Love never fails
1 Early Days: 1951 – 1962
A June morning, 1951, on a village farm in mid-Cheshire, NW England was the time and place of my birth. My mother and father had married two years previously and I was their first-born. Within three years I would have two sisters.
Along with my birth certificate, and still-required ration book, I also had my certificate of baptism, performed late July 1951 at the Primitive Methodist Church of the village. The church was to give me some of my first experiences outside our village home. My father was the Sunday School Superintendent, a ‘Poor Steward’ and secretary to the Trustees of the Church.
A lot of time revolved around the village church. I also recall days at my grandparents – who had retired from the village farm to a house built at the edge of it. There was a good deal of family activity and discussions about this and that. This is where I first understood that ‘we’ were "Primitive Methodists". There were also the "Wesleyans" and then of course the Anglicans. Such tribal language was introduced to me at an early age.
Even for me at a young age, it did seem rather strange that the Wesleyans’ chapel was built on land just adjacent to the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Why the separate chapels? At end of the 1950’s the two churches began to work together – and it was eventually announced that a new church would be built out of the Wesleyan Church with a Sunday School building, car park etc. ‘Our’ church building would then be closed and sold.
As usual, my father seemed to be in the thick of the activity as Treasurer of the Building Fund, and he seemed to be on the site most evenings and weekends. I would often be there with him. I remember him making a communion rail for the new Church, amongst much else.
I did not know at the time that there had been an Act of Union in 1929 to bring various branches of the Methodists together. It took thirty years before the tribalism gave way to financial and other realities and the working together started in our village. Unity with the Anglicans was another matter. That was a 1960’s thing – and was rejected by the Anglicans.
I have looked back at my Methodist days to ask, "Why did I not see Christ as I see Him today? Where was the ‘witness’?" The answer is complicated, but in truth, the Church felt to me like a village club. Moreover, within my extended family, the constant gossip about ‘club members’ made it just another part of the village scene. There was no ‘witness’ that this young boy could detect. To me, it stands as a permanent reminder that when we take charge of ‘our Church’, God usually has to leave us to our own devices and let us find out what it ultimately means.
I lived out a classically idyllic childhood. Playing on the farms, in the gardens, free to roam in the village and experiencing a good village school. My father was a research Chemist with ICI in the town of Northwich, two miles away. My parents were fortunate in that they had been granted the gift of a new house on peppercorn rent when they married. It enabled my busy and very loving mother to bring up three children born in just three years.
The house came with a very large garden. It was in fact two semi-detached houses. My great aunt who ordered it built, occupied the other semi-detached house and gave over both gardens to my father to cultivate.
So, gardening was also another childhood thing – each of us children had our own patch of garden. I liked to be with Dad as he worked on the greenhouses and grew plants by the hundreds and thousands. My mother, in one of her wise observations, said to me in later years – "your father is not a gardener – he is a grower". The garden was locally famed for its great shows of chrysanthemums and especially the dahlias – to say nothing of the two hundred roses in the front garden. Dad ‘showed’ his flowers – and had many certificates from horticultural shows – very 1950’s – which I used to see of course.
The other thing I remember well from childhood is going to rowing regattas with Dad. He had been a good rower competing in 1948 to represent Britain at the Olympics. Now in the 1950’s, as a member of the Northwich rowing club, he would act as a starter or official in county regattas. I would usually be ‘helping him’ on the starting line. I loved it.
This village and garden existence gradually gave over to my schooling. And in 1962, an envelope appeared one morning to announce that I had gained a place at the local grammar school – my father’s old school. He was delighted, and my mother too, in her wise way, was quietly pleased.
2 Teen days: 1962 – 1970
The September day when I first attended Sir John Deane’s Grammar School marked a transition. I had been kitted out with all the required uniforms and sports gear. It was an all boys’ school – with over 400 years of tradition behind it, complete with the school song "Floreat Wittona", Sports days, Speech days and a prefectorial system.
I quickly realised that there was a pecking order. The new boys were at the bottom of that order. I was allocated a place in the top form. ‘Prefects ruled’ and seemed to operate under a fiefdom of the Head Boy and his senior prefects, approved by the Headmaster and staff. So although the gowned masters ordered our days – outside the classroom it was the prefects who managed discipline. The Head Boy was also the Rugby captain, or something like that, and so his seniors were usually sports friends of his.
It was in this atmosphere of competitive ‘boydom’ that I noticed for the first time my fascination with the naked bodies of other boys. The gym and sports changing rooms were both revelatory and scaring. To be naked in front of those who you were secretly admiring – and then longing for them – was at first a huge shock. As I processed it, I realised this was to be hidden and repressed at all costs. It could NOT be.
So, I had discovered at the age of eleven and twelve the beginnings of sexual longing. And in those days of the early sixties, I knew immediately that this was something out of place. I needed to like girls like everyone else – eventually anyway. I didn’t want to be different.
