Friday, 8 April 2011

Don't ask, don't tell in the C of E*

I'm waiting until after confirmation to go anywhere official with the vocation stuff. The bureaucracy will find it easier that way, and in the grand scheme of things a few more months are probably no bad thing. Little steps, lots of reflection and breathing.

It's better, I'm told, not to mention anything objectionable. Those who are liberal won't ask, and then it won't be an issue if they do eventually have to answer to those who would try to exclude on behalf of God. For the record, I'm not talking about not being confirmed yet, here. Let's just say I'm caught between integrity in a relationship, and the conditions the church puts on those it would recognise as clergy. So, of course, I'm way way way ahead of myself. And I'm in no real danger, which is a huge privilege. But I still don't like it. I don't like this idea that I might get away with things if I just keep my head down, keep quiet. I don't like the disconnect between where things should be and where they are. It tastes rotten.

Lord, have mercy.

*or to quote MadPriest, I think it was, "The truth will make you the Dean of St Albans."


UKViewer said...

Difficult position to be in at the moment. Integrity is essential in the process and I applaud your transparency.

I have had to look at this in the context of the DDO this month, having been given a copy of the pamphlet on 'Human Sexuality'. I have had to read it, reflect on it and then write down my thoughts about it. I will have to agree to abide by it If I am to move forward in the process.

I have written my thoughts and feelings out honesty and openly, basically I disagree with the policy, but have the duty of obedience if I go forward. And this is not about taking an oath with your fingers crossed behind your back.

Nancy Wallace said...

If you do 'go official' in exploring a vocation to any form of authorised ministry in the C.of E. you should expect to get asked about your relationships. If you're not prepared to answer honestly you put yourself and the church in a difficult position. I agree with UK Viewer that integrity is essential in the process.

Song in my Heart said...

UKViewer, Nancy, thanks for your comments.

Of course when I am asked about my relationships I will answer honestly. What I have been advised, which I find so objectionable, is that if I am not asked, it might be easier for all involved if I do not volunteer information -- that if I'm not asked, it's because those doing the asking almost surely already know, but don't officially want to know. Yuck.

This isn't something that I hide in my life in general so it isn't exactly hard to find out. I have a partner. I would marry him in three minutes flat if he were happy with it but he is not prepared even to have a civil marriage. Perhaps if I had known before we got involved that I might end up so involved in church I would have acted differently, but it's years too late for "if" and "might have". At this stage if I were to tell him that we must marry or end the relationship (or change it drastically, e.g. living apart, celibacy) then I would be making the relationship conditional. That would deny, not strengthen, all that we are together. It would hurt us both terribly. And it would be really rather rubbish in terms of theology; if I cannot attempt to model unconditional love in even this relationship then what hope is there for me to represent God in any other context?

I have already told him that if the Church insists that I must be married or single to pursue authorised ministry then the Church will have to wait. That isn't because I consider our relationship to be a separate matter: it is because I have come to believe that whatever God wants me to do, discarding someone because the Church says so isn't part of it.

If these stirrings I've been feeling are truly part of who I am, if dreams are to be taken seriously, I don't imagine it will be easy to stick with such a commitment. And in a way that isn't going to be easy on Sweetie, either; if the Church won't budge (I think the chances of any movement are slim) he will be faced with choosing between his own principles and my happiness. So maybe my commitment to take our relationship as it comes, to evaluate it by the criteria I know are right rather than those of the institutional church, is in some ways a cop-out, a ducking of responsibility. But it seems a less grave error than deceiving others or trying to manipulate him into a legal contract he does not want.

Song in my Heart said...

Marriage is said by some to be a sacrament, an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace. If this is so, marriage does not need a legal contract or the blessing of the Church to be real. I don't consider my commitment to Sweetie any different than that of a marriage recognised by Church and state, but part of that commitment means not expecting him to be able to make such promises explicit (he has his reasons, some of which I understand and some of which I don't), not bargaining for emotional security in a bit of paper that codifies something that already exists.

I asked about this, trying to find out if it really is a deal-breaker (or at what stage it becomes a deal-breaker), and was advised not to make an issue of it. That upset me, and that upset is what this post was about.

Ordination, too, is a sacrament: an outward sign of something else, grace, ineffable. It isn't some magic set of words that makes someone not-a-priest one minute, and a priest the next; that bit is the communal (and in the C of E, legal) expression of recognition and support for that person's ministry. Such recognition is incredibly important, but ultimately God decides, God ordains, God anoints. God calls and we answer. If God is calling me to be a priest (and this seems the most obvious thing so far, though I cannot know for sure), and also calling me to faithfulness and steadfastness in my relationship with Sweetie, and the Church cannot recognise both of those things at once -- why, then, there will be some reason for it, some working I cannot understand. Maybe my marital status will change (as with the Church recognising relationships outside of traditional marriage, I think the chances are pretty slim), maybe there is some way I am meant to be a priest outside of the traditionally-recognised model, I don't know, where was I when the world was made?

But whether or not I am indeed being called to some form of authorised ministry within the C of E, the thing to do is to take one step at a time, and find out where this leads.

Ostrich said...

Before enlightenment - chopping sticks and carrying water.
After enlightenment - chopping sticks and carrying water.

Being ordained means we embody stuff we often vehemently disagree with. It can, and does, damage us and others. But the alternatives are often even worse.

The question to be answered is What does God want? It is rarely what we initially imagine.

Song in my Heart said...


Thank you.

None of what I initially imagined had anything to do with church. It's been an interesting journey, chopping wood and carrying water all the way, and I don't know exactly where I will be led next.

(Haven't heard from you in ages -- hope all is well.)

Anonymous said...

I have almost the opposite problem: as long as I don't marry my non-Jewish partner, I can take up Jewish leadership roles and the possibility of ordination one day remains open. It's a "don't ask, don't tell" situation in that people can choose to regard him as someone important in my life, and obviously wouldn't want to pry into my sex life.

However my partner does want the security and public commitment of marriage. As soon as I marry him, I'm barred from ever training as a rabbi, and awkward questions will be raised about my lay leadership stuff. In fact my friends who are rabbis aren't even allowed to attend the wedding (not officiate, attend).

It hurts. I do sympathize with you even though our situations aren't completely parallel.