Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dazzling Darkness - Launch Night Reflections

‘Only three copies left!’

As the bookseller shouted this twenty minutes into the launch, I realized it was going to be a surprising and extraordinary night. For in truth, I’d expected this event to attract two or three dozen people at most. I’d feared there might even be one or two protesters outside the Cathedral claiming I was unfit to be a priest. Instead, Manchester Cathedral was humming with over one hundred folk. And, to my surprise, they all seemed to be there to take a closer look at Dazzling Darkness.

The vain part of me was thrilled, of course. Authors, inevitably, like to sell books and welcome a crowd. However, this evening was remarkable for me in deeper ways. I am conscious that Dazzling Darkness, as spiritual autobiography, does tell an unusual story.  There are, after all, relatively few lesbian-identified, transsexual, disabled priests active in the Church of England or elsewhere! However, having survived prejudice and fear from both within and without the church I had never imagined that there might be an occasion like this – a celebratory launch in a cathedral attended by so many well-wishers and friends.

Since I embarked on the sometimes bewildering process of changing sex twenty odd years ago, the world has, of course, changed. Nonetheless, in making my story public in the pages of a book, I’ve expected a lot of negativity. That negativity may yet come, but for one night there was grace. Friends like Nicola Slee, a Wild Goose author herself, spoke movingly about the creative 'wound' which runs through the story of Dazzling Darkness. Others suggested that it was the kind of book that might have something challenging and powerful to say to people of all hues of faith and none. I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of the more humorous sections of the book – for, as I suggest in the book’s introduction, it aspires ‘to be a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress with all the juicy bits left in’ – as well as to read some of the poems and talk about the devastating, but revelatory effects of illness. The Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch, closed proceedings by speaking wittily and generously about having someone like me serving as a vicar in Manchester Diocese.

I am – as the author – not in a position to think especially objectively about the evening or, indeed, the book. I am aware that given the story it tells and the unflinching way it tells it, it is a very risky book. Because of the things it says I may yet be invited to leave the church. However, the launch itself was a night for laughter and tears. I was humbled and stunned by strangers saying to me how moving and powerful they’d found the book and it was wonderful to share this evening with family and friends. I want to say a massive thanks to all of you who came along. At a time when the church seems divided about so many things, there was a remarkable sense of unity in the Cathedral. As one friend later said of the evening on Twitter, ‘I loved it. Honestly felt like I’d been to church too but had enjoyed it!’  


  1. What drew so many people? Well it's not often disabled, transgendered, lesbian priests take the lead at cathedral gigs. But for me there is an honesty and authenticity about you Rachel and your story which is even more at a premium in the Church of England. I thought this was so arresting in your painful recognition of your parents' love and support for you, even though you had denied them the person they had brought into the world. I think there is a universal experience here that maybe spoke to many present. There is so much in your book and I especially would like to explore your experience of the hidden God - God, or the irrepressible reality of life, bubbling up, bursting through, refusing to die?

  2. Ian, blown away by your comment. :') Thank you.

  3. Many congrats Rachel on your fab book launch Nov6th.Great event + wonderful to know your faith journey + what brought you to the vocation as a Cleric .very emotional to be part of . Many thanks + God bless