But ‘difference’ pervades our humanity. As my early years in the school progressed, it was clear that sport was no part of my make up – except back at home, where behind the house there were the village tennis courts. Each night in summer I would be there and found someone to play with. I managed a moderate game. Academically, I was near the top of the form and my studies were foremost – not sport. I progressed to get good results in O levels and A levels.
But it was the tennis courts that first revealed to me something beyond longing for a boy. There was one – who became my good friend – but for whom I developed a huge emotional crush. I didn’t understand it. When he arrived at the tennis club – or at the school (he too was at the grammar school) the world sort of ‘changed’. Later he got a car and we would go to football matches together. It was that ‘together thing’. I dreamt of him.
When this first happened, I understood that it was likely that the word ‘homosexual’ was part of this phenomenon. Homosexual Law Reform was going through Parliament (1967). I could not be ‘one of those’– could I?
When I was sixteen, I entered the Sixth Form of the school with its privileges. Along with that came – outside of school – a social life. A few of my friends had parties to which girls were invited – and it was obvious that ‘girl friends’ and dating were happening. I wanted nothing more than to go with my tennis friend somewhere – but he too soon found a girl friend. But he kept me in the loop and I didn’t feel excluded by him.
Alongside this I had built another life. Music had become very important. I started piano lessons when I was eight – and organ lessons when I was able to reach the pedals at fourteen. I didn’t want to go for examinations in music – there were enough of those at school. But by the age of eleven, I had discovered the worlds of Chopin, Beethoven and many others. I also had permission to use the grand piano in the school hall. I would practice often for one or two hours after school.
For the organ, I got access to various churches, often with near-decaying instruments, usually at near-decaying Methodist churches. But I also got to play at the town’s C of E Church with a very impressive three manual organ. From the age of fifteen, I was scheduled to play for Sunday services here and there.
My music was both refuge and a joy. I seemed to discover new works each week. Being a passionate musician assuaged the horror of becoming something that I could NOT be – i.e. homosexual. From school, every two weeks, trips were arranged to hear the Halle or the Liverpool Philharmonic. The master in charge of this was generous in his time and keen to see that we discovered good music.
In 1968 I was offered a prefect-ship at the school. This event was amusing. The Head boy made the suggestions for prefects to the Headmaster, who usually just approved his list. On this occasion, the Head boy didn’t know who I was. It was clear that my name had come from the Headmaster to the Head boy. All those hours in the school hall, not far from the Headmaster’s study, had a by-product. Two years later, I decided to take an extra year at the school for Cambridge entrance. Late in August 1969, the Headmaster asked to me to be Head boy for the new school year.
So all this school-focused activity drowned out the voices of same-sex attraction. I had plenty of things to occupy me – other than working out how to cope with the ‘H factor’. I decided I didn’t want Cambridge – and settled on Queen Mary College, University of London for Chemistry. My Father was furious. He had been determined that I enter Cambridge. He saw the ‘Head boy thing’ as a total waste of time. I finished my year 1969/70 using the position of Head boy to organise a sponsored run for charity. We raised over £1,000 – a large sum for those days – getting most boys in the school to run. And then that was it. In September 1970, I was preparing to go to London.
I had survived the dates with girls, which I had arranged because they wanted to go out with me (I didn’t). My secret was still secret. My hope was that it would melt away like ice – and that I would become normal. My identity had been buttressed by the position at school. I still secretly ‘loved’ my ‘tennis crush’ – but this was nicely hidden, boxed up – and life was more than manageable.
3 University and work: London 1970 –1976
I had my first university year in 1970 in Halls of Residence in London E17 for Queen Mary College. (32 years later, by chance, I would be living in E17 again.)
My Cheshire survival mechanisms all disappeared. In reality, I understood more and more, that I was attracted to men not women. It was sexual attraction. I did everything to deny it and bury it. The label was simply a road to shame and exclusion and . . . well, how could I ever tell the family? Never!!
Again, I pursued my music. I played the college organ – and organised the Light Opera Society. I would play the piano for classical recitals. Occasionally I would find an emotional crush that overwhelmed me but I coped and hid it. After one year, I decided that Chemistry studies were not for me and I got permission to start again, this time entering the Faculty of Economics in 1971. This meant three more years at Queen Mary College.
Over 1973/4, I discovered a friendship with XX that went to a level of emotional dependency. I wanted him so much – yet I could not say anything to him and hoped that he would not see. I didn’t want to lose him. I am pretty sure that he knew and just understood – but kept clear boundaries for himself. He was clearly girl material. But he also wanted my friendship; and being wanted – by someone you have grown ‘to love’ – well – that was big.
By now I was twenty-three – and understood what it all meant. I was homosexual. I saw what that implied for the rest of my life. It was a life sentence! I couldn’t say anything either to any of my friends, or my family. I despaired. Life just didn’t add up. At the same time, I had been managing an illness that emerged after my school years – epilepsy. I had barbiturates to control absence episodes. But the epilepsy was getting worse.
