A gay Quaker prevented from taking up her position as a President for Churches Together in England (CTE) says the organisation must continue to evolve to stop history repeating itself.
But Hannah Brock Womack, who married her wife in a Quaker wedding in 2019, added: “Ecumenical work continues to be vital, so that we can speak up for Quaker beliefs and ensure that LGBTQ+ peoples’ voices are not pushed out.”
Brock Womack, whose term finishes at the end of April, was nominated by Quakers in Britain in 2019 to represent the Fourth Presidency Group.
This group includes all the different Lutheran churches and the Church of Scotland in England, most of whom do not conduct same-sex marriages. But they were content to be represented by someone in a same-sex marriage and appointed Brock Womack.
In an unprecedented move, CTE’s Enabling Group, representing all 49 member churches, asked them not to exercise their Presidential appointment. This move effectively set aside CTE’s own rules, which state that the churches in the Fourth Presidency Group can appoint their own President.
We should continue to be part of ecumenical groups because otherwise queer people will continue to be silenced.- Hannah Brock Womack
“We acknowledge the pain and sadness that this will provoke,” they said.
Brock Womack, a peace activist of deep Christian faith, was then the only woman among the Presidents, the youngest by some decades and the only one not a member of the clergy.
She remained the technical fourth President (of six) but was unable to take up her full role, leading the fourth Presidency churches to work more closely together.
This collaborative approach fostered closer relationships and represents a more Quaker attitude towards power. The group intend to continue working in this way.
But Brock Womack observed that the vocal minority who opposed her appointment have not shifted their perspective.
The working group taking forward the CTE’s commitment to work on ‘Living with Diversity’ must prioritise embracing diversity to ensure this painful episode is never repeated, she said.
Quakers accept that ecumenical work means working alongside churches with positions which challenge core Quaker beliefs, such as forbidding women’s ministry, or being militaristic.
Many Quakers and members of other churches were saddened and even angered that the same courtesy was not extended to them, and at the outright rejection of Brock Womack as a married lesbian.
For many, the opportunity to speak up for Quaker spiritual insights is what is most fulfilling about working with other churches and faith groups.
“As long as there are people keen to do this work, as I have been, we should continue to be part of ecumenical groups because otherwise queer people will continue to be silenced, and Quakers will not be represented,” said Brock Womack.
“Ecumenical work is about working with people who we often don’t agree with but loving one another anyway.”