How to break a seven-year old’s heart…

28 May 2011

As a child, my parents allowed me to go to Sunday School with my best friend (I think they were glad to have a peaceful Sunday morning).

de violet _MAKE EXPLOREphoto © 2009
sophie | more info
(via: Wylio)
One of my earliest recollections of this dates from when I was probably seven years old. It was March and we children had been told to come early the following week as there was to be a special service for Mothering Sunday and, before the service, we would be tying bunches of violets to present to our mothers during the service. I was so excited!

On returning home, I immediately told mum that I wanted her to come to church with me next Sunday, for Mothering Sunday, fully expecting her to be as joyful as myself. I was therefore totally unprepared for her reaction. With a face as dark as thunder she said, “I will not have flowers from that church in my house. In fact, Graham, I shall never set foot in that church again as long as I live.” With tears streaming down my face, I ran upstairs and buried my head in my pillow. Never before had I heard my mother speak like that. Never before had I felt such bitterness, such seething anger, such rejection from anyone, let alone my mum. It broke my heart.

Of course, that all happened almost 50 years ago. And now I think I understand why my mother felt like that. But the pain of feeling rejection from my very own mother still remains with me.

You see, my father was a bastard. And a Yorkshireman. He’d married young, possibly in order to get out of a home where he’d been the eldest child, but never “one of the family”. In an attempt to build friends and escape the bullying that came with not having a father of his own, he’d taken on all sorts of voluntary roles as secretary of this and organiser of that. And then came the second world war. Dad was in a protected occupation, and so once again all thoughts of evenings and Sundays with his wife and son vanished with him becoming a member of the Home Guard. I suppose it was no surprise, therefore, to those who knew him, to discover that his wife took up with another man at the end of the war; an Italian prisoner-of-war, to boot.

Shamed by folk who made fun of his manhood and compared him unfavourably with his wife’s new lover, Dad left his beloved Yorkshire and moved to London, where he stayed with an aunt. A divorce followed.

From what I understand, mum and dad fell in love the first time they met, at Streatham’s Locarno Ballroom, where they danced and danced and danced…

My mum was then in her thirties, so it wasn’t long before wedding bells were ringing.

Holy Archangels Church bellphoto © 2004 JovanStojan | more info (via: Wylio)Only, of course, there were to be no bells. I don’t know exactly what was said when she turned up at the Vicar’s door with dad in tow. But it left my mother devastated. Like Monica (in the TV series Friends), my mum had probably spent years of her life planning her big day. And now, the rejection she began to feel bored deep into her very soul, bringing with it a festering mess of bitterness.

In the event, mum and dad were married in a registry office many miles away. And theirs was a contented marriage that lasted to the end of their days.

But the pain of rejection brought on by the church that refused marriage never really left her.

Why am I telling you all this, now?

Well, I’ve read in local and national newspapers how gritting lorries, buildings, football pitches, childrens’ pets, university graduates, freshly-appointed schoolteachers, soldiers on their way to Iraq (a war that was surely unwise, unnecessary and possibly unlawful?) and football teams – yes, (if I recall correctly) even a team that numbers Ryan Giggs amongst its number – have all been welcomed and blessed by anglican clergy in various public ceremonies. Yet why, I ask myself, when two people of the same-sex are very much in love and desire to make a lifelong commitment to faithfulness, does the Church of England withhold from them the opportunity to bear public witness before God to that fact?

As I write this, the Government is currently consulting on whether civil partnerships can take place on religious premises.

I just long for the day when friends of mine, who don’t share the same gender orientation as myself, can also come into church and there make a public commitment to be faithful to each other, for as long as they both shall live.