As I approached my final exams in 1974, I was not coping with my health, my studies, and above all the prospect of being a homosexual. At 3.00 am one morning, during my final exams, I took all the pills in the bottle and lay down on the bed, totally exhausted mentally, knowing that I would not wake again. I had given in to death rather than to a life that was impossible.
But in fact, I did not know that my friends were watching. . . XX was in fact watching closely and he knew that I was hugely tired and was concerned that I should get up at 8.30am for the exam. It was he who broke down the locked door and called the ambulance. Instead of an exam, I had my first and last experience of an NHS stomach pump.
Then my parents were at my bedside. Why?? Why?? Why?? I ‘justified’ it on the likely failure of the exams and my epilepsy. They were hugely shocked and it shames me to remember what I did to them – especially my mother.
But I said nothing about the homosexual thing. Very quickly Dad went to see my prof who told him that I was in line for a first and that he was very surprised. I couldn’t believe the first. The College offered an aegrotat degree (unclassified). I requested that I re-sit the exams the next year. The prof warned me that most who ‘deferred’ failed to turn up or pass. But I was granted the re-sit.
Friends outside the college organised me a job offer in the City – back-room stuff – and I was employed for the first time in my life. The job was tedious but interesting. It was in Aviation and Marine underwriting – sorting out masses of paperwork that had gone astray and the accounting with it. The job allowed me to settle. I got a flat with student friends at the college – including XX who shared a room with a mate.
I returned to College to take the exams in 1975 and got a 2:2 against the odds. My mother and father attended the graduation ceremony at the Albert Hall and then at St Paul’s Cathedral – all very grand stuff with the Queen Mother as Chancellor of the University in attendance.
That day was very special on two counts. My father told me that it was mother’s proudest day of her life. Dad went on to tell me that they were sat in the stall seats of the Albert Hall and my mother sitting in an aisle seat. As the Chancellor’s procession came along the aisle, Dad said you could hear the ‘clip clop’ of HM’s shoes. My mother turned round just as the Queen Mother was by her side and Mum instinctively semi-curtsied to HM. HM just slowed, and nodded her head to Mum with a smile. I can well imagine it. The other thing about the day was that XX was there too. I have a photo of him outside the Hall.
I continued my job in the City. With the degree it helped me get a Finance job with IBM UK at their HQ in Portsmouth. This started in July 1976 – and I left London for the next stage of my life.
I was now 25 and living with my undisclosed and terrible secret. With this, the world of sex was completely unknown to me. The deep longings of my heart for another man were unspeakable. I was aware that others did declare it to the world and then lived their lives excluded from acceptable society, as I knew it. Above all, I could not tell Mum and Dad. It was hide yourself or exclude yourself: damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I look back at these days, and see life’s opportunities wasted by the innate need to conform to ‘the expected standards’. It was a societal norm. Few people of my age did things differently. Now of course, it is different. But what would have happened if I could have expressed my feelings? I also wonder what would have happened if I knew Christ as I was to know him later.
4 Portsmouth/London: Coming out, and a first relationship: 1976/79
Entering the Corporate world of IBM provided me with huge opportunities – and lots of work. It also provided me with a whole new set of colleagues – some of whom were to become good friends. In my first year , I shared a house with two other Finance friends. We are still in touch today. We had good fun, and went on holidays together, doing the crazy stuff that you can do in your twenties, e.g. the bull running at Pamplona, N. Spain and on to the Cote D’Azur, trips to Italy etc.
During my first year, the central Finance department had a major systems crisis, and for months we were invited to work all hours of overtime possible. It was paid overtime – very lucrative too. I bought a house at the end of my first year, so owning my first home at the age of twenty-six in 1977.
That development prompted the next. In the second year, I found the courage to explore what it meant to encounter a man. I got copies of Gay News, and decided to advertise for a relationship. I received one ‘promising’ reply and invited him to come from London to my house near Portsmouth for a weekend. I remember vividly YY turning up on the doorstep. In looks he was everything that I would notice instantly. Blond, blue eyes and a charming smile. Very quickly we formed a relationship that took its course in terms of intimacy.
It says a lot that I cannot remember sex being a big deal. It seems such a big deal for other people these days. But he mattered to me – and our physical closeness was just so natural. That which I feared so much dissolved in the face of a fascination and then a love that grew and gave me a whole new confidence for life. I was nearly twenty-seven.
For fifteen years I had feared myself. Now, it all turned upside down. I could rejoice in who I was with the person I was beginning to love. And the world could go hang. It was a true deliverance. Fear destroys; love builds. If anyone will deny that, then they have some serious issues to look at. My Bible says a lot about fear and love.
