The rehearsal was scheduled for 2 pm, with the main ceremony at 4 pm. I rushed through Borough Market, past the busy stalls and into the cathedral enclosure. I made my way over the lawn and strode onto the tarmac coated surface in front of the main building. For once I was punctual. There were lots of tourists clustered near the entrance admiring the architecture. The cathedral was busy, warm and welcoming. I didn't feel so nervous anymore!
Peter Selby, the former Bishop of Worcester, would be taking the ceremony, but Andrew Nunn, the Dean of Southwark Cathedral, was in charge of the rehearsal. My priest Giles Goddard was also there to welcome me. In total there were 25 of us who were getting confirmed, from eight churches. I was the only person from St John's, so I felt more special. Giles took me for a quick wander around the cathedral before the rehearsal commenced. Although the cathedral is built on medieval foundations, it was extensively remodelled in the nineteenth-century. At the back there is a beautiful chapel to the victims of HIV and AIDS. The chapel has a wonderful presence amongst the geometric gothic arches. Its soothing white walls and green damask altar offer the perfect backdrop for quiet reflection. The chapel was dedicated in 1991 and is the only one of its kind in the country. I spoke to the dean about the chapel and he told me how important it is to himself, the clergy and the worshippers to have this memorial, as so many from the diocese had died of AIDS in the past. I am so happy that I was confirmed in this cathedral. I thought about the victims of AIDS and other people like myself who live with HIV, both in the UK and globally, as we prayed during the service. I thought of the best friend of a lady I know, a wonderful gay man who died having everything to live for.
Most of those getting confirmed were teenagers. They were giggling and smiling. I was more composed. I discovered faith in my late twenties and previously referred to myself as an atheist or an agnostic. I took the decision to get confirmed about six months ago and am so pleased to have made this choice. There was no expectation from my family or those around me to get confirmed. I choose to be confirmed because I wanted to progress to the next stage in my spiritual path and make a public commitment to the Church of England and God.
We practiced for about an hour, running through the ceremonial steps. I liked the dean's witty and self-deprecating sense of humour, so I was completely at ease throughout the rehearsal. Southwark is a really friendly cathedral. I recognise that, as a gay man, I'm lucky to have had such an incredible journey with faith. I have never encountered prejudice in Church of England churches, only acceptance and love. I encourage any LGBT people who have had negative experiences of Christianity, or those who are curious about faith, to think afresh about the Church of England. It has been a spectacular force for good in my life.
I experienced anticipation and a sense of devotion as the service commenced. The bishop was dignified and had a real sincerity about him as he told us we were 25 heroes and that he was honoured to be conducting the ceremony. I thought of Christian heroes, from the early British Church, then the Reformation and through to the present day. Four of us were also getting baptised, which took place at the beginning of the service. I'd never witnessed an adult baptism before. The bishop advanced from the font to the episcopal throne and we returned to our seats. The bishop proceeded to confirm all 25 of us in our Christianity. I knelt in front of him. The bishop made the sign of the cross on my forehead, told me that God had chosen me and then placed his hands on my head. He laid his hands there for about five seconds. I felt an excitement and sense of serenity as he touched my head. I stood, bowed my head and returned to my chair. I felt a renewed purpose and determination to live my life in a way that will help other people.
Once the ceremony had taken place we received a lighted candle. Carrying the candles we processed out of the cathedral and said a prayer. I thought again for the victims of HIV memorialised in the chapel at the back. There is a candle there which continually burns in remembrance of them. I like to think my candle is symbolic of the everlasting flame of Christianity which burns inside me illuminating my soul. I am now ready to move onto the next chapter in my life.