Changing Attitudes in Church in Wales 6 October 2017

As a campaigning group wanting full equality for LGBT+ in the Church in Wales, we, the Changing Attitude Trawsnewid Agwedd Cymru (CATAC) always want to find new ways of making our voice heard. This is particularly important as we have discussed the theological arguments on both sides of the debate now for many years. An important question for us was how do we engage people in a new way in order to convince them to fully accept LGBT+ people in the life and work of our church? At the same time, the Iris Prize, an LGBT international film festival based in Wales put out a call for groups to get involved in its community outreach film project. The bench of Bishops supported this call and encouraged groups to get involved. Our group, CATAC, were only too pleased to respond to this.

We invited the Iris Outreach team to come along and film at our conference in April 2016, and gave them a steer as to what we wanted to be included in our film. Stories are powerful, and at the heart of this film is a collection of personal stories exploring what it has felt like to be lesbian or gay growing up and worshipping or ministering in the church. Several of my friends and colleagues appear, and they speak movingly of the discrimination they have faced, but also of the hope they have that one day the church will fully accept them and other LGBT+ people. It is a film full of humour and hope as well as a serious message. The title of the film is All One in Christ and can be found on YouTube (see https://youtu.be/jpvfBJ0rdRw).  It was launched in St Asaph Cathedral to a packed congregation of members of local LGBT groups, members of churches from across St Asaph dioceses and other local supporters.

We though that this was the end of this particular journey. Sarah Hildreth-Osborn, our diocesan LGBT+ chaplain (the first ever in Wales) has used it to raise awareness within her work, and the film is gradually getting hits from all over the world. As a campaigning group we then began to think of other ways we could campaign, and the film went on the back burner. So we were surprised and delighted to find out that we were up for an award alongside groups such as Mencap Cymru and LGB&T Sport Cymru. In February 15th and 16th the Iris festival decamped to Cineworld in Llandudno for the showing of different films including the ten shortlisted for the community and education awards. On the 16th a ceremony was held to celebrate them and we were invited to go along. Never having been to an award ceremony before, we didn’t know what to expect, but enjoyed the wine and nibbles and meeting up with the other North Wales groups we had made contact with through our film launch.

As we sat in a row in the darkened cinema we began to look at one another as the placings were announced and it dawned on us that we might win. No one had a speech prepared – that would have been presumptuous. So it was both nerve wracking and exciting to hear our name read out, and Mike Jones and Sarah Hildreth-Osborn who both star in the film went down to collect the award on our behalf.

Then we thought we could relax, but Berwyn Rowlands, the festival director kept mentioning a special award that would be presented. At the end of the ceremony he announced they would be giving a special leadership award, the first of its kind. These were his words

“Every now and again something happens which reminds you that things can change. Something happens that reminds you how amazing and resilient people can be. Every now and again something happens that reminds you there might be more good in this world than bad.”

Assembly Member Adam Price stepped forward to present the leadership award which, it was said by Berwyn was going to be presented to “an organization which has overwhelmingly demonstrated that you can find light at the end of the tunnel.”

It was a shock to find out that the award was to be given to us. And again, neither Mike nor Sarah had prepared anything to say at the time, but both spoke warmly about their joy at receiving the award. Later, Mike said in a press release “It was a real honour to be shortlisted alongside so many inspiring community groups and a shock for us not only to win our category, but to be given an additional special leadership award for our work. The Iris Prize team were wanting to affirm the work we have done so far in challenging the Church in Wales to fully include LGBT+ people through our film with its powerful stories and message that we are ‘All One in Christ’.  It is a real boost to us as we continue to press on for equality for LGBT+ people in every area of church life, including marriage.”

It can feel very disheartening to be part of a pressure group, working hard for change and seeing very little movement. At the moment in the Church in Wales the bishops sense that there is not enough of a majority within the Governing Body in favour of change to our practice and teaching on marriage, however they have issued prayers for same sex couples who have made a commitment to each other, and have apologised for the discrimination LGBT+ people face in the church.

However our involvement with the Iris Prize Outreach project and being inspired by their work in promoting the rights of LGBT people and getting their stories more widely known internationally has been one of the highlights of 2016. What was humbling was finding out in turn that we, a small campaigning church group from north Wales, had inspired and encouraged the Iris Prize team, as a light in a world that can sometimes be very dark.

 

About Manon Ceridwen James

Manon Ceridwen James is Rector of Llanddulas and Llysfaen parishes, Director of Exploring Faith and Bishop's Adviser for Ministry, St Asaph Diocese.

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