Written by Charlene van der Walt and Louis van der Riet
Photos by Alexa Sedge

Drawing from learnings that have been developed over a long period of change-making pertaining to sexual diversity in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), a four-day convening took place at the beginning of November at the Andrew Murray Centre for Spirituality in Wellington in the Western Cape of South Africa.

The convening brought together LGBTIQA+ clergy, theology students, educators, and faith leaders in various capacities. What all twenty participants had in common was a call to ministry in the DRC, despite having vastly different experiences of embodying this call and ways of reflecting on the meaning of this sense of calling. Amongst the group was also IAM’s founder, Pieter Oberholzer, and previous IAM staff and partners, including Judith Kotzé, Charlene van der Walt, and Laurie Gaum.

The convening allowed time and space for collective reflection, learning, mourning of loss, and celebration of change as those who have been actively embodying difference and who have been working towards queer liberation in the DRC came together.

The time spent together also highlighted the Queer, Feminist, and Decolonial theoretical underpinnings informing the gathering. These theoretical commitments were illustrated in starting the processes of knowledge production and change-making from the ongoing, collective, and embodied experiences of those affected: Queer bodies. This meant making use of creative methodologies such as Voice Movement Therapy to engage with our individual and collective narratives. This focus on embodiment – treating the body and bodily experiences as a source of knowledge – is central to IAM’s theory of change.

Central to much of the movement and change that has taken place in the DRC pertaining to the acceptance and celebration of sexual diversity in the faith context has been the collective organizing of Queer clergy and allies in the DRC. This Queer collective who represents a diversity of lived experiences, positionalities, and change-making strategies within the DRC have organically organized by drawing on diverse embodied lived experiences. Rather than being talked about in faith communities and decision-making contexts, as is so often the case, LGBTIQA+ change makers in the DRC have insisted on talking back and claiming space by appropriating strategies of embodied resistance. These strategies and learnings have been explored in convenings co-hosted by IAM and academic partners at the Stellenbosch University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Bringing this unique group together also presented an opportunity to capture the stories of those present through interviews. This project is the start of a digital archive that will honour queer lives in the DRC, and offer a transcript of ongoing movement building. The interviews explored themes such as the integration of sexuality and spirituality, coming out, calling to ministry or a devoted life, and imaginings of an inclusive faith community.

This gathering was also a form of restitution, as it was fully funded by the Dutch Reformed Church. It was organised in partnership with the Gender Justice Task Team of the DRC Western Cape Synod. The convening further allowed time for the development of a collective Queer-centred agenda as the process toward Queer Liberation in the DRC continues.

Although the DRC has made firm policy resolutions to enable the inclusion of LGBTIQA+ members and clergy and to sanction same-sex unions, the process toward the full implementation of these concept discussions remains ongoing and is often slow due to resistance and various forms of backlash from the church community.

In light of the gradual nature of the work for change that has collectively been done by those who joined the convening in Wellington, a key component of the time together was to create spaces of care, affirmation and accompaniment. The convening concluded with a celebration of the Eucharist where we came simply as we are, and were both hosts to each other as well as celebrated guests. These encounters, although deeply vulnerable, affirmed our collective humanity and the importance of our individual journeys as the beloved of God.

An interview with IAM’s process-coordinator for Faith Partnerships, Louis van der Riet, following the convening can be found here (Afrikaans): https://www.netwerk24.com/netwerk24/stemme/aktueel/ngk-reik-hand-na-gay-geestelikes-wat-nie-roeping-kon-uitleef-20221111