In my last blog post, I wrote that I would be volunteering with Vine Church Surry Hills during the 2023 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, then attending the St James’ Institute Public Lecture: Unashamedly Gay, Unashamedly Christian the day after.
When I first came across Vine Church in Southern Cross, the news magazine for Sydney Anglicans, earlier this month about their yearly Mardi Gras Parade mission outreach, it struck a chord. I had spent two years studying part-time at the University of Notre Dame, Broadway, for a postgraduate degree I used to explore transgender issues in a Catholic context.
I learnt so much about philosophy, theology, and Church teaching in general. But despite the great satisfaction, I felt something was missing from my academic endeavours. Before I came across Vine Church, I had joined the Anglican Communion, then started my six-month leave of absence from uni to freshen up for starting my dissertation later in 2023. But to quote St Augustine, the Lord made me for Himself, in that my heart is restless until it finds its final rest in… Him?
This Augustinian journey never ends for any of us in this world, but I found some rest in Him at Vine Church on the Saturday that just passed. Odd you might say, for someone who participated in Mardi Gras Parade floats in previous years. Looking back on my previous Mardi Gras participation, I was restless without realising it, and not knowing why.
I volunteered to have conversations with people dropping into the church during the Parade. A lot of people dropped in after 6pm, and they were diverse. Maybe it was because of the DJ playing outside the opened church doors, maybe it was because of the free water, pancakes, chai and BBQ running on the church property. Or maybe it was because the restless heart found what it was looking for, with very tiny baby steps.
We volunteers were informally trained to have conversations like: “Well, the Bible teaches that putting your faith in Jesus means putting your entire life in His hands. If you don’t trust Jesus with your entire life, why would you trust Him with your sexuality? The Bible does have specific teaching on sexuality and that might feel like a big part of your life. But you first need to ask: Is God trustworthy? Is God good? Can I trust Him with my life?”
Some of the actual conversations that took place at Vine Church that night included:
- X believes that Jesus exists but struggles to believe in the supernatural or divine aspects of Jesus
- X knows about Jesus but has issues around how can Jesus condemn homosexuality. We shared with them the love of Jesus and they left encouraged
- “I love this. I never thought I could walk into a church!”
- X is exploring questions about the purpose of life and wanted to know more afterwards
- “What is this place?… oh, it’s a church?!” (in exciting voice)
- X had her idea of church and Christianity turned on its head in one night and said she’s happy for us to pray for her
- X came out of his faith due to sexuality and career, but is once again seeking God.
I barely saw any grim faces or suspicious expressions at the front of the church property, just smiles and nods, as the church volunteers welcomed the revellers filing past Vine Church. It was a true expression of the Gospel through genuine heart, smiling faces, words of welcome and practical acts of love-in-action.
For one night, Vine Church became a Garden of Eden for all of God’s children, just next door to the Mardi Gras Parade, of all Sydney events you can think of. I volunteered, restingly, for behold, it was very good. A wholesomely pastoral approach no uni degree can truly teach you.
The day after, I went to Jayne Ozanne’s St James’ Institute Public Lecture. No offence, I did not find it edifying — I fell half-asleep here and there. Mind you, unlike the Mardi Gras revellers, I did not stay up that late the night before!
Jayne started off with her life story. Sure, she had some life experiences that she didn’t deserve. Many LGBTQ people have had such experiences, myself included. Jayne told us a story about a 14-year-old churchgoer who completed suicide, and who hadn’t come out openly queer.
She implied that the 14yo girl’s church’s silence on LGBTQ issues contributed to her suicide… did it though? Were there other things going on for the 14yo? We’ll never know for sure now. But I do not agree that silence is harmful. Silence can be unhelpful, especially if deliberate, such as if Vine Church decided to not open its doors during the Mardi Gras Parade.
But Vine Church did get its silence right. I saw it with my own eyes, and it was beautiful. It became obvious why Jayne probably wouldn’t agree with me on that, when she made the theological argument that because Biblical Adam (Humanity) was not meant to be alone, the Church of England should go as far as introducing same-sex marriage.
People, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, don’t have to be alone, they can be in non-objectifying relationships. The first commandment that can be found in the Bible is that of being fruitful and multiplying. That is, the ultimate purpose of sexual acts, consummated in marriage, is to procreate. Otherwise sexual acts are objectifying acts, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity.
This teleology has nothing to do with targeting LGBTQ people, and unfortunately sometimes Christians give insufficient consideration to pastoral approach when having such conversations. I wish Jayne was treated the way Vine Church has treated me.