It’s time to tell some more of my own story. About a year ago my parish minister and I decided to ask our Bishop to licence me as a Lay Minister in Public Worship. My parish decided to defer an application to licence me as a lay minister, because I have a same-sex partner. Yesterday, on Pentecost Sunday 2004, James and I decided to begin a ‘sabbatical’. This is some of the letter we wrote to our pastor.
We have so much appreciated your kindness and ministry. A number of times you have asked us how we are travelling. At first we thought we were going reasonably well, but it has become harder, not easier. Most Sundays, we leave church upset and ill at ease. After prayerful thought, we think there are a number of reasons.
Try as we might, we are finding it hard to see our part in the parish’s vision for new things. Each time we hear (very good) teaching on talents and gifts, we also hear an unspoken statement that our talents and gifts may grow fully only if we hide our love for each other. We also find it hard to receive ministry from those who have threatened division because of us. These and other things make each week’s visit to church tiring and upsetting. We love the people of St.–‘s family very much, but we need a break.
This morning, we each separately felt an inner witness that this was our last service at St.–‘s, at least for a while. We felt confirmed in our decision to take two or three months away, and perhaps to attend one or two parishes nearer our home for a while. We plan to quieten ourselves, to pray, and to seek God’s direction for our future church life. We may well be back in a couple of months, but we need God’s direction and peace. Certainly we will keep in touch.
We love you deeply and sincerely and pray for your utmost joy and peace in Christ. Your love for us has been a precious blessing.
I was much encouraged by a prayer of Henri Nouwen for the day after Pentecost:
Dear Lord, I pray that you will let your Spirit do his restoring work in me, even though I myself do not experience his presence directly. I would like to suddenly feel a strong wind, to see fiery tongues, to speak foreign languages, and to be so full of your Spirit that I could do nothing but announce the Good News to all who want to hear me. But this expresses more impatience than faith, more desire for the spectacular than quiet hope, more impulsiveness than deep and persistent love. You are sending your Spirit, Lord, I know. Even after a few months here I have sensed your work in my soul, a very quiet ongoing work. My experiences of darkness, guilt, and despair have lost their intensity, my moments of restlessness and fatigue occur less frequently, and in the midst of all my distractions I notice that my inner eye turns to you more easily than before. No dramatic changes are present, but yet I am aware of movements far beyond my own comprehension.
I thank you, Lord, for the gift of your Spirit. May the weeks to come strengthen and deepen the Spirit’s presence in me.
Henri J. M. Nouwen. A cry for mercy: prayers from the Genesee. Orbis, Maryknoll, 1991, p. 65.
Meanwhile, the Revd Dr Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham writes in The Guardian of 29 May:
What Christians will be praying for this Pentecostal weekend, in asking God for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, will not simply be a further dose of quiet spiritual refreshment, nor yet a new wave of dramatic supernatural phenomena, but the discernment and courage to speak the truth about Jesus – and thereby about the world.