At work, my friends noticed the change. In fact they had guessed what was happening for me, and they were pleased. SO, when I came to tell them, they were the first to know from me. They affirmed me instantly and to my surprise there wasn’t a hint of rejection. In fact, quite the reverse: the neediness of a personality that was qualified by a terrible secret had gone, and they welcomed the reality of ME.
This summer of change overwhelmed me for a while. YY and I took a holiday together in Cornwall – ten days that gave me so much . . . allowed me to be. . . to rejoice in the simple fact of life in a way that was unknown to me. There was no further qualification about my existence. I was no longer living under threat. I could be. It was an amazing time. For those who find this type of story too worn, then I say – imagine; for your own sake – imagine. Many, many people today live lives of fear and ‘imprisonment’ for various reasons. Gay is the least of it. Fear is the common element.
5 Back in Cheshire; endings; and my mother: 1979/81
These wonderful days of 1978/79 gave way to a new season – and this time my focus was on my family in Cheshire. I had yet to say anything to them – it was not yet time. It became a season of endings – the death of aunts and uncles, and then a grandmother and a grandfather. Trips home for funerals were times of mourning, not times to reveal my new life – as other lives were ending and my parents were grieving. It was my parents who I wanted to tell first.
In October 1980, I got a phone call from my father. I had known that something was wrong with my mother, and something was being investigated. He told me that Mum had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The shock was not easy to process.
But just one week later, he rang again. This time, his news gave me no words or way to react. He simply told me that Mum had also developed a serious cancer. She did not know and was NOT to know. She was struggling with the MS, but would die in the next months from the inoperable cancer. He asked me to give her what time I could, in ways that would not disturb her.
My season of new life was suddenly transformed into a nightmare. I visited Cheshire, as it was appropriate. Life at IBM and with YY and my friends was set aside. YY and my friends knew, and cared for me as they could. Nothing else mattered other than Mum. I was shocked to see her in her wheel chair. My sisters were also coping. Dad, was given time from work to care for her and a good friend helped him with Mum during the days as he managed the nights.
IBM moved me into a new temporary position for a year. My manager understood what was happening, though I did not. Christmas 1980 is still a blur to me. The weeks went by. Mum died in early April 1981. The effect on Dad, my sisters and the family was traumatic. Mum died at the age of 54. I was 29. Dad immediately retired from ICI – at the age of 55. He was shattered– physically and emotionally at an end. For 1981, my time was spent travelling to see him. For Christmas 1981, Dad asked that we all – me, my sisters and him – go to Tenerife. This had been one of Mum’s favourite holiday places.
1982 began with the feeling that I had to resume a life. How and what? YY and my friends where there alongside. YY was still travelling down from London – and I would visit him at his flat in Richmond.
6 A new life: 1982/83 – a life in Christ
I sensed that it was time to change. I negotiated with IBM and got the offer of a Finance job in a special project in London. They agreed a formal transfer to a new post. So early in 1982, I found myself in London living ostensibly in a hotel in Richmond. But of course I spent much of my time with YY.
The next task was to sell the house outside Portsmouth and buy a place in London. By autumn 1982 I had acquired a three-bedroom flat just 200 yards from the river in East Twickenham and opposite from YY’s place. It was to be my settled home for the next twelve years.
Dad helped me to restore the flat and I remember us spending 10 days decorating it – which included stripping and polishing the parquet flooring. During this time, I think I might have hinted to my Father that I had a good friend in London – but I didn’t go into detail.
In the next year, work was busy. I found myself transferred to an office in Chiswick and I was asked to help a new team with a project that would require much time and innovation on my part – I would need my own computer system; this was in days before the Personal Computer of course. I buried myself in the work and I spent time with YY as I could.
The wounds of loss take time. Building a new life takes time, and my relationship with YY was, for a while, almost a secondary item. But the word ‘gay’ had come into my language. Later in 1983, I sensed that I was healed up and understood my new environment, and I was comfortable again. It had taken a year or so.
On the 8th September 1983, the doorbell rang; there were two young guys at the door. "We would like time with you to tell you about Jesus Christ". I was very rude to them and slammed the door. And then I was back at the door, opened it and waited for them to come down the stairs from the upper flats. I invited them in and told them I was sorry for being rude, and asked, "could they give me their pitch" (using my best ‘IBMese’).
Within fifteen minutes I had an invitation from them to attend St Stephen’s church in East Twickenham on the next Sunday – and I said I might. I went back to YY in the living room. I did attend on the Sunday morning. It was nothing like my experience in tribal Methodist days. I could not understand what happening. The church was full – and there was a sense of life and presence. I was expecting a couple of pews of old ladies in hats. I asked the curate, "what is going on here?" He gave me a copy of John’s Gospel and recommended I look for the answer.
The next Sunday I was back again – and to cut the story short – I simply knew what was happening. It was as though I could reach out and almost touch that Presence of Christ. I went to the two who had invited me and simply said, "I see – I know – what do I do?"
