At the end of what has been a bad week for the CofE in the media – continued criticism of the House of Bishops Report, safeguarding at the Iwerne Trust, and the early release of Peter Ball – the Revd Canon Chris Chivers, Principal of Westcott House was forced to issue a Statement in Response to Recent Social Media.This said:
“An evening service took place in the [college] chapel on Tuesday to mark LGBT History Month using a form of liturgy which was not an authorised act of worship in line with the College’s procedures. I fully recognise that the contents of the service are at variance with the doctrine and teaching of the Church of England and that is hugely regrettable…At Westcott we value the opportunity to give space for LGBQT community and we always hope to make a creative contribution to setting a different tone for the debate on human sexuality in the church. But this was not it”.
Westcott College Chapel
This is described on the Westcott web site as:
“Westcott’s Chapel is at the heart of the life of the House. Its uncluttered simplicity makes it an ideal space for the range of services that happen there: from sung high Mass to said morning prayer, from adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to “prayer and praise”. At Westcott we believe it is important to learn to inhabit the Anglican tradition of corporate worship and to learn to adapt and innovate from a base of understanding. To this end, students at Westcott are involved in the planning, leading, and provision of all the community worship.
During term time, the regular daily pattern of worship in the Chapel includes morning prayer, evening prayer, the Eucharist and compline. There are very few variations to this pattern because we believe its consistent rhythm is crucial. One such variation is the fortnightly evening worship for the whole Federation”.
LGBT History Month
The aim of LGBT History Month is “to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public” through inter alia: increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) people; raising awareness and advancing education; working to make educational and other institutions safe spaces for all LGBT communities; and promoting the welfare of LGBT people.
On 31 January 2017 students at Westcott House, a theological college affiliated with Cambridge University, prepared and celebrated a service in the college chapel entitled “An Order for Polari Evening Prayer in anticipation of LGBT+ History Month”. The rationale behind the service explains:
““The readings are those pointed for the day in a more contemporary, yet still approved, cathedral office. The only way in which the office text has been changed is in its transduction [by Erich Erving] into Polari. This transduction was modelled on the Polari Bible, a project of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Manchester Chapter, from which the readings of Scripture have been taken. The Sisters describe themselves as “a leading-edge Order of queer nuns…devoted…to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. We believe all people have a right to express their unique joy and beauty and we use humor and irreverent wit to expose the forces of bigotry, complacency and guilt that chain the human spirit”.
An extract from the service is here.
Whilst the BBC website notes: “[s]ervices in the Church of England are legally required to be conducted using the church’s approved liturgy”, the situation is more complex for extra-parochial units such the college chapels of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and private chapels such as that at Westcott House Chapel: See Moore’s Introduction to English Canon Law, 4th edition, Ed Timothy Briden (2013 Bloomsbury), Chapter V.
In this instance, however, it appears as though the incident has been dealt with internally within the college; furthermore, since the service was conducted by an ordinand rather than someone in Holy Orders, the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003 is not applicable and no ecclesiastical offence was committed.
Whether the use of Polari in the service, with the inevitable reprise of the “Julian and Sandy” stereotypes, provided a valuable start to LGBT History Month is for those involved to comment.