A heartfelt letter to the Church of England
by Anna Lawrence
Dear Church of England,
While you decide whether or not you can bring yourself to bless me and the woman that I love, I just wanted to reassure you:
We are already blessed.
I have tried to do things your way, ever since I was a child. I tried to pray away the gay. I locked up Gay Me in the attic and married a man. (And guess what? He was gay too, but that’s another story.) I tried giving what I coded as “TGT” – The Gay Thing – a little back room in my head where I allowed myself to go for restricted visits and tried to imagine it being ok to be me. I tried repressing it entirely, banning books and songs and thoughts and people and places – anything that made me feel expansive and alive and open to the possibility of being my full self. I decided I must live like an anchoress within my marriage, choosing to be walled in, throwing myself at Church God in the confines of a cell, hoping that the pressure would squeeze something good and wise out of me. Guess what? It didn’t work. Church told me I was not ok and I believed it, and Church held the door wide open for shame, self-loathing and depression. They corroded me and told me that my children would be better off without this mad mother who threw herself at walls and begged for inspiration. Better dead than gay. Church did not come and sit with me and light a candle in that darkness. Church was too busy bickering about the likes of me to notice.
When Church did not look for me, I went looking for what Church calls “God” in other places. I tried out other names that didn’t set off tripwires: my Knowing, my Unknowing, my Beloved, Source, Loving Presence. This Love – huge as everything and intimate as breath inside my lungs – did not wait for me to step over your threshold. Love met me at Greenbelt, in feminist theology, in poetry, in friends who brought me brownies when I was bereaved. Love met me in meditation, lying under soft blue blankets at the Buddhist Centre, noticing the feelings in my toes. Love met me in podcasts – Tara Brach, Kristin Neff and Cynthia Bourgeault – where women (knowing we live first and last and only in our bodies and not as talking heads in committee rooms) invited me to practise Loving Kindness, Self Compassion, Centering Prayer.
Love works with and through the therapist who asks me to place a hand over my heart, to hum low and long to calm this frightened, fragile animal.
The Beloved does not forget me. Again, again, again, She re-members me, remakes me from the parts Church tried to split apart, as if sexuality were something to be cut out and dropped into a jar, like an inflamed appendix.
This Love is Chrysalis, holding the gloop of me that had been caterpillar but doesn’t yet have wings: the what-was and what’s-here and what’s-not-yet.
The thing – The Gay Thing – I thought so long a curse has turned out to be a Blessing. Church equivocation – “nah, I’m sorry, we’re not sure all of you belongs” – sent me looking elsewhere. It turns out that I was already found.
Love lives in our home – our ordinary life of lunch boxes and putting bins out and making whole what has been badly broken. We are learning – slowly, imperfectly – to be hospitable to all the spiked defences in ourselves and in each other, and to welcome back the parts we sent away. Love is here in rift and in repair.
I’m not sure yet if I’ll give Church another go. I keep trying, and have been welcomed by warm and lovely people who have conducted “illegal” ceremonies for people like me. They know that Church has got it badly wrong. I begin to put my weight through Church again. And then Church says out loud that you’re not sure about blessing me and you need to discuss it. And I think about the woman who I love and I’m not sure why I’m putting myself through this once again.
I have realised I do not want your blessing.
Instead I find it in a mycorrhizal network of people who pay kind attention, who are rooted in Source, whose nourishment moves through nodes of connection. I throw myself into the dirt and mess, resting in the dark where things grow best, and call on Love – this fierce, wild Presence – to meet us where we’re wounded, where we wound, to meet us where we make and think and play.
And here’s the thing: after everything you’ve done and said, and left undone, unsaid, I can’t bring myself to give you my blessing. But whether I decide to welcome you or not – each of you who makes up Synod, deciding what to do with all the tricky ones like me – each of you is already welcomed, regardless. You, like me, are loved from the inside out.
You are already blessed.