Love’s Pure Light

Love’s pure light

by Angela Hanley

On Saturday night last, Rev Bridget Spain, of the Unitarian Church, Dublin, welcomed us to the 19th LGBT Annual Christmas Carol Service with the following:

Love is the doctrine of this Church, the quest of truth is its sacrament and service is its prayer. To dwell together in peace. To seek knowledge in freedom. To serve humankind in fellowship to the end that all souls shall grow in harmony with the divine. This do we covenant with each other and with God.

Though my faith is deeply Trinitarian, I find much to admire about the active welcome one finds in the Unitarian Church. Theirs is no theoretical welcome that ticks the boxes so long as the congregant fits the right profile – not in a same-sex relationship (no matter how life-giving), or not finding happiness in a second, committed relationship after a marriage crumbles. Theirs isn’t a “tolerating” welcome – ok, so you don’t fit the profile, but we’ll be tolerant and grant you compassion. No – this welcome is rich, all encompassing and full of the love of God. Which, in truth, defines what our Trinitarian faith ought to foster in us, but sadly our Church leadership too often fails to hear the voice of the Spirit in the gentle breeze.

Michael Murphy, former RTE broadcaster and now a psychotherapist, spoke about his experience as a gay man. A gay man who found deep and abiding love in his relationship with his husband, Terry O Sullivan. Rather than present an address as such, Michael read five of his poems, with short commentary in between each. Michael’s poems read more like poetic prose, nevertheless, one could not but be moved by the depth of feeling they conveyed. They told us of a man who found self-acceptance, and who found love. The blessing and joy of that love radiated from Michael like an energy drawing others into its blessing.

In the prayers of intercession the call and response to each intercession was: “fall in love, stay in love…” “…and it will decide everything.” This could have been a little twee, but it wasn’t – not when accompanied by sincere prayers that situated it in the Christian setting where falling in love with God and staying in love with God actually does decide everything. It will decide how we treat our LGBT sisters and brothers who are equally made in the image and likeness of God. It will decide how we treat our brothers and sisters who are struggling with homelessness, whether actually on the street, or trying to live as a family in a hotel room. That love will decide whether or not we will make parents and other carers struggle for every aid or assistance their loved ones need to live a dignified life.

Can we be in love with God if we are always setting limits and boundaries about who is acceptable to be part of the wider Christian family?

There is something especially beautiful in a Church when all the lights are down and there is a candlelight ceremony. When it is accompanied by O, Holy Night it lends particular meaning to the idea of the light coming into the world. The full Church meant the light from all the candles progressed from a little flickering flame at first to a warm golden glow by the time everyone present lit their candles. In this gentle light, Silent Night was sung by the Dublin Gay Men’s Chorus who, with their musical director, provided the beautiful, dignified music for the carol celebration. In front of us were two young (and indeed handsome) men – possibly late 20s, maybe early 30s – and when they returned from lighting their candles, they stood close together and then, in a small movement, one reached for the other’s hand. They held hands, not looking at each other, for the duration of the carol. There was something intensely moving in that little point of contact. It was private and gentle but seemed so full of meaning for both of them. And it made me wonder about the make-up of the families represented at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin next year – will same-sex couples and their families be represented, not as a tolerance, but as full, participating members?

The marriage equality referendum and the collective “coming out” it entailed for many in the LGBT community have certainly helped people reclaim their rightful place in our society. But there is still a long way to go. Suicide and self-harm is still statistically higher in LGBT groups than the wider population. Prejudice still exists – and we do not need to go beyond our own Church to see it codified as acceptable prejudice.

If this year’s carol service is anything to go by, it will soon outgrow its present home in the Unitarian Church. However, I hope it doesn’t move to another location – there is something about the welcome here that is unique. People will just have to get there early enough to get a seat. And others will just have to learn how to provide the same welcome in their own churches.


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  1. A loving account of the carol service. My hope is that some day soon a similar LGBT carol service will be held in a Catholic Church.
    Anyone feeling brave enough to host the first one?

  2. Patrick keenan says:

    I hope and pray one day the Church will wake up and embrace the LGBT community,we are all brothers,sister

  3. Mary Vallely says:

    Angela Hanley’s account of her experience of the LGBT carol service was a beautiful, heartwarming read. This sounded like a true welcoming for all where every person felt at one with her/his neighbour. No layers of hierarchy or reserved seats and she is right about that term ‘tolerance’ which we bandy about too often. There’s the danger in a way of a sort of smarminess connected with the term; a kind of patting oneself on the back at the nobility of soul that makes ME put up with YOUR attitudes,behaviour and lifestyle. Hmm. Food for self- reflection there.
    As Brian Lennon and Tim Kinahan point out in their recent excellent book * when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and asked her for water he “was operating out of his own culture and conventions.” In the whole exchange between them there was dialogue, respect, searching, mystery, surprise. It is a beautiful example of how to treat an ‘other’. The first thing of course is to focus on people’s needs. It is amazing to think that we still haven’t grasped the fact that God made us all in his own image, loves us all equally and that we still, in this institution of the Church, fail to follow the example of his son. Two thousand years later ?. Aren’t we desperately slow learners!
    Thanks to Angela and to the Rev Bridget Spain, of the Unitarian Church, Dublin, for the reminder that there are those who have learned. I hope many more will be as inspired as I was, by this reaching out to a marginalised community. May 2018 see a greater love shown to all those others who also feel cut off from many of our services of praise and worship.
    *’Does Christ Matter? An Anglican And A Jesuit In Dialogue”, Timothy Kinahan & Brian Lennon SJ, Messenger Publications, 2017 ( Nov/Dec)

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