How wonderful it would be if the Archbishop of Canterbury were to give a lead to the rest of the Anglican Communion in the matter of celebrating faithfulness between all adults who wish to make such a commitment, by telling the General Synod it’s about time they recognised that God’s love extends to all. Put that alongside there being no distinction between male and female, Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen, black and white, heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual and the rest and you have an amazing opportunity for the proposed Anglican Covenant to pull discriminatory provinces forward into the kingdom of heaven, as together we model Jesus’ love for the whole world in our own lives.

In closing, I pray that this story may touch the hearts of those who read it and that they, like myself, will always look for the positives in any relationship, encourage those positives and freely pronounce God’s blessing on anyone and everyone who exhibits elements of his character (such as love and faithfulness). I never, ever, again want to see anyone turn their back on God in the way my mum did, because of a church culture too bound up with evangelical dogmatism and pharaseeic behaviour to offer unconditional love, acceptance and support to all.

new wedding ringsphoto © 2007 dennis and aimee jonez | more info (via: Wylio)And yet, I fear that as an ordained priest I may one day open my front door to find a gay couple standing there, asking me if they can celebrate their partnership in church. As I invite them in for a cup of tea, how will I explain that I am simply not allowed to grant them their wish? Just like my seven year-old self, I feel my heart starting to break once again…

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6 Responses to “How to break a seven-year old’s heart…”

  1. eddiebgreen said

    Wonderful first post.

    Of course if that same sex couple come to you with a child they are parenting and ask for baptism or a blessing I guess you are completely free to pray for them and bless them as a family …

    Do you tweet?

    My blog is here: http://bit.ly/mNhO3e

    • Graham Smith said

      Thank you for your kind words, Eddie. I shall attempt to answer your points:

      It is a real delight and privilege for me to assist our clergy at baptisms, which almost seem to have taken over the role of the traditional wedding in bringing families together in celebration.

      Should a same-sex couple ask for a blessing, then my understanding of the current position is that there are no restrictions on ministers visiting peoples’ homes in order to pray with them and their immediate family. But that’s it: prayers or blessings in church are definitely out.

      And, no. I don’t tweet.

  2. Graham,

    When I did the marriage preparation in my previous church, we had a number of couples coming where one had been divorced. It was a shared Anglican/Methodist Church. Our Anglican vicar wouldn’t marry ‘divorced’ couples. Our Methodist minister would. So we were able to offer the choice of an Anglican wedding, an Anglican blessing after civil marriage or a Methodist wedding – but since the choir & bellringers turned up to all 3 sorts of ceremony, no-one was made to feel unwelcome. I well remember a couple where the man had been divorced but it was a first marriage for the woman sharing their relief at finding a church that would welcome them after going to at least 6 or 7 others – and feeling ashamed for the Church of England. I too hope that one day we will bless civil partnerships in church too. I know a former colleague of mine was happy to bless civil ceremonies at the civil venue.

  3. penninegilly said

    Touching on the matter of re marriage of divorcees….someone of my aquaintance has only now come back to church…in her old age…after exactly that response from the church.
    She is such a blessing to us all.
    But all those years, when she could have been sharing her wisdom with us…..

    …yet folk felt they were doing the right thing….

    heartbreaking

  4. Sodomy is an abomination. Who gave you the divine right to sanctify a sin and call it gay marriage? Disgusting and contemptible.

    • Graham Smith said

      Lots of things we think, say and do fall short of God’s hopes for us, Clare. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, “sin” is the name given to this “missing the target of living the perfect life”, as God intended it to be.

      Therefore we are all sinners, we all fall short of the standard that God expects.

      So, yes, I guess it’s OK for you to remind us that the sacred writings contain phrases such as you refer to on respect of sodomy.

      But sodomy is surely not a key theme of those writings in the same way that love is, for example? Isn’t it written that “love conquers all” (or, to adopt the Beatle’s song title “all you need is love”)?

      I’m possibly not saying this very well, and I certainly don’t presume to be a good example of holiness, but it would be great if you were able to put aside all your judgments, together with any feelings of pain and anger you may be experiencing, and just accept people as they are, warts and all.

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