning the whole of existence) ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28)?

Recently I heard a pagan leader speak to my inter-faith studies class at Queen’s Theological Foundation in Birmingham, and I remember being struck by her answer to the problem of evil and suffering- especially that which cannot be explained away by an idea of human ‘free will’ (which does of course account for a lot of suffering in the world). She said that we are too ‘human-centric’ in our vision of the world and what evil and suffering is. Natural disasters are terrible for the people who live through them and who lose relatives because of them, but what if God gave freedom and creativity to all of creation, not just humans? What if the tragedy of a tsunami is just wind and water living its own life? We can’t tame the natural world, and when we try to it doesn’t tend to work out very well, but we can learn to understand it, and therefore avoid where possible human loss. It is not a coincidence, by the way, that the most lives are lost through natural disasters in poorer countries where the money doesn’t exist to make people safer.

We are part of a great life-cycle, and even on a very basic level, our deaths bring new life, as our bodies are given back to  the earth. This is why we are reminded on Ash Wednesday in the liturgy that we are ‘dust’ and to dust we will return. We are ‘lifted up’ and taken into God when we die, and our bodies are also given back to the life-cycle of the earth. But there are other ways in which we can produce fruit after our death, and one of those is by letting our life and death have an impact on other people’s lives and the way of the world, as Jesus did.

This is why the work of groups like the Christian Peacemaker Teams is so important*(3). CPT came into being following the call of Ron Sider to Christians to risk their lives in order to change the world passionately, through nonviolent action. CPTers work alongside persecuted groups throughout the world trying to change situations of conflict using nonviolent methods. Sometimes, this can lead them into very dangerous, life-threatening situations, as in the case of one CPTer who was kidnapped and killed in Iraq a while back.

Giving our lives in the service of others and to bring in God’s kingdom of peace and justice is what is called the way of the cross. This is what Jesus did and this is what Jesus calls us all to do. Let’s be not only ‘the salt of the earth’ (Matt 5:13) but also the grain which, when it dies, ‘yields a rich harvest’.


*(1) http://cpt.org/about/history

*(2) http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/feb/01/stephen-fry-god-evil-maniac-irish-tv

*(3) http://www.cpt.org

SERMON FOR THE 11th JAN 2015 ‘Baptism of Christ’


Creation stories are absolutely fascinating in every culture. They strive to tell us some really important truths. I’d like to think Christians are well beyond discussion of any kind of literalist understanding of the stories at the beginning of the Bible now, which is a relief to me. When we let go of an obsession with literalism, we find a new freedom to explore the Bible in its context and its culture and can enjoy the stories more and gain more from them, without worrying about disbelieving or even morally disagreeing with certain things the Bible contains. Suddenly the Bible is more interesting and exciting and is brought to life!

As we celebrate the baptism of Christ this Sunday, we need to reflect on the importance of water in stories of creation, baptism and new beginnings. The lectionary is pointing us towards this by placing the reading from Genesis alongside the story of John baptising Jesus in the River Jordan. Thanks for that, lectionary!

In the creation story, even after the ‘heavens and the earth’ (1.1) have come into being, all is still ‘chaos and emptiness’ (1.2). God’s spirit broods ‘over the surface of the waters’ (1.2). The Bible is steeped in and weighed down by a great deal of cultural patriarchy, which is unfortunate and sad. However, there are some beautiful descriptions of the feminine side of God, and here we find one in only the 2nd line of Genesis. The Spirit of God in Hebrew is already a feminine word- ‘ruach’- and the Spirit here is said to be ‘brooding’ over the waters, just as a hen broods over her eggs. What a splendid image we have in our creation story- one of a feminine God brooding over her creation, as if she has just given birth to it and is nurturing it in preparation for its life to come. Jesus also later identifies with this image of the hen when he describes his love for his people in Luke:
‘Oh Jerusalem… How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…!’ (13:34)

Holding that beautiful image in your head, let me take you to another world religion- Hinduism- because the Hindu creation story shows once more the importance of water as a place for birthing and creation. The story says that for a very long period of time, only chaos and water existed. Then Lord Vishnu, who is part of the ‘Supreme One’ from whom everything comes and in whom everything has its being, appears on the water, floating. From Lord Vishnu who is the ‘Preserver’ comes Lord Brahma, who is the ‘Creator’, and from Lord Brahma springs forth all life.

