Meet our members: Irène Schwyn, Protestant Church in Switzerland

As we prepare for Karlsruhe, we are sharing a bit more about our members, their personal journeys and the work they do. Today, we meet the lovely Irène Schwyn.

Hi, Irène! Which member group do you represent? Can you tell us a bit about the group and the work you do?

I am part of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. While I attended my first EF conference in 2002, it wasn’t until 2010 I got more involved with the work, mainly with various projects focused on empowering LGBT Christians of faith in Central and Eastern Europe, and by organising conferences. Between 2013-2017 I was part of the EF-Board, as the Secretary.

Within Switzerland, I am part of CooL- Christian Organisation of Lesbians. The members are between 40 and 85 years of age, and their self-definition of sexual orientation and gender identity varies. We meet once a month for anything from Bible study to grill parties.

What’s your own story – how did you come to be involved in activism?

I came out to myself as a lesbian in my early twenties. This was at the beginning of the 1990s; I was studying theology at the time. For me, coming out was a deeply spiritual experience. For a long time, I had not been able to pray – I could go through the motions, but it felt like there was no addressee for my prayers, no ‘net for my phone’. Considering my studies, and my plans for the future, this was an existential crisis.

Finally, I acknowledged to myself that I was lesbian. From that moment onwards, I could pray again. I knew and experienced that G*d heard my prayers. This was not only a very important and moving experience, it taught me that I have to come before G*d honestly and with my entire being. Very protestant, I know.

I never had to worry whether my sexual orientation was wrong in G*d’s eyes – I knew it wasn’t. The only question I had whether the church as an institution would share this view.

Shortly after, a political process towards a partnership law started in Switzerland, and at the same time, discussions within the Protestant church began, fuelled by blessing ceremonies that were reported in the media, as well as the public coming out of more than one church minister. That was the start of my activism as a queer Christian.

It has been a long and careful process where people invested a lot of energy and prayers, may G*d bless these labours.

What is the situation of LGBTQI+ people in religious institutions in your country / context?

I work as an openly lesbian church minister in a small town/rural parish. My sexual orientation comes up if there is a specific reason, for example in an issue of the church newspaper dedicated to pride month. Otherwise, it is rarely remarked upon, and I feel this is how it should be.

For gay men and lesbian women, the Protestant Church in Switzerland is quite inclusive. For people whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity does not fit into binary categories quite so easily, the answer is more complicated. There is still work to be done, and I hope the church does not try to rest on its laurels. But overall, the situation is good.

What does the upcoming WCC General Assembly mean to you?

I hope we can learn from each other, develop a deeper understanding for our diversity as humans, as Christians. That we learn more about what it really means to look at the world from different contexts, from different faith traditions, from different personal and spiritual journeys. That we can renew and strengthen our ties as siblings in Christ, no matter how different we are as people.

This sounds very general; in my experience, it is the foundation for any journey towards mutual respect and understanding. I have seen what a lack of understanding, a lack of respect can cause, in both my own journey, and even more in what I saw in the people I’ve met in my activism.

For me, coming out was a deeply spiritual experience.

What are your hopes for the Assembly, and what we – as Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith – can achieve there?

I really hope that the work of the Rainbow Pilgrims and the Reference Group on Human Sexuality bears fruit. It has been a long and careful process where people invested a lot of energy and prayers, may G*d bless these labours.

Beyond that, I hope all churches will understand that using queer people as measuring tools for their own positioning is wrong. We are not test-kits or folding metres; we are people.

How can people get in touch with you or your organisation if they want to know more?

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