After a time of talking – they prayed with me and the young curate joined us. I felt words coming up from days in Cheshire – an old hymn that I had played a number of times. One line of it – "I give thee back the life I owe" – from "Oh love that wilt not let me go" (tune "St Margaret’s") resonated with me as we prayed. I was giving my life to Christ – and He would not let me go. It was an experience beyond reality.
Christ had found me, drawn me and I had committed my whole life to him without reserve. I could see. Immediately after that prayer, I said to the three who prayed – "I have one problem item for you – I am gay –what do we do about that?" I knew that ‘gay’ was not a good thing in the Church. Well, the curate said after drawing a breath – ‘we pray about it… and you will be free’.
We prayed in the clergy vestry for another 30 minutes and I surrendered ‘this entire problem’ to Christ trusting Him for my sexual healing and my future in Him. Thus began – at noon on 18 September 1983 – my new life, at the age of thirty-two.
7 New days: 1983 –1987
Whirlwind conversions are not unknown – and they can be easily distrusted. Fortunately for me, I had found a church well equipped to help me in my new life. The reality of Christ was amazing. I had seen in John’s Gospel words that were absolute and went to the core of me. The Spirit of God had opened my eyes and heart. I was a changed man – and there was no going back.
The gay thing seemed so secondary – it melted away in torrent of spiritual new life. I had a new Lover. Christ was ALL. Allegiance to Christ meant all. . . and so it was that I said goodbye to YY. I cannot remember our parting, but today I feel very ashamed at abandoning him so abruptly and with the so-called "reason" that ‘I am a Christian now’. It seemed that it was Christ or gay – no other way. I am not a man who possesses the ability to spot nuance or subtleties immediately.
During the following months, I was totally preoccupied (outside working hours) with the Church, my Bible and my journal. A home-group system helped me to integrate with the life of the Church and beyond. The reality of Christ opened my eyes to all sorts of things.
The pull of gay sexuality drained away in these days. IBM work was busy – the special project took plenty of time. I was involved at St Stephens and got back to my organ music too – playing for occasional services, weddings and funerals. Beyond this, I started to notice the homeless poor on the streets of London, and wondered how to help. I also tried my hand at street preaching. Interesting days. I felt, "Gay was gone and I was healed". When I noticed myself looking at another man, I checked myself and stopped doing it.
At the beginning of 1986, I felt that my life would change again – and this time IBM and other fixed points would be involved in that change. I was willing to give all to the service of Christ.
Two things happened. IBM suddenly told me that I was to be promoted to a post that involved a move to Basingstoke. I had not been asked – I was told. In fact when I investigated, I was told that it was a ‘done deal’ with the Regional team and I was going. The management line got very rough with me – and things were put on the internal email of those days that were simply unjust, in my view. However, the opportunity to make an appeal was open to me.
I did appeal and eventually was successful. I had also noticed a new job internally that looked exciting – and I wanted a chance to go for it, being based in central London. The job was to administer and control the finances of the Company’s new Charitable Trust, with a budget of £5m a year to go to local and national good causes. I got the job. This lasted me five years, and brought me into contact with charities all over the UK. It was a superb job – and one that I enjoyed immensely. It was to set the stage for a new career.
Also in 1986, something even more important for my future happened. I had a formed a good friendship with a young woman in my home group. We got on well and went out together for walks and talks. She had come to the UK from Canada. I was fascinated with her story, her good humour and her grip on life. She had a strong commitment to a life of faith. We were on the same track.
One day she asked me, ‘Where is our friendship going?’ This came like a bolt from the blue. She had put a question that I wasn’t expecting. I told her that I would let her know. She knew about my gay past – it was a part of my story when I told people about Christ and what had happened to me. She too had a past that inspired.
I thought for a time about a future with her. I did not see myself alone forever. There could be no more of the past. She was asking about a future – our future. We talked more and, late in 1986, I proposed marriage. She accepted. I loved her for who she was.
The implications of marriage were beyond my full appreciation. It was a sudden move by any measure. I hadn’t sought any advice. The Church, however, was full of congratulation and support. Our engagement was announced – and right at that moment, I felt as though for the first time I had a FULL social legitimacy within the Church. The past was settled and the future was sure.
We quickly decided that marriage should follow in six months – in May 1987. There could be no question of sexual intimacy before marriage for a Christian of course. I was a ‘heterosexual virgin’.
Our engagement and subsequent marriage came as a surprise to my father. But I had his support. I had a new family in Canada and I was to visit them straight-away to plan our marriage.
On the 23 May 1987, we were married at St Stephen’s Church East Twickenham, and honeymooned mostly in Canada – with time both in Toronto and Vancouver. It was an amazing time. As we returned home to my flat – that was to be our new home – my wife said, "I hope you are expecting change!" And so during the rest of 1987, a new home was made.
