Three years ago I walked through the doors of the Dominion Theatre in London on a Sunday and stumbled in to what felt like a secret One Direction concert. There was mass hysteria with people of all ages jumping around, waving their hands in the air to high energy songs, singing from the top of their lungs. But One Direction were nowhere to be seen, as this was no pop concert, it was a church service, one not like any other I had experienced. It was a million miles away from the plodding Sunday services I experienced at my local Catholic church as a teenager. Dragged there by my parents, sulking the whole way through, willing the priest to pick up the pace so I could get home for my roast dinner and play on my games console.
This was Hillsong, a Pentecostal church originally founded in Australia in 1983, a church with campuses all over the world with five in the UK. It even has its own record label, selling its own original brand of worship music to millions of people across the globe. The church is growing fast, some call it a megachurch, some call it a church for hipsters. However you refer to it, you can't deny that Hillsong is making it cool to be a Christian.
At the time I was introduced to Hillsong I was stuck in a rut, fearful to take those steps to move forward in life, endlessly repeating the same mistakes. The messages given in church were always ones of encouragement showing me what it was like to live a life without fear, a life supported by God, a life supported by those around me in church. I applied these messages to my own life and now, three years on, things are so different. I'm more confident, I'm achieving dreams I never thought possible and every day I try to be a better person to those around me.
But recently it's not been working out. It all falls back to the same reason I walked away from God and religion when I was a teenager; I'm gay.
Being brought up as a Catholic, I never thought religion or having a faith was for me. The rules were made very clear, gay is bad. Perhaps Hillsong would be different? When I first started attending I questioned those around me about how the church felt about homosexuality having read conflicting reports. The answers were always vague, telling me that God loves everyone and that everyone is welcome to come and worship. There was never a clear answer on the gay issue. I should have trusted my gut instinct and listened to my doubts. Instead I dismissed them, deciding to put my newly rediscovered faith in God and trust those around me and continue going.
However, Brian Houston, global founder and senior pastor of Hillsong Church, recently posted a blog 'Do I love gay people?' that has made me realise there is no place for me at Hillsong and perhaps no place at any Bible believing church.
He has confirmed what I was told, that everyone is welcome, including gay people, at church. But his words have exposed the truth that was never revealed to me, that Hillsong does not affirm gay 'lifestyle' (don't get me started on the use of the word 'lifestyle') and will not support gay marriage.
I can't worship at a church knowing that I am not fully accepted and considered equal to all those around me. Surrounded by people that might love me as a person but do not accept me as being gay; instead tolerate me. People who might tell me that being gay is okay, but on the inside are praying for me to let Jesus move in my life and change me. People who don't recognise that any relationship that I have with a man is part of God's plan and that it would be full of love, equal to any other.
Then there is the statement that Brian Houston has made that no gay person can take an active leadership role within the church. I have always been told that there is no judgement within church, but if I wanted to be a leader I would be judged and turned away. This doesn't make sense to me. How can I be part of a church that will openly discriminate against me and other gay people, supposedly in the name of God? The same God who loves everyone equally.
If Hillsong is not for me then where else can I go to worship God as an accepted gay man? The Catholic Church is very clear on where they stand and the Church of England is also not supportive of gay marriage. Are there any churches out there do fully accept homosexuality and support same-sex marriage? An Internet search will show you many 'gay welcoming' churches, which dishearteningly is the same label Hillsong has given itself. There are none that shout loud and proud that they openly accept gay people as equal and support gay marriage. Maybe the answer is that I don't need another church to have a relationship with God; perhaps organised religion is not for me.
I hope that one day I will find a church that will celebrate my future relationship with another man. One that will celebrate my future marriage (and here's hoping it happens) to a man. Until then what I will do is take away the lessons that I have learnt and continue to apply them to my everyday life. Knowing that God loves me for who I am, regardless of who I fall in love with.