Not A ‘Gay Church’

An Imaginary Conversation About the Fellowship In Christ The Liberator
(With apologies to the Brook Street Bureau girls!)

What exactly is this Fellowship? – It is an ecumenical Christian community, open to all, but with a special outreach to and concern for the gay community.

What ‘gay community’? – Well, perhaps it is a bit euphemistic to talk about a gay community, since it holds together only in the very loosest sense, but that is to a large extent true of the community generally. Can we settle on ‘gay people’?

You mean Christian gays? — No. FCL is concerned for all gay people, even if they do not believe in God in Christ. We are all children of our Father and our welcome is to everyone, gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian.

But you are a Gay Church? – No, we are not. Anyway, what does that phrase mean?

Alright then, a gay fellowship. – Not even that. We are a Christian Fellowship, remember?

I mean everyone in the Fellowship is gay. — Not even that, so far as I am aware. When someone comes to join with us in worship, we do not ask: “Are you a homosexual?” It’s irrelevant. If someone wishes to worship God with us, their sexual orientation just does not matter.

But isn’t this true of ordinary churches? – In some senses, yes, but many people, especially gays, feel that they must conceal some of the most essential facets of their personalities in Churches which are heterosexually-orientated and they seldom receive pastoral care and guidance that they can actually relate to. Also the public condemnation of homosexuals which persists in ‘ordinary Churches’ (even if this differs from the private attitudes of individual clergymen) often makes the Christian gays feel that the Church has rejected them. We welcome those who feel rejected.

Does the Church really reject them? – It’s arguable. I don’t think that it does in a positive way … seldom would any clergyman seriously say ‘Never darken our doorstep again’. The “rejection” is a bit more subtle than that. In any case, whether the rejection is real or imaginary is immaterial. If it is imaginary, but the Christian gay stops going to Church because of it, that rejection has become, by default, very real.

So you don’t want to attract gays from other Churches? — That is not our aim. If any Christian is happy in his or her congregation, we should not wish to interfere: we deliberately chose the time of our regular Sunday service so that no one would have to choose “either … or …” If someone does transfer their ‘allegiance’ to the Fellowship from another Christian community, it suggests that that community has failed in some way and the transfer is sad for that Church, but equally it is a happy occasion, if, with the Fellowship, that person can worship God more fully and completely. But our main aim is to provide the opportunity for the “rejected” Christian, gay or otherwise, to join us and worship God completely, freely, openly, as he or she is, not as society or even the Church might like them to be.

But you don’t call yourselves a Church. — If you look up ‘church’ in a dictionary, you’ll find that the difference between ‘church’ and ‘fellowship’ is not very much. However, some people are particularly sensitive about schisms and we respect their opinions (even if we don’t share them), so we decided not to aggravate them more than was unavoidable by calling ourselves a Fellowship rather than a Church.

“Schism”. A split. Haven’t you done just that? – No. There is only one Christian Church, with many many branches, each catering for the needs of its particular congregation. No one seems to get worried about the fact that a church in say rural Italy or France or for that matter England, is very different in flavour from a church in a metropolis such as London. The needs of the congregation differ, so, within the framework of the Christian faith, the churches differ. In just the same way, the Fellowship caters for the needs of its congregations. To talk of schism is illogical.

You talked of not aggravating people. Are you afraid of what people think or say? – Not afraid, but we have no wish to make enemies. We prefer to remain linked in the love of God with all Christian people and in friendship with all men and women of goodwill. Many people, especially clergymen, who oppose FCL are nevertheless praying for its success if it does have a place in this society and in God’s plan. We are grateful for their prayers.

You are talking about gay clergymen? — I have no idea of the sexual orientation of many of them, although if one really communicates with people, one may become aware of their orientation. But aren’t you falling into the trap that the Church has so often fallen into? Classifying people? We are Christians (those of us who believe in God in Christ) before we are gay or straight. We are all our Father’s children and welcome in His house and at His table.

Do you really believe a homosexual can be a Christian? – For Heaven’s sake, why not? Surely not because St Paul had a hype about the permissiveness of Greek cities in the first century AD or because about three millenia ago the Jews were anxious to ban anything that might interfere with the propagation of the race? Can’t we live in the 20th Century? And anyway, what has one’s sexual orientation got to do with one’s faith and beliefs?

But aren’t homosexual acts sinful in the eyes of the Church? — Some parts of the Church are of the opinion that they are, but I prefer to be guided by the Gospel. If homosexual or any other acts are in the context of loving and caring for the other person (which is the core of the Christian message), then those acts cannot seriously be held to be sinful.

To get back to FCL. How did it start? – A few of us saw the response to the visit of the Revd Troy Perry, which was reported in GN 10, and we became even more convinced that the Metropolitan Community Church or something like it was very much needed in Britain. That ‘something’ became the Fellowship.

How does FCL work? – Well, if you mean in terms of government, our basic principle is that the Members decide what goes in FCL, although in these early days (our foundation date was 1 October 1972), much of the impetus comes from the committee which is charged with the management of the day-to-day affairs of the Fellowship. However that committee takes account of what the Members feel.