8 Married life: 1987–1994
By mid-1987, less than four years had passed since I was with YY in a gay relationship. Now, I was married. Most importantly I was, I am, in Christ Jesus. So much had changed in so short a time. Our new married life would be a time for those changes to settle. There was much that needed time for that settling to take place.
Life was filled with church, IBM and of course a new home life. I learned that at home decisions were no longer just mine; however I enjoyed the new sense of partnership. At the same time, in the church, we were a unit of two together. This seemed important. At home, exploring intimacy was not easy and it did not come as a natural thing. I tended to shy away from sexual contact. A few months later, my wife challenged me about this and asked that we both go for counselling. This came as a shock; I felt this should not have been; something was wrong with me.
These counselling sessions went on for many years in various forms – together at first and then separately. We got on with our married life, but the issue of sex was always there. My health was deteriorating and in 1991, I was in hospital for 16 weeks whilst the drug treatment for my epilepsy was changed.
In the earliest days of our marriage, we were both involved in a project working with the poor and homeless of West London. My wife qualified as a counsellor. In 1990, we discussed whether we should look for ordination in the Church of England. I had been aware since 1986 that my days in IBM were not the best way I could serve and use my gifts. I wanted my life to count for other people.
In 1991, the opportunity presented itself fully. At the time when I was discussing ordination with my vicar, IBM was quietly going through a tough time financially. I knew what was happening and my IBM manager kept me briefed.
My wife and I both started pursuing ordination courses and investigation with the Kensington diocese. In September 1991, I took voluntary redundancy from IBM that provided me with enough cash to keep us going for a year. All this activity appeared to take the heat off the question of what was happening to us as a sexual couple. I started looking at jobs immediately but was also told that I would have an ordination selection conference in March 1992. This was exciting. We were both offered a place at a theological college.
My wife was called to see the Bishop. He told her that he would not recommend any woman to the ministry. We knew that this was his normal position – the only one of the 43 bishops who held such a firm line. I had identified in my application that I would work with the poor of London in charitable work if I was turned down for ordination. We had both been involved in this for some time, on a voluntary basis, and I felt sure that this was a good alternative.
I was not accepted at the March 1992 conference. The letter from the Bishop left me devastated. I really wasn’t prepared for the decision, although it was most certainly the right decision. So we were both rejected – and I was without a job.
1992 was a frustrating year. I made many job applications and nothing came of them. Money was running out. I told my wife that if I hadn’t got a job for the New Year – then we would need to sell the flat. By Christmas there was no job.
In January 1993 I had a phone call. A job was to be advertised setting up a new project for the homeless of Richmond. Would I be interested? I applied and got it. In March 1993 I started as a very raw recruit working full time with homeless people or those trying to get a home. This was to be my work for the next seven years. In that time I worked with about 1,800 people, trying to find a home for them and sustain them in it.
We both had a sense that something had to change in our lives in 1994. We left our St Stephen’s C of E Church for a new ‘Vineyard’ church locally. It wasn’t in reaction to the decisions of 1992 – but we felt that we needed something that might support a community-oriented focus. As I look back on it today, this was not a good decision. It was the start of re-arranging the furniture of a married life that was not working well. We also decided to move from a flat to a house in West Twickenham. More re-arrangement.
Leaving the flat was an end of an era for me. I did not know then that it was to be the beginning of the end for our marriage.
9 Ending: 1994 –1997
We were not functioning well as a couple in 1994: there was no sexual life between us that amounted to anything. I had no real heterosexual drive. I was aware that underneath everything there was a suppressed sexual focus that would flow into forbidden territory. Not only did I believe that was against God, it was an affront and huge frustration for my wife who felt neglected and hurt – at least. Guilt seemed to wash around me.
I had no sexual or sexualised contact with men. That was unthinkable; it would have been the total betrayal of my wife and my vows to God. Sex was not the issue. But occasionally I could feel desires ‘bubble up’ for a man who I had got to know as a friend. I had to send these feelings away and deny their reality. It was a time of supreme sterility that suffocated us both. The years 1995 –1997 were difficult and painful.
In 1995 I moved jobs to start a new homeless project in a neighbouring Borough. I was excited by the challenge, even more so because it was backed by all 54 churches in the Borough. My wife was studying and practising Christian counselling. She became a fully accredited counsellor in this time.
The lack of children was the issue that pained my wife so much. I will not go into detail as it is not a necessary matter here. We looked for medical help on having children. Emotionally the strain in these days was huge and I cannot describe the pain for my wife and the disappointments of a failure to conceive. For me the strain of it was immense too. I felt that failure surrounded us in the marriage.
During this awful time, my wife got into trouble with the church eldership. I found their attitude to us both astoundingly insensitive. They asked to see us. They held me accountable for their perception of the actions of my wife – and asked us both to step down from all positions of responsibility. They added that they had already told all the church leadership teams that this would be so. When I asked whom they had told, it came to over fifty people – including many friends. For me, the shock was immense and I felt utterly betrayed. I sensed an ending immediately.
