A CHARITY which affirms and empowers lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people to build communities hosted by welcoming and understanding churches has received a large cash boost from one of Britain’s national churches.
The United Reformed Church (URC), which agreed in 2016 to allow local churches to vote on performing marriages of couples of the same gender, has committed to supporting the Open Table Network (OTN), a growing partnership of communities across England and Wales run by and for LGBT+ people, their families and friends.
The grant, for £50,000 over the next three years, is the first donation that OTN has received from any national church in the 15 years since it began among a group of six LGBT+ people at St Bride’s Anglican Church in Liverpool in 2008.
At a time where most other public places welcome them equally, LGBT+ people are still not always welcomed in Britain’s churches. They are significantly more likely to experience mental distress, which research has shown relates explicitly to discriminatory pastoral practices of local churches, and the church’s substantial contribution to negative attitudes toward LGBT+ people in society (In the Name of Love, Oasis Foundation 2017).
As OTN has grown, from one community in Liverpool to 33 across England and Wales today, more and more LGBT+ Christians are finding their way to communities where they can feel safe to explore their faith among friends.
The second Open Table community began at St John’s URC in Warrington in 2015. Gail Yorke, who now leads the community and is an elder in the church, said: “Open Table means everything to me. It has truly saved me.”
Gail explained: “I was at a point of really hating who I was, but Open Table gradually brought me to a point, now, where I can stand and look at myself in a mirror and say, ‘You know what? I actually like you.’ That’s a point I never thought I would get to.”
Four more Open Table communities are now hosted by United Reformed churches, in Cambridge, Birmingham, Guildford and Bromley. With the help of this grant, OTN will support more URC congregations across Britain to welcome, include, affirm and empower LGBT+ people from any Christian tradition, or any or no faith background.
The Open Table community in Cambridge is one of the largest and most active across the Open Table Network, gathering around 35 people twice a month. This community, in partnership with Downing Place URC which hosts it, led a Sunday morning service to mark LGBT+ History Month in February 2022 and 2023, attracting hundreds of people in person and online, the biggest congregations of any service in that church.
Revd Dr Alex Clare-Young, a trans URC minister and Co-Chair of the Open Table Network, said: “It is profoundly encouraging to us that the URC has seen and understood the need that OTN addresses, and the potential of our growing Christian communities. By giving such a large grant, they have witnessed to the expansive and just love of God, and committed to helping us create safer spaces for all.”
Alex added: “This gift gives us hope that other national churches, and other organisations, will soon want to understand the pain and harm which rejection from churches creates, and support us to enable more spaces, where LGBT+ people can find the specific welcome, affirmation and full participation that allows them to come as they are to meet and to be themselves.”