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Church of England launches first LGBTI chaplaincy service to make Christianity a 'safe space for all'

Church of England launches first LGBTI chaplaincy service to make Christianity a 'safe space for all'
The chaplaincy service - which volunteers claim provides a 'lifeline' for some congregants - marks the first scheme of its kind
The scheme, backed by the Bishop of Oxford, was launched two months ago and also offers special monthly services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregants at Christchurch Cathedral

By Gabriella Swerling
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/
March 27, 2020

The Church of England's first LGBTI chaplaincy service has been launched in a bid to make Christianity a "safe space for everyone".

The chaplaincy service, based in the Diocese of Oxford, features eight voluntary chaplains offering support to members of the LGBTI community in the form of a cup of coffee, a walk, or just someone to confide in so as to " serve people who have not been well-served by the church".

The scheme, backed by the Bishop of Oxford, was launched two months ago and also offers special monthly services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregants at Christchurch Cathedral.

Yet since the Coronavirus pandemic took hold, these services are now offered in podcast form so that people can take part virtually.

The chaplaincy service - which volunteers claim provides a "lifeline" for some congregants - marks the first scheme of its kind and its pioneers hope that it will be rolled out across the Church of England's 41 other dioceses.

It also comes at a time when divisions within the Anglican church about how it deals with LGBT issues have come to a head.

Many LGBT Christians say they have been made to feel unwelcome and ostracised within the Church of England, which has embarked on a study of human sexuality, called 'Living in Love and Faith', due to be completed later this year.

Rev Marcus Green, rector of three rural parishes in North Oxfordshire and part of the oversight group for the new chaplaincy.

He told The Telegraph: "This service is an alternative place for people to come talk, be respected and be listened to. It's a safe space.

"We have sought to get eight chaplains with varying life experience, a we're very aware of the current issues. For example, I'm a gay man and a priest in a church. And I would say that my experience is that there are times when the church has not been great with LGBTI people.

"I think every church hopes that it's great but sometimes that hope is not the reality of LGBTI people and so we want the church to be a safe place for everyone.

"This chaplaincy is there because sometimes people have gone and not felt welcomed or respected. So as a diocese, we are putting something on to say we are here for you."

Rev Green said that other dioceses have previously had a volunteer chaplain helping LGBT people, but this is the first designated LGBT chaplaincy service in the UK, with a stronghold of eight volunteers offering pastoral support.

"This is not a job for one person," he added. "If you have a chaplain in Banbury and a gay perosn in Slough, what's the use in that? We want volunteers across the diocese. Other dioceses are now getting in touch and asking us how it's going, so we're hoping our model will be replicated and rolled out."

The chaplaincy service held the first of its monthly LGBTI+ services at Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford, and had hoped for 40 congregants, but 100 showed up. Following the national lockdown, one of their new LGBTI+ chaplains hosted the March service via podcast and assumed the role of preacher.

Ross Meikle, one of the volunteer chaplains, said that the chaplaincy service has been "well-received and warmly appreciated" by those he and his colleagues have supported, and has even provided a "lifeline" to vulnerable congregants.

"As a chaplain, I've been able to be in touch with a couple of people who have found it really helpful but especially in rural areas where the LGBT presence is less visible or in cases where people feel less comfortable talking to their vicars.

"But now they know there's a safe space for them where they know that they will be heard and respected, loved and cared for in that process.

"For one of the people I have been in touch with, primarily over email, for him it's been a lifeline. For some people, faith is something they have to work at and it doesn't feel as if God is there but knowing there are people he can turn to and email, as is the case for many LGBT people, is so important.

"We're not their counsellors or therapists. We're there to make sure these people know they are loved. It's the first one of its kids. This has been a really important and valuable step for a diocese to make." The Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, said that staff across the diocese are "committed to providing the highest standard of pastoral care to Christians".

"Our trained volunteer chaplains are all set to listen and offer support to LGBTI+ people, their families and friends. It's the first of its kind, and we hope it will be replicated in other dioceses. We also hope that it will give us a brand new opportunity to learn from the insights of LGBTI+ people about being church together."

END

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