By Revd Chantal Noppen, Women’s Advocate for Diocese of Durham.
This week I was privileged to attend a service to mark Sunderland Minster joining the Inclusive Church network. For those of you who don’t know, Inclusive Church is a network of churches, groups and individuals uniting together around a shared vision summed up as being: “a church which celebrates and affirms every person and does not discriminate, challenging the church where it continues to discriminate against people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, mental health, neurodiversity, or sexuality.
“We believe in a Church which welcomes and serves all people in the name of Jesus Christ – which is scripturally faithful – which seeks to proclaim the Gospel afresh for each generation and which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, allows all people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Jesus Christ.”
The low-key yet powerful service at Sunderland Minster included representation from many folks who have experienced exclusion for differing reasons, and would identify as people who ‘Inclusive Church’ are directly seeking to welcome and include. The event featured joyous singing, prayers of peace, apology and protest, a stirring sermon from Revd Jacqui Tyson plus a beautiful rendering of the Lord’s Prayer, taken from the New Zealand prayer book.
The Mayor and Mayoress were also in attendance, marking the additional civic significance of this occasion. The full quota of Sunderland Minster clergy was involved in leading the service, colourful stoles being de rigueur.
Speaking to the provost of Sunderland Minster Revd Canon Stuart Bain he said it simply: “it became the case that there was no reason not to join Inclusive Church officially”. As he said, it doesn’t mean they’ve got it all sorted and get it all right all the time, but they are committed to the journey of learning how to better include and welcome all.
Sunderland Minster is not a new church, but it is a church actively embracing contemporary society and the heart of the city of Sunderland. While there may be ‘nothing new under the sun’, there is always more we can be doing to learn about our faith, and new avenues to explore in how we deepen our discipleship both collectively and individually. Positive steps like this will lead to growth in a Christian presence in communities often underrepresented in the church.
Sunderland is an amazing city full of history, tradition and innovation. It is home to ex-miners, shipbuilders, refugees and students alike. In our recent ‘Generosity Week’ it felt especially poignant to have a service celebrating the generosity of heart that encourages such broadening of our welcome and ministry.
It was a proud moment for Revd Jacqui Tyson, the MoSAIC representative for Diocese of Durham and Associate Priest at the Minster. Her work and witness at Sunderland Pride, online and in the heart of Sunderland’s shopping community, has been a transformative ministry that many have valued. Through her unrelenting campaigning for inclusion of all, we are starting to see some real change. As Jacqui said in her sermon: “May we learn to listen to; our disabled siblings, our black siblings, our asylum seeker siblings, our LGBT+ siblings, our siblings who live in poverty that is not chosen. Listen to them. Listen to their stories”.
I hope and pray this is the start of many more churches in our diocese having the courage to fiercely love all God’s children and, out of a commitment to ensure all are welcomed, sign up to the Inclusive Church network. I feel sure it’s what Jesus would do.
If you’d like to know more about the IC network or explore how your church might become more inclusive, Jacqui Tyson, Inclusive Church Ambassador for Durham Diocese, would love to hear from you!