I love the writings of Jeffrey John, the openly gay Dean of St Albans, especially "The Meaning in the Miracles". Jeffrey John is the first person in a same-sex relationship to be nominated as a Church of England bishop and has, on three occasions, almost been appointed to a bishopric. His book has had a decisive impact on my life. It shows Jesus to be a radical who, 2000 years ago, fought for the rights of the poor and the vulnerable. Jesus, through his miracles, sought to incorporate previously excluded groups within the love of the Church. With the Healing of the Centurion's Servant, Jesus also does this for gay men. The centurion is concerned for the health of his servant and asks for Jesus to intervene. When put into the appropriate Greco-Roman context servant is almost certainly intended to be synonymous with lover. Roman military life was saturated with such liaisons, that of Hadrian and Antinous the most famous. In Luke's Gospel the centurion speaks with particular affection for his servant, describing him as "very dear to him." The inference that they were gay lovers would have been apparent to Jesus and probably to those in the following centuries when the Bible was written.
Over the past eighteen months I have had an amazing journey with faith. For me this has been revolutionary, as dynamic and outward-looking as it is passionate and prayful. A new stage in my life is commencing and I am more confident in my identity as a gay man than ever before. I attend St John's, a church in Waterloo headed by Giles Goddard, which is at the forefront of LGBT inclusivity within the Church of England. My experience of the Church of England is one of acceptance rather than repression. For me faith, and particularly the Church of England, is about a celebration of my identity as a gay man. Various strands of my identity have been acknowledged and reinforced, affording me the clarity and strength to drive forwards with my life.
St John's has three wonderful gay priests, called Giles Goddard, Jeffrey Risbridger and Les Acklam, as well as a number of female priests. Giles formerly headed "Inclusive Church", the Church of England body seeking to encourage diversity. They are intelligent, hard working and courageously fight for the congregation, the local community and LGBT rights within the Church. Jesus, my priests and the other people in the congregation are a massive source of support, inspiring me on a daily basis. I love the diversity of the congregation, which includes people from different ethnic backgrounds, the old, as well as a number of LGBT worshippers. The Church of England is now supportive of LGBT people entering into civil partnerships, although on gay marriage there is still work to be done. Jeffrey John and Giles are both tireless advocates for gay marriage and St John's hosted the Church of England conference on gay marriage last year. Giles can perform a thanksgiving in church to follow on from a civil ceremony elsewhere, although unfortunately LGBT marriage ceremonies are not yet possible at St John's. As a gay rights activist I have always been fully supportive of gay marriage. It is disappointing that, on gay marriage, doctrinally the Church of England is reacting to changes in society, rather than pushing for equality, but I am full of hope for the future. I would like to see full recognition of gay marriage within the doctrinal framework of the Church, including between two gay priests. It is important to encourage change within the Church and fight for my faith.
From January this year I stepped up my commitment to St John's by taking part in altar service. As either crucifer or acolyte I carry the processional cross or candles, wearing a white alb. I enjoy the greater involvement in the ceremony and consider it an honour. From September I had a series of meetings to discuss my faith and took the decision at the end of last year to be confirmed. For me this represents the culmination of the initial phase of my journey with faith. This will take place in Southwark Cathedral on 23 May, the day after my thirtieth birthday. Two important milestones are taking place consecutively, so that as I progress into my thirties I am sure this will be the best decade of my life so far. I am looking forward to my Christianity growing. My church is welcoming, fun and friendly. I would encourage anyone who is curious about Christianity to pay a visit to St John's.