A point in time
The passing away of a friend has dragged up a collection of memories for me. This particular friend was very dear to us. She was the leader of the Young Adult House Church Group in those days when I was a young adult. She and her husband hosted our little group. Her daughter was my flower girl at our wedding. My husband had known her longer than I had. She was a delightful soul in so many ways: cheerful, encouraging, mothering any lost souls who came her way, giving of herself to help bring early education in the Black communities up to speed, before apartheid finally lifted and children were allowed into the previously Whites Only schools.
While all that was good stands and remains, what has been most persistent in my mind is the memory of one particular day which didn’t really involve this friend directly, but it involved the church community we were all part of, with great enthusiasm and love. It is a day I stood alone. It was probably the day that began the process by which I eventually left the church.
There was a parish meeting after the church service, during which we were to discuss where we stood, as a church, on the matter of gay people – especially gay people in relationships. It was a referendum of sorts. All the parishes in the Diocese were required to jump through the hoop and report back. We had been told we’d be given both sides of the argument. I was eager to hear what would be said and hopeful that someone could finally give everyone a clear argument in favour of the gay community.
First we heard the standard Biblical expounding of everything apparently abhorrent in the sight of God. Then we had our second speaker. I wish I could remember more. I can’t recall with clarity whether the second person to speak was a “reformed” gay person, or someone just touting the option of celibacy when gay. Either way, I remember the cold shadow that arrived as I realised we’d been had. Only one side of the argument was given, note both. In the discussion that followed, I tried to point out that this was the case. I think, had I spoken to a rock, the response would have been less stony.
The parish members, all those dear people I loved, shared meals with, celebrated baptisms with, cried with, laughed with, danced with, sang with, lined up and signed their names on a form declaring themselves part of Anglican Mainstream – an organisation designed maintain biblical values within the Anglican Church – and keep gay people out of happy, healthy gay relationships, and hamper the ministry of women in the church (no women bishops, please).
I was shocked and astounded that not one – not one single other person – seemed able to see that we had only been presented one side of the debate. I tried to protest and point out that an organisation like Anglican Mainstream was actually creating a “them and us” in a church with a long history of wrestling with deeply divisive issues and hanging onto unity with the death-grip of a bulldog. I was also angry and deeply disappointed.
There was no-one around then to tell me I had done well or done the right thing. All I had was my sadness, rage and bewilderment. This is what has leapt forward demanding my attention now. If I were to travel back in time and stand before my younger self, I would have this to say:
“Alice Winsome Suttie, on this day more than any other, you have set your foot on a path of integrity. You have stood by a sense of what is right that supersedes anything dictated to you by any other. Your conscience is alive and very, very well. You have every reason to be very proud of yourself, for you have stood alone – the champion of your own conviction and of all those not present to declare their hurt and anguish at the church’s rejection over the years. You go, girl.”