Two years ago a group of churches in Birmingham came together with one goal, to make God inclusive to everyone.
Founded by the Carrs Lane Church, Inclusive Church, Quakers and The Journey Metropolitan Community Church they set about making sure their respective places of worship were open and welcome to anyone of the LGBTQ community.
Known as the Churches of Christians at Pride, they explain that they’re working to create an environment that is inclusive but also affirming. Deacon Ruth Yorke from the Carrs Lane Church says that the key is to make people feel welcome within the confines of the church’s current limitations, but also truly welcome despite them.
While Ruth’s church still doesn’t perform same-sex marriages (something she’s furiously fighting to change), that hasn’t stopped her from finding alternative solutions. “Even though we can’t do what we’d like to do,” she says. “If you get married, come on Sunday morning and we’ll be able to say some prayers for you as well as a blessing.”
The Carrs Lane Church also supports another congregation known as Inclusive Church. The Birmingham branch was set up by Naomi Bennett and Elizabeth Steele, after the couple felt they’d exhausted their options at the University of Birmingham.
“Christian Unions at universities tend to be very conservative,” explains Naomi.
“We couldn’t get married with Church of England,” says Naomi. “Then on our first Pride we got involved with Christians at Pride, where we met the other leaders of the church.”
They founded a branch of Inclusive Church with the support of Carrs Lane and now welcome congregations that exceed those for Carrs Lane’s own services. (Ruth jokes that she’s definitely not jealous). They describe their worship as open, inclusive worship, with some guitar-led anthems and what I’m assured are the best cakes for 50-miles.
“We’ve actually been able to bring in people who haven’t been to a church before,” explains Naomi. “People were still like ‘it’s my first time in church, it’s a bit weird and a bit scary’ but it has been quite therapeutic for people, they can relax into it.”
For Ruth, letting the Inclusive Church into Carrs Lane has been transformative not only for her but for the people around her. She remembers how one friend and fellow member of the clergy came back after attending and remarked: “I didn’t realise that when I’m in church I’m not a version of myself. I felt like I could really be myself. Not be on duty.”
The third church is the Bull Street Quaker Meeting of Birmingham. Representing them is Pete Doubtfire who explains that the Quakers have had a long and proud history of inclusivity within their ranks. “Quakers have been working on being inclusive since the 60s.” explains Pete.
“We have a particular way of worshiping,” he says. “So if people want our more silence-based worship then we can offer that, but I think it’s great that there are other churches that are offering an inclusive but more traditional church experience.”
Finally there’s the Journey Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) who worship at St Pauls in the Jewellery Quarter of the city. Their focus is not only on inclusivity, but in particular helping refugees who have arrived in the UK and are unsure of how to worship.
MCC’s Deb Curnock explains that many of the people she encounters at the church have come from countries where extreme conservative Christianity has essentially outlawed people from being LGBTQ.
For Curnock and the MCC their job is to welcome these people into the UK and to let them know that, regardless of their background, the country they came from or their sexual orientation, they can worship freely and without fear of prejudice.
The alliance of these churches isn’t just one of shared values, it also allows the MCC to offer a greater variety of services for her congregation. For example they now run a book group with the help of Ruth and the Carrs Lane Church.
While it’s fair to say that Pride remains the bedrock of how they joined forces, it’s clear that it has gone far beyond one single event.
This is a diverse set of four churches, all of which offer a unique type of worship but are trying to give the same message: if you’re LGBTQI+, then you’re welcome.
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