Representatives from Congleton Pride met Church leaders recently to discuss how to best support Christian lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other non-confirming gender/sexuality (LGBTQ+) people living in Congleton.
A recent survey found that 63% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported experiencing some harassment or abuse in Congleton, with some believing that the influence of certain churches was negative for LTBTQ+ people.
Attending the meeting were the Revs Murray George of United Reformed Church and Ian Enticott from the Parish of Congleton (which includes four churches), with the Rev Anne-Marie Naylor of Astbury St Mary’s sending apologies.
The meeting heard the stories of Frankie Markland, a trans woman who was brought up in a Catholic family, and Sam Worthington, a gay student at Congleton High School, who previously worshipped at New Life Church.
Mr Worthington explained: “The Church has a moral force that cannot be underestimated, and as a young Christian I was made to feel that being gay was wrong.
“But religion and queer inclusivity should not be mutually exclusive, and the church has an opportunity to modernise and attract more young people. This meeting was a crucial and much-needed step in the right direction.”
Ms Markland added: “This meeting was a chance for us to express and explain the hurt that has been caused by the actions of some churches – although by no means all – and hopefully is a small step towards a better future.”
The group discussed ideas for how to support LGBTQ+ people and ensure they have an equal place in the Church if they want it. These ideas will be developed further at future meetings.
Mr George said: “I am glad we are working together. At URC more than half the weddings I conduct are single sex. When we decided to do these, it was controversial at first, but it has turned out well and we have a happy and inclusive congregation.”
Mr Enticott commented: “No-one deserves to be excluded for who they are. We welcome everyone into the love and fellowship of our Church. This has been a very positive experience and I will gladly meet with anyone who is LGBTQ+ and would like to join us in worship.”
Kay Wesley, a Congleton town councillor and Pride trustee, said: “I was delighted with the constructive tone of our meeting. Everyone was moved by the testimonies from Frankie and Sam, and I would like to thank them for sharing their stories so eloquently. Thanks also to the Church leaders in the room for their leadership and empathy. I look forward to working together.”
Trustee of Congleton Pride, Richard Walton, organised the meeting.
He said: “I was very happy that some of the Church leaders accepted the opportunity to come and work with us and it was good to hear their welcoming messages for the LGBTQ+ community. This was the start of a journey, and we have more meetings planned.
“I hope that other Church leaders will join the group and help us to make Congleton a better place for all LGBTQ+ people.”
The next meeting of the group is on 15th June. If other Church leaders or interested parties would like to join, they should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text Richard Walton on 07855 798 014.