Durham SCM Groups: Building Inclusive Faith Communities in the North East

Durham SCM Societies

It certainly feels more than four-and-a-half months ago that I was approached by our society’s current president, Catherine Wickens, with the idea of joining our two SCM groups – Durham MethSoc and St Oswald’s Student Group – and forming a new student society. This is due in no small part to the sheer volume of activity over the first few months of our existence.

In a move that reflects a trend in the two churches on a national level, we decided that we could achieve a lot more as SCM groups if we joined together on a local level and pooled resources – we also felt that this was the natural progression of our ecumenical Sunday night pub trips!

Durham has always had a wealth of Christian activity – most colleges have chaplaincies with regular worship, the city is home to Cranmer Hall Theological College, and there are many Christian societies, including a large CathSoc and a Just Love group. Despite this, we felt that there was still a gap to plug, and it’s a gap that what we hoped to identify and discuss with our first large event this term...

Challenging Stereotypes: Building an Inclusive Church

The idea for this event came during the summer, while we were reflecting on the emergence of the Open Table movement, and the recent news of the creation and growth of New Inclusive Church in Birmingham. Then, while at SCM Group Leader training in September, I was inspired by a panel discussion on the theme of inclusion and representation, and - after reporting back – we decided that this kind of dialogue is exactly what was currently lacking within the Christian communities in our University City. It was from here that we began to plan this event as one that would characterise our Society’s outlook and ethos. We contacted Revd Dr Ashley Wilson - the north-East representative for Inclusive Church – who was very happy to sit on our panel and offer insight from his work with churches and chaplaincies.

“All are welcome, all are valued: We believe in a Church which treats each individual with dignity, and which does not discriminate on grounds of sexuality, race, ability, gender, age, religion, social class or economic status.” (Inclusive Church statement)

The above statement was added to our Society’s constitution this term, and it is both about us and an aspiration for the wider church. As Christians we are called to share the all-encompassing love of Christ: "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.” (Acts 18:9). The language deployed in this passage, as in the accounts of the day of Pentecost, attribute great power to speaking and interpreting speech. But we are also reminded that for some, the encounter of the Gospel and the sharing of worship and fellowship are things that are regularly done – and done in their fullness – without the ability to hear. It was in this vein that I contacted Lynne Farquharson from the Northumbria Deaf Mission to join our panel alongside Revd Dr Wilson.

Having experienced a wonderfully open welcome, and deeply moving worship, with a deaf congregation that have recently moved to my home parish near Southampton, I have become astounded at the lack of support and attention that deaf congregations, and their various and complex needs, seem to get in our national churches. Positive attitudes and actions towards deafness, deaf-blindness and other variants within the deaf community seem to be seldom talked about in the Church. However, deafness, alongside being LGBT+, having mental health problems, a person's ethnicity, social background etc all form part of a person’s identity that are entirely outside of their control. As a society, we recognise that inclusion is not passive – we can’t simply say we welcome all without taking positive real steps to be inclusive. With this in mind, we wanted to help kick-start a dialogue in the church in Durham and encourage positive action.

On the day, our event was structured in the following way: We began with a panel discussion seeking to establish where the Church was at the moment in terms of being an inclusive and representative community, and we heard from members of the audience and guests from churches and student societies in Durham about their experiences. Following this, we had guest workshops from the Northumbria Deaf Mission and from Durham Students’ Union LGBT+ Association. These workshops were particularly poignant, as they involved the sharing of accounts of the experiences of members of the LGBT+ and deaf communities in the Church.

Finally, we closed with another panel session which broadly asked: ‘Where do we go from here?’: our panellists gave us practical advice and steps that could be taken, and we were also pointed to the resources and advice that Inclusive Church and Deaf Church UK offer. We established that it was not enough to just say that we welcome all. People from marginalised groups also need to see that their community is welcomed, represented and actively participating in the wider church.

We’ll be sharing more of last Saturday’s happenings in a series of follow-up articles and posts on our Facebook page, and in articles and blog posts - so keep an eye out! 

Alex is an SCM member and part of the Anglican Society and the Joint Anglican and Methodist Society (JAM) at Durham University.