Trissie Coleshaw reflects on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, and how holiness by the world’s standards is not the prerequisite for participation in God’s purpose.
This week, Christians across the world will celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, commemorating two of the most important figures in the Early Church. One thing that makes this festival so special is that when we consider the beginnings of these two men, their veneration is so unlikely – by conventional logic, at least. St Peter, also known in Scripture as Simon Peter, started life as a fisherman before becoming a disciple of Jesus, but is most often cited for his denial of Christ three times in the night of His arrest. Meanwhile, Paul makes his first impression in the Bible as a notorious persecutor and executioner of Christians.
What is remarkable about both figures and about the Christian faith as a whole, is that time and time again we see how holiness by the world’s standards is not the prerequisite for participation in God’s purpose. On the contrary, despite their acting in opposition to Christ and resisting the revelation of God’s love for humankind, God sees something special in Peter and Paul and calls them both to service as instruments of the Gospel. With this in mind, we might do well to remember that cultural debates around who ‘fits’ and ‘does not fit’ in God’s vision for humanity are completely at odds with the God who spots potential in unconventional places, and whose love is so radically indiscriminate.
As we approach the end of Pride month and reflect on the unconventional lives that this period of time commemorates, we might take time to consider all the many Queer Christians that God has endowed with talents and gifts throughout the ages. Those who faced prejudicial cultural beliefs and laws that denied the inherent worth of LGBTQIA+ people, and which frequently deprived them of basic human dignity and security. We may also pause to remember Queer Christians living in parts of the world where to identify as either Queer or Christian, even today, places their lives at risk.
We may remember the artists, writers or philosophers whose work has invited us into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus. We may think of Queer members of congregations the world over whose empathy and drive to serve the needy has brought others to Christ, or whose gifts of building and maintaining community have been the glue that holds churches and families together. We may think of Queer-identifying clergy who have dedicated their lives to service and stewardship, in spite of persistent hostility towards their gender identities and/or the orientations that God designed for them to express through their love.
Most of all, may we remember all those Queer Children of God who, as the result of bigotry and ignorance, were prevented from sharing their gifts and their love with the world, and the loss to our collective spiritual health that this moral crime represents. Let us not forget the historical complicity of the Church in these offences against LGBTQIA+ people, but strive to build a fairer, more inclusive community of faith that reflects our just and loving God, now and evermore.
Looking around at the congregation of St James Piccadilly on a Sunday morning, or at the Tuesday Night Sanctuary service, or nightly at Compline, or at Feast or Sunday Breakfast, or at any one of the many community events that illuminate and enliven our special corner of Central London, it is clear that the spirit of inclusion, rooted in Scripture, enriches the lives of everyone in the community. It is also patently clear just how diverse are those who answer God’s call to love and be loved. What we might take from this—just as we see in the lives of Peter, Paul, and people of all identities throughout the Bible—is that God has a plan for each and every one of our hearts, no matter what we look like, whatever our story is, or whomsoever we love. We are all invited to the feast.
The gift of our faith is knowing that the invitation is not because of anything we do or have done—we don’t earn grace as in the transactional goings-on of the world, but receive it because God has loved us since the Beginning and wants to be with us. To follow Christ, therefore, is to have the courage to say ‘yes’ to this unselfish and indiscriminate love, to bask in God’s pride in us, to connect with the God who is not merely ‘loving’ in nature but who is Love itself. Most of all, it is to carry the message to every one of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made creations that they too are worthy of this love. And so, to walk through the world in this way with Christ is to live an unconventional life. To love each other this way as Christ loves us, is to love outside of the norm.