Though we continued to attend the church, we noted that no-one would speak to us with ease anymore. We were ‘beyond the pale’. This rejection by people who knew and loved us, or so we thought, was so painful I cannot describe it today. It put me right back to where I had been – I was that person of doubtful integrity (‘Is he gay??’). Feelings of failure, rejection and confusion as to who I was – and what the future would hold, left me in despair. More importantly – as I look back on it – I was unable to help my wife as she needed – we were both suffering.
In February 1997, one night I found myself so close to doing what I did when I was twenty–three, at an end without any solution. This time though, I didn’t take the pills. Instead I went to see a church friend who knew what was happening. He had no answers, but with wisdom made me promise him before God that I would contact him if these feelings returned. I buried myself in work; my wife buried herself in her activities. At work, I found that non-Christian friends would listen to me and support me, whilst our friends at church simply turned away. As a couple we were in great trouble and distress – and we were beyond ordinary help.
I left the church in May. My wife continued to attend. I felt that the church had turned its back on me – and it was simply time for me to go. I needed to bring resolution and sanity to myself. I knew also that the next step of full honesty – saying things as I saw them – was unavoidable. On the 8 June 1997, I told my wife that I considered that the root of the problems was quite simple – I was gay and had been in denial throughout the marriage. I asked that we separate, and five weeks later I left the marital home.
I went to lodge with the friend who had been my best man at the wedding and was still at St Stephen’s Church. That was an intervention of God. I had not seen him for over a year or more. Just a few days after telling my wife, on the way home from work on the bus, he was there one night. I said ‘hello how are you’ – but said nothing about ‘us’. The next night, he was there again and we were both surprised. Again I said nothing more. Two nights later – again on the bus – he was there. We were both amazed to see each yet again and he said, "What is happening"? I then told him about the marriage break up. He listened with shock and sorrow – and he offered me a room if I needed it.
I offered my resignation at the homelessness project, as it served all 54 churches of the Borough. But the Chair simply said he did not see that there was an issue here, and asked me stay.
10 Christian and gay? 1997 onwards
I remember leaving our home on 19 July 1997 – vividly. My wife advised me to take a familiar item of furniture. I took my roll top desk, chair and my computer, plus clothes and a few other essentials. I was not to return other than to help her with the garden and house, and finally to discuss what items to remove permanently to put into store.
Over a few weeks, I let some people know. My father was both supportive and regretful. Both my wife and I knew Jeremy and Bren Marks from the Courage Ministry supporting Christians with problems with their sexuality. We had shared a platform with Jeremy and admired his attentive and dedicated work. He then had an ‘ex-gay’ ministry – so for that reason I was not too keen to contact him. But I did know, above all, that I could trust him.
After three months I phoned him; his reaction was hugely encouraging and welcoming. He immediately said he had been praying that I would get in touch. He invited me to join the Courage group, to meet others for fellowship, and assured me I was NOT in the wrong place. As ever Jeremy was and is the safest person for those who are dying under a burden of grief, confusion and self- condemnation.
Attending the Courage meetings was a beginning. I started to recover a platform for living again. Quickly I understood that Jeremy did not condemn – and that for him, looking to Christ was where we all stood no matter what our situation. There were some ‘out-gay’ people in the group and there were others who would never tolerate the word ‘gay’ – but would not deny their struggles. We were a huge mix. I also saw that Jeremy was preparing a new approach for Courage. The word ‘ex-gay’ would go: and discipleship, with our focus on Christ would be uncluttered by other agendas.
At once I could see the honesty and, above all, our dependence on Christ. I went back to the Gospel – and found a place for me again. It did not matter that I was this or that – outcast and sinful – or gay. So it was in 1997, I started a new journey, with Christ at the heart of it. This time, I was simply Trevor – gay or whatever. But above all else, I was sure that Jesus was for me, with me and not against me. So I was, and am – controversially for some – Christian and gay.
The months passed. I formed some friendships that were very important for me. Courage was to offer me the fellowship I needed whilst there was no church. I learned how others managed life. I saw others with struggles, but also those who had achieved a resolution of struggle. I was able to talk about anything – and not feel embarrassed. The age range at Courage was, and is, around 20 – 70+.
By the end of 1997 I was stable. I could think again – about myself – as a person of value. I could also take decisions about my future. Over the past years, I had allowed marriage and church to assume ‘first place’ – even though I thought that God was First in all I did. I assumed that I could be healed and would be healed by God in terms of ‘getting rid of the gay’. I assumed that marriage would ‘seal the deal’. I assumed I could not get it wrong. The list could go on. God allowed me to fail so that I could see Him more – and come to be more in Him.
