I recently went back to my old theological college in Bristol for an end of term conference. In some ways I went in trepidation as I knew that the college does not approve of the work I am doing with Accepting Evangelicals on a more inclusive approach to homosexuality. And in some ways that nervousness was borne out, as during the few days I was there I had some tense conversations with more conservative members of the college and others. But there were also many clearly positive conversations with people who, like me, had embraced a more inclusive evangelicalism.
There was the woman from a Romany family whose son was gay, and soon to have a civil partnership. She loved her son deeply and in her heart had reconciled his sexuality with her evangelical faith, but still had to reconcile it in her mind!
There was the Minister from the Church of Sweden who was there after organising a speaking tour for George Kavoor (the principal) in Sweden. We talked of how he, in line with his church's provision for same sex blessings, would be happy to bless a same sex couple, and how he saw no difficulty in doing this as an evangelical.
But one of the things that really struck me was a phrase that one of the speakers used in his address.
"God is out there doing all sorts of things - and many of them we wouldn't approve of"
He was talking about how God is a work in our world, far beyond the limited reach of the church. About a God who is not bound by what we think is right or wrong, proper or improper. A God who is not tied up by our rules and regulations, but free to reach out to all people in love and compassion, and in joy and grace.
It reminded me of an old song (I think by Sydney Carter) about the Holy Spirit which has probably had a deeper effect on my life that I realise.
Catch the Bird of Heaven
Lock Him in a cage of gold
Look again tomorrow
And He will be gone
Lock Him in religion
Gold and frankincense and myrrh
Carry to His prison
But He will be gone
Ah, the Bird of Heaven
Follow where the bird has gone
If you want to find him
Keep on Travelling on
Bell and book and candle
Cannot hold Him anymore
Still the bird is flying
Flying as before.
Unless we are willing to be open to the God who does much more that we can ever imagine, and be willing to be challenged by the things he does which we might disapprove of, we will find that he has moved on, and we have been left behind.