Christianity and the challenges of the 21st Century - Rev Fiona Bennett
[Fiona Bennett is minister of Augustine United Church (AUC). She has seen many changes in the last 20 years, as city centre churches such as hers adapt to growing social issues such as homelessness, food poverty and mental ill-health. She told me more about Augustine’s LGBT+ affirming ministry]
[When Fiona started at AUC The Edinburgh Metropolitan Community Church congregation also worshiped there. They closed and their membership merged into AUC with the intention of starting up a LGBT+ ministry, which would reach out to LGBT+ people, called Our Tribe.] We had amazing stories of the octogenarians [people in their 80’s] saying things like “it’s just like with Paul and circumcision, it’s just a new way of being, we need to change our thinking and engage with what’s there, and find life with what’s there”. People shared stories of folk they know who have been abused and rejected because they’d come out. And wonderful octogenarians saying “well, Augustine has always been welcoming, and always will be, I don’t see any difference with this!”. So we set up Our Tribe, which is a partnership ministry. We went on Pride, and have monthly meetings, but it’s more than that, it’s in our worship, and in all our statements, we are very clear we are LGBTQI affirming. We have a lot of trans people within the community, who lead worship as well, so it’s very public, and we don’t just talk about men and women [in verses, hymns, sermons], we talk about men and women and trans people…. it’s hard work to adjust it all!We’ve made an effort to do that, but at the same time the world has changed, and equal marriage came to be law! We were part of the battle in the United Reformed Church. It’s about standing up for people who have been victimised by religion.
I remember 5 or 6 years in, one of the people who is an elder here, talking about how making friends with people who are transgender has changed his perception around gender, identity, life, and how liberating he’d found that. Being part of an inclusive community is part of Jesus’s vision for the world, to use that kind of language. They talk about the Kingdom of God - now I’ve got issues with the word King - but that image of the hope in the way that the world could be transformed… That doesn’t make it easy to all be together. There’s no kind of platitudinal unity. It means that we have to work out that we can be different, but we’re committed to being together in the difference.