Imagine there’s a heaven

On 25 June 2005 at the European Forum Women’s pre-conference, Randi O. Solberg talked about the Situation of Lesbians and Gays in the Churches of Europe. Randi was the European Forum’s co-president at that time. The lecture is based on reports from LGBT groups in the different countries, printed in the first edition of the book Let Our Voices Be Heard! Christian Lesbians in Europe Telling their Stories. This is the first part of the lecture. 

 This is the alternative version of John Lennon’s Imagine. Most of you probably know his famous song.

This could also be a title for the hopes and dreams of many Christian lesbians and gay men. Not only the question if and a hope that there is a Heaven after this life, but also the question, if there is such a place already here on earth. A place where each one of us can be the person we are, the way God has created us. Is there a place like this for us in the churches of Europe? Are the churches in Europe opening — or closing — the gates to Heaven on Earth for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, so called LGBT-people?

Here in Norway there has been a big discussion last winter in connection with the appointment of the new bishop for Oslo. The question which seemed the most important in this choice was the bishop candidates’ attitude towards homosexuality. Oslo itself wanted a liberal and open bishop, while the majority of the people allowed to vote in the rest of the country wanted a bishop which does not approve of lesbian and gay ministers, blessing of lesbian and gay partnerships etc. Since Norway has a state church, and at the time being a conservative government, the government appointed a conservative bishop.

This was not popular in Oslo. Still, I think for many Christian lesbians and gays in Southern and Eastern Europe the fact that there were bishop candidates and that there are bishops approving of ordained lesbian and gay ministers, blessing of same sex partnerships, might sound like Heaven on Earth. The latest good news just came this Monday when the Bishop Council appointed our friend Nils to be the new student chaplain at Oslo University even though he lives openly gay and in a registered partnership. The new bishop is principally against this appointment but the Bishop Council overruled his position with a clear majority.

In the process of making the book Let Our Voices Be Heard!, the lesbian woman in Greece who helped us fill in the questionnaire about the situation in the society and churches, sent her questionnaire back to me with the following comment to the question, whether “the church in her country is willing to bless lesbian couples”. She wrote: “I know this question is meant seriously, but for us her in Greece it sounds crazy. Is there really any church in this world which is willing to bless lesbian relationships?”

The answer to that question is definitely YES!

The book Let Our Voices Be Heard! clearly states so. Let’s listen to one of the texts from this book telling about the partnership celebration of Anne and Kerstin in Frankfurt, Germany:

“In summer 2002 Kerstin and I had our partnership registration in Frankfurt am Main and a blessing service in church. We wanted to do this as a very personal commitment between the two of us and at the same time as a political statement. Although we are not satisfied with the partnership law as it was passed in 2001, we wanted to use the right we were given. And we wanted to step out of the crowd of the many officially invisible and disregarded lesbian couples! For years I had said, “If I ever want to be married — only if it’s possible by law and in church as well”. We both felt that a blessing service meant a lot to us and besides this we wanted to take the chance to be visible and welcome in church, too.

First we didn’t really think about inviting many people or having a big party. But then we started discussing how disappointed our mums might be, if we didn’t even tell them before. So one night I called my mother to tell her that we were going to be married. One of the first things she said was: “Oh, let’s have a big party and I will do the wedding cake.” So this was decided. And the more people we told, the more people said they wouldn’t let us celebrate without them. In the end we knew that our families, our friends, even classmates and childhood friends we hadn’t seen for years would be there with us. And many more wrote cards and sent their good wishes, so did the grandparents who couldn’t travel all the way to Frankfurt.

We never really thought about how these people, coming from very different backgrounds and in many ways worlds apart would go together. Family members from rural and very conservative areas in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, gay and lesbian friends, colleagues from AIDS-Aid and theology students, guests coming from Germany, Norway, Turkey and Scotland… And maybe this was one of the most impressive and touching moments in my life when I realised how all these people who had been with me or Kerstin or both of us over the years held a big celebration together: Berlin dykes drinking vodka with our fathers; gay friends decorating tables with my mum; Kerstin and me dancing the first waltz with our mothers; bridesmaids between the age of 4 and 34, in dresses or jeans and T-shirt, walking the aisle with us; a lesbian friend holding the blessing service — and even people who have no or a rather negative relationship to church felt welcome and touched there in church with us.

So we had the big party — with the most various and colourful crowd of our loved ones supporting and celebrating us. And of course we had the wonderful wedding cake we also had been promised the moment we started telling people about our wedding plans — and my mother had decorated it all over with marzipan hearts and circles of women holding hands.”

This is a very happy story about a blessing service in church. But, in a European perspective they are not yet too many. I think that few lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender etc of our time experience churches as a protector of their human rights.