Friday, 23 May 2014

'There & Back Again' - A Month of Adventures & Discoveries

At the end of Lord of the Rings, Samwise Gamgee returns home to The Shire and says, ‘Well, I’m back.' This afternoon, as my train pulled into Piccadilly Sam's words was running through my head. It’s been an absurdly busy few weeks and getting back home to Manchester from Norwich felt (despite all the fun I’ve been involved in) like a complete relief.

If getting home felt great, I still feel like I’ve got loads to process. In the absence of Albus Dumbledore’s device to dump thoughts, the Pensieve, I’ve decided to write a short blog post. So here are some thoughts about some of the things I've had the privilege of being involved in over the past month.

Hull & East Riding LGBT Fellowship

At the tail end of April, Lucy Gorman invited me over to Hull to speak to a meeting of the LGBT Fellowship she helps run. Quite apart from taking the opportunity to stay with my lovely friends James & Louise & their family, ‘ull was full of delights. While it was a privilege to be asked to speak at the Fellowship's post-Easter meeting as well as talk with Lucy on’t radio, the real highlight was witnessing what committed, out LGBT Christians can do when they put their minds to it. The work and energy Lucy and others have put into getting this ace fellowship going is inspiring and humbling. This is a group I really hope goes from strength to strength. Sometimes people get the feeling that if you live outside of places like London, Manchester or Brighton, there’s little on offer for LGBT people. The Hull group, and the work of the likes of Andy Train & Hull Pride, proves the lie in that claim.


I’d never actually made it to this ‘thin place’ before and, by the time I got up there on Saturday 3rd May, I was so knackered I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to go again. Yet, all I can say is that it was a mind-blowing week. I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite the same again. It was a week of vulnerability, tears, laughter, challenge and grace. Given the confidential nature of the week I can’t go into details, but that week on Iona reminded me that it’s the simple, human things that really matter. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a show-pony, but all of that – fun as it is – is pretty brittle. It’s the God who’s shown in human relationships that really matters. I may have been leading that week up on Iona, but, in the quality of love and commitment shown by those who came to the programme, I received far more than I could ever give.

Hertford College, Oxford

I really don’t get to the dreaming spires enough. As ever, it was fun, charming and energizing. As chapel worship goes, it has to be said that Hertford is about as relaxed and welcoming as it gets. While only a fool would claim that Oxford doesn’t have privilege inscribed in the very walls of its colleges, behind the money and the facade are still people. The conversations both at (a relatively low-key) High Table, over drinks after chapel and with Gareth, the chaplain, were intelligent, honest and humane. I particularly enjoyed chatting to Eden (who I’ve got to know via twitter) and Anna about LGBT stuff, equality and faith, among other things. It was cool and inspiring to listen to what they’ve been trying to model in sometimes quite conservative Christian settings.

Asylum Magazine Event, Manchester

I mentioned this event, ‘Transgender in the Time of Psychiatry’ in my last blog post. The testimonies and stories shared by attendees were, by turns, moving, shocking and humbling. The ordinand who’s on placement with me at the mo’ said words to the effect, ‘I didn’t realize it was so tough. I had no idea.’ Like many people I guess he thought that if your trans* in the UK, you go tell your GP and the NHS supports you. But, alas, that’s rarely how it works. I found the evening challenging to my own categories about the relationship/s between trans identity and the medical profession. I was struck by how easy it is for institutions and organizations to mistreat and misunderstand real human stories.

Youth Work Summit (YWS), Manchester

Being a show-pony I will always love a crowd, even one that – it might be argued – is potentially pretty hostile. At a purely personal level it’s probably no surprise that I enjoyed standing up in front of over 800 Youth Workers in order to ramble on about the connections between LGBT identity, theology and the Bible. But while speaking at the event was a privilege, that was nothing compared to sharing a stage with Dan and Alex, two young LGBT Christians, sharing their testimonies. They had me in tears and left me gobsmacked. I know I wasn’t the only one. They had genuine presence on stage and did more to change Christian minds about LGBT stuff than a hundred learned books. They reminded me of how tough it can still be to be LGBT and Christian (especially if you are in an evangelical setting), but also showed how much the world is moving and how much hope there is. The Spirit is doing a new thing. Thanks Dan and Alex for doing something remarkable by being your selves.

An Evening With Amazing People, Norwich

Having been nervous about getting pilloried by conservative evangelicals at the YWS, I was equally worried that secular LGBT people would give me a hard time at this event sponsored by Norwich & Norfolk Hospital Trust’s LGBT group. However, I shouldn’t have worried. I forget how generous people are. A hospital trust is a diverse organization and, even if stories of faith are not at the centre of what they do, people recognize that ‘faith’ can be a central part of human identity. The real treat for me was hearing Future Radio presenter Di Cunningham talk about some amazing LGBT musicians including a new discovery for me, the extraordinary Gladys Bentley. Having half expected a tough time for being a vicar (& therefore a representative of ‘the dark side’) I had a great time and was warmly received. It’s time I stopped making assumptions about how Christians and vicars will be seen by the LGBT community.

It’s great to be home, but I’ve had some amazing adventures over the past month. Thanks to everyone who’s blown my mind, borne with my long-winded pontifications and who’s shared the love.

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