End this nonsense over human love

Often, at this time of year, secretaries are trying to find interesting topics for the second half of their organisations' winter programmes. I may be able to help .

Often, at this time of year, secretaries are trying to

find interesting topics for the second half of

their organisations' winter programmes. I may be able to help . . .

After dealing with a controversial subject, writers (and preachers) sometimes heave a sigh of relief. Duty has been done! We mustn't become single-issue fanatics . . . People get bored with the same record . . .

I was feeling like that recently about gay rights, (on which I've maintained a high profile over many years). Then I picked up a paper, only to discover the NSPCC reporting that homophobic bullying in schools was on the increase.

Immediately, I felt ashamed. How can a blind-eye ever be turned to an evil which is still blighting young lives and flourishing in society despite the progress towards honesty, reality and compassion made in recent years?

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And who can deny that the church - far from being an agent of healing -continues to fan the flames of bigotry?

The incomprehensible nonsense which allows a gay priest to be a dean but not a bishop; the farcical nonsense which acknowledges the existence of loving gay relationships but forbids the expression of tenderness; the contemptible nonsense which concedes to priests their legal right to register a civil partnership but insists that it must exist only in a lonely, neurotic, physical vacuum no heterosexual minister would tolerate for 24 hours - all this poison continues to fester. Homophobic bullying in schools is merely one manifestation.

How we need some loving tales of health and hope to redress the balance! Here are two.

Twelve years ago I conducted a service of covenant and blessing for Dawn and |Jennifer. There were no civil partnership provisions in those days. But last December, everything changed. Society showed more maturity and understanding than the church.

Recently, Dawn and Jennifer appeared before the registrar. Their long and loving relationship was recognised by the state and placed on a legal footing.

Then, accompanied by a kilted throng of family and friends, they streamed back to a packed church to celebrate and reaffirm vows first made before God and His servant in 1994.

To my delight, the congregation included a contingent from Govan, in Glasgow, where my ministry opened in 1963.

It was a service of irrepressible joy. Tell me it was wrong, and I will tell you about Jesus Christ.

Another unique occasion, which brought new friends and which my wife and I will remember forever, was a service for the blessing of a Civil Partnership I emerged again from retirement to conduct, in a large marquee, in a beautiful Breckland garden, one morning in May. David and Geoff, loving partners for 14 years, had registered their relationship at Thetford last December, at the earliest opportunity.

Being men of Christian faith and spiritual insight, both longed for the opportunity to share their gladness with their neighbours, friends and families, and to make solemn and sacred vows to God, the author of all love and faithfulness.

Looking back, it is plain we were led, step by step, in our preparations. Much careful planning and hard work were crowned by the Holy Spirit of God in the gift of a day that changed lives.

Marguerites were flowering brightly in the long grass around the marquee; a few cowslips lingered. The site itself formed part of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery (with urns to prove it!): our prayers were not the first offered there. A holy table had been erected on a raised dais, and dressed with frontal, cross and candlesticks loaned by a well-wisher.

Charlie, who had been innocently tackling a GCSE exam in Devon the previous afternoon before travelling overnight, suddenly found himself draped in cassock and surplice, and carrying the heavy processional cross - and performed superbly! No gifts were requested: instead, more than £1500 was given and divided between three local charities. Blackcaps sang as vows were made.

The congregation sat at round tables which, later, would sag under a weight of good cheer. I expect some present were homosexual. I'm sure the majority were not. But the blessing which followed was bestowed upon all.

You had to be there, of course, to receive it: but not all is lost! David and Geoff were led to record the events of that day (so far as spiritual blessings can be recorded). Both wonder whether in this record of their special day might lie a key to unlocking more of the prejudice and misunderstanding which persists.

They have made available - free, on loan - a DVD (1¾ hours) which is ideal for introducing a discussion, or simply enjoying. Not to be missed! Bona fide requests to 01603 622747. Sadly, the offer does not include a speaker - but this film speaks for itself.