How does one become a Member and what does it entail? — One simply says that one wants to enrol … simple as that. As well as being Christian, members are expected to uphold the general principle of FCL and to commit themselves to that principle. We hope, although it could not be in any way ‘compulsory’, that Members will covenant to pay regular sums to the Fellowship, depending on what they can afford. This gives FCL an income out of which it may be able to pay, among other things, a stipend to our Minister.

Who is your Minister? – The name of our Minister is known to many people, not just Members, but for important professional and domestic reasons, we prefer him to remain un-named publicly for the time being.

Doesn’t this anonymity make people a bit suspicious? – Perhaps it does, but, in all conscience, we must respect his wishes and the well-being of other people who are dependant on him.

Do I have to become a Member before I come to one of the services? — No, you only become a Member if you want to. Remember “A Christian community, open to all…” Anyone, everyone is welcome to join with us in our acts of worship. We hope, of course, that anyone who comes to our services will feel that they would like to become a Member, but it’s not in any way obligatory.

When and where are the services held? – Each Sunday at 8 pm. The services are at present held in a private house, so we cannot really publicise its address, but anyone can write to our Secretary (FCL, c/o 61 Earls Court Square, London SW5 9DG) or telephone our information number 01-603 9088 for full details.

Is FCL evangelistic? – Well, we aren’t going to do a ‘Billy Graham’ around all the CHE, GLF, Sappho, Challenge, etc, meetings, but it is inherent in the Christian faith that each of us should work to bring the light of the Love of God to all.

Does FCL have any connection with any of those organisations? — None whatsoever, except that, not surprisingly, some of our Members are also Members of gay organisations.

Collectively written by Members of
The Fellowship In Christ The Liberator

Letters Continued

Freedom From Abuse

London W11

Dear Ed,

First about myself: I am a London sociologist and university lecturer. I am also a homosexual with an affair which last October celebrated its tenth anniversary (we met as provincial working-class students: he is now 27 and I am 34). I’m thus no longer young. However I bridge in my person more than the gap between two generations, that also between the working and middle classes, and more significantly in this context, between the latter and the homosexual community. I throw in the biography, not I hope to boost further my already highly developed ego, but in order to venture the suggestion that my prejudices and attitudes are likely to reflect not only those of the ‘Gay World’ but of a wider spectrum of the community.

First of all the bouquet. I greatly approve of the whole, rather breath-taking panorama of organisations of homosexuals which have mushroomed, almost overnight, particularly outside the metropolis where the need is greater. I welcome also the appearance of Gay News because it represents the first attempts of homosexuals to communicate openly with each other as human beings and not merely as sex objects. Mr Stafford is, in my view, wrong to wish to suppress this or other forms of homosexual oppression on the grounds of their present (undoubted) crudity, and patches of abrasive immaturity. The nappy-wetting and turbulent infant grows up, in the fullness of time, into the maturity and strength of manhood. So it can be with Gay News and the rest. The signs are there already (see for example the excellent final section in your Christmas number editorial, and the wise decision to feature items of general interest).

There is however, one matter which causes me a measure of disquiet and true sorrow. This is the treatment of Mr Stafford in your columns. However wrong-headed and obnoxious his views may be to me and the young activists who dominate the metropolitan homosexual organisations, it must be recognised that he has an important point of view (representative of a very large body of homosexuals, apart from the rest of the community). We must all bear in mind that there is a much worse crime then being wrong, and that is to be convinced that one has a monopoly of what is right.

Mr Stafford’s presence on the executive committee of CHE far from being deplored, should be strongly welcomed, and his important viewpoint treated with the respect it deserves of mature people symbolised in a reasoned dialogue, free from personal abuse.

Finally if I were asked for just one suggestion as to hew your readership, innate strength and standing with the community at large might be enhanced dramatically and at a single stroke, it would be this: take a leaf out of the London right-wing press in their treatment of Richard Neville and offer Mr Stafford a regular column and a free hand in your newspaper.

After all, true tolerance, like charity, starts at home! I wish you a prosperous New Year in which your paper continues to grow in those virtues so ardently sought by us all (and even Martin Stafford, don’t forget).

Mike, D Phil (Dr Mike, Shrewesbury)

ED: Mr Martin Stafford is, of course, entitled to his opinions and particular viewpoint, but was it necessary for him to attempt to close down Gay News because he personally did not approve of one item in the paper? With regard to your suggestion that Mr Stafford be invited to write us a regular column, he is most welcome to, as are all people who wish to communicate their ideas and comments to our readership.

Radical Free Library

London SW9

Dear Gay News,

For some time now you have been running a request from me on information page) regarding the building up of a collection of radical gay pepers and magazines, as part of an alternative library.

We are all quite aware of how difficult it is to get books about homosexuality from a public library, very often they simply do not have them available/will not buy them/do not wish to buy them. The situation is probably more uptight over radical gay publications. As part of a wider move to collect, to make freely available, radical/underground publications an alternative library has been formed.

Quite probably under the aegis of Librarians for Social Change quite a lot of material will be microfilmed to be more freely available.

The point is we have no resources at all except what people donate. So can I appeal to everybody reading Gay News to please let me have any old back issues of gay publications, political rather than ‘pin-up’, instead of throwing them away. We would really be grateful if back issues of publications ‘Come Together’, especially issues 1 to 7 could be sent to us.

Geoffrey Leight