In our own creation story, God broods over the water and the formless chaos until eventually light is created and that is the beginning of all life. Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan marks the beginning of his ministry. The water is there, and God’s spirit is there again, as at the beginning of creation- this time in the form of a dove. What Mark is trying tell us is that the day Jesus was baptised is just as important a birth as the day Jesus was born. In fact, Mark doesn’t even bother with a birth narrative like Luke and Matthew- he begins here- with John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism. The baptism marks the beginning of Jesus’ truly radical and life-changing ministry on earth. It is the moment when God’s kingdom is shown to the world. God speaks through Jesus’ words and actions and a new way is born- a way so important that it draws parallels with creation itself.

So when the Christmas celebrations have ended, and we feel like all the fun is over, there is an even more important new birth and new beginning to watch out for. This is actually where it gets more exciting, not less- this is when everything begins to change and become different and new. This is when the way and the truth and the life are revealed to us and God’s will for the world is made manifest in Jesus. This is when the very Kingdom of God itself begins to break in. ‘This is my son in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt.3:17) says God, so you’d better sit up and pay attention!


First same-sex marriage: Peter McGraith and David Cabreza signing the wedding registry.

First same-sex marriage: Peter McGraith and David Cabreza signing the wedding registry.


Even though my fiancée and I are on a special ‘food bank fast’ for all of Lent (see https://eleanormary90.wordpress.com for details), we broke that fast to drink a glass of champagne on Saturday 29th March when equal marriage came into force in England and Wales. We thought we could allow ourselves a break from the fast in order to celebrate in style, because a day like Saturday will never happen again in this country. We spent as much of the day as we could reading articles, watching the news, and looking at photos of the first gay marriages to take place across the country. It was moving and beautiful to see this happening in our own country. I marked the day with this facebook status:

‘Marriage according to the law of this country is a union between two people voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of all others.’

This new statement of how we see marriage in this country is one that I am proud of: it says that we are against forced marriage, we are against polygamy, we believe that marriage should be lifelong and faithful, and, as of March 29th, we believe that marriage is not only ‘between one man and one woman’ but also sometimes between two men or two women who love each other. This new definition of marriage makes me feel a great sense of dignity and self-worth. My relationship is being acknowledged by the State as something which I know in my heart it is already – equal in value to opposite-sex marriage.

We may not be able to have children of our own except through artificial insemination or adoption, but there are plenty of straight couples who can’t either. There are many things which marriage brings to society other than babies, and many babies aren’t even born to married couples anyway! Despite the negative view of same-sex marriage from some Christians including the Church of England’s official position, a big supporter of gay equality in the C of E- the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, said this, ‘Over the past fifty years, an increasing number of people have been cagey about entering marriage because of all the baggage it seemed to carry of inequality, patriarchy and control. Allowing gay people to marry restores its public identity as a friendship of equals’.

Here is a straight man and a Bishop who is able to see the gift and positive contribution which gay couples will bring to marriage. Same-sex couples are free of the patriarchy and inequality which has dogged marriage down the ages- to its great shame. For centuries, marriage was just a business transaction between families, and the woman above all had little or no choice in the matter. Only since Victorian times did people begin to marry for love, and only in the last few decades have relationships in marriage between men and women begun to be more equal. Allowing gay couples to marry liberates marriage from the heavy baggage of its patriarchal history and brings all its positive traits to the fore- fidelity, steadfastness and covenantal love.

The Archdeacon of Newark, David Picken, said at a recent Lent group in Nottingham that the biggest challenge for the Church from an LGBT perspective comes from gay Christians who want to marry because they believe in marriage for the exact same reasons that the Church does. As I said in an interview recently with Radio 1, “Because we’re Christians we do believe in marriage, even if the church hasn’t yet taken the step of believing in same sex marriage, we do believe in marriage.”

There are some religious leaders other than the Bishop of Buckingham who believe that opening up marriage to include same-sex couples enriches the institution. A letter from 19 senior religious figures was published by Changing Attitude in which the signatories say that they ‘rejoice’ in same-sex couples being able to marry . Four retired diocesan bishops signed the letter alongside Buckingham (himself not retired, but a suffragan rather than a diocesan bishop) and leaders of other faith groups. A serving diocesan bishop- the Bishop of Salisbury- also broke ranks this week with the official position of the Church by saying that gay marriage “embodies a commitment to be faithful, loving, and lifelong. These are virtues which the Church of England wants to see maximised in society.”

We really appreciate the support of these senior clerics, because for us same-sex marriage is something we believe in not despite being Christian, but precisely because we are Christian. That is not to say that there are not non-Christians and people of other faiths who believe in marriage for the same reasons as us, but the Church’s biggest challenge is seeing fellow Christians who believe in marriage, who show in the fruits of our marriages everything that is good about marriage, and who just happen to be gay.