By this time I was nearly forty-seven. I was embracing who I was – who I am. There was no winding back the clock. I had to discover myself as a sexual being and not bury myself. I had to discover how ‘I worked’. There were of course times of embarrassment, confusion, humour – it seemed like teen years morphed into late forties. A sense of the ridiculous could descend on me. Above all though, I had friends who were like me, finding their way – a way with Christ through all.
If this offends other Christians, then truly I cannot make this easier for them. I spent decades trying to accommodate everyone but myself. God does not ask us to lay down our lives so that others may feel assured of the purity of ‘their Church’ and of their particular theology.
11 Divorce and moving on: 1998 – 2000
In 1998, I asked my wife for a divorce. I was certain of this step, and quite sure that it would be very difficult for us both. She had a divorce lawyer who took the line that she must get everything for her client. I had decided anyway that my wife should have as much as it took to get a property for her. I could rent a room.
Her lawyer made things as difficult as possible. I wanted my wife to have a home. But it ended up in court before matters were finalised. The case against me for more money failed. I had a good and wise Christian lawyer who kept me on a safe path. I was sad to see my wife in the court at this time. Nearly ten years later now – beyond lawyers – we are in touch and we both have new lives.
In late 1997, I responded to an advert in Gay Times that simply said "St James the Less?" JJ was the product. Immediately he and I knew that this was a friendship – nothing more. But it has been the best of those new friendships – good humour, shared values, and a working together . . . and times when we fell out with each other. JJ is one of those precious friends who are in touch today – as are a couple of my great friends from work who supported me over those years 1995 –1997.
From 1998, JJ and I shared a flat for two years in South London. Together we discovered a good church. It was miles away from my evangelical roots – and it needed to be. As much as St Stephen’s had blessed me, the final year in the Vineyard church had shown me an evangelical tendency to ‘play hardball’ that I simply don’t find in the nature of Christ. Jesus was tough. But he was never cruel. I don’t buy into ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’; most of us – in reality – have great trouble loving the sinner, so the sinner gets to know how much their sin is hated and not much else. Come on – you know it’s true!
In the new church in South London, I slowly became accustomed to a choral mass and solemn evensong. Above all, I sensed the Presence and Peace of God again – and the people were wonderful. The priest was gay. I said to one of the ladies of the church, "May I ask you, does it matter that your priest is gay?" She responded without a blink, "My dear, the last six priests here have all been gay; we simply wouldn’t know what to do with a straight one!" (One of the best lines I have ever heard in the Church – said with a totally straight face). Both JJ and I went to this church and St James the Less and we attended Courage on Fridays.
We had two great years in that flat in South London. I see these two years as the period that established me in my Faith – as it is today. Wonderfully fed and watered in the Gospel by Courage and a local church, I came to see Christ in Eucharistic glory – and He enabled me ‘to be’.
I also had to learn how to live as a gay Christian man at a time when the evangelical Church could not accept this. Jeremy was documenting his "New Approach" for Courage – fully supporting gay Christians.
It is hard to overstate how important Courage – i.e. Jeremy Marks – has been in my recovering myself ‘in Christ’. The fellowship meals, the Gospel teaching, the twice yearly retreats, special speakers and the many friendships that you naturally make amidst of all this, refreshed and challenged me. This was the time when my eyes were opened, my failures keenly felt – yet the grace of God was evident as never before. Jeremy and Bren Marks together have invested their lives in helping so many, many people. Whatever people believe doctrinally, no one can deny the love and grace that has come to so many by this work.
The debates over ‘gay and Christian’ obviously continue and escalate to this day. As I write, the Anglican Church is threatened by tribalism of schism and separateness – which takes me right back to the tribalism of my 1950’s Methodist upbringing. "Are you a Prim or a Wesleyan, or worse, C of E?" I am sad to see too many Anglican Church leaders unable to comprehend ‘gay and Christian’ and apparently so willing to walk away from one another in different directions: seemingly true failure. But Christ takes who He will, just as they are. . . and the Rich Young Rulers will always go away sadly shaking their heads.
12 Life after 2000: Dad, a new home and partnership
My job in the Churches Homelessness project disappeared in early 2000. The Board wanted to appoint a Director. I was the obvious candidate – but I didn’t feel a call to more time there. I saw that the Board had another candidate who I felt would be exactly right. I declined to apply. Immediately after, there was a funding cut to the Charity with a change in Government Policy. Two posts had to go – and I ‘resigned in faith’.
Over a time, I had discussed with Jeremy the possibility of working for him with Courage. He wanted this and the Courage trustees supported it. Courage now stood openly for the gay Christian. I felt that although Jeremy needed the help, funding would be a difficult issue, especially as Courage was ‘under fire’ with the change of approach. Without a job, I needed to face financial realities. I asked Jeremy to release me to pursue a job.
I was no longer able to pay the rent in South London. I told JJ that I must give up the tenancy. This meant that JJ lost his home too. JJ was understandably angry and disappointed with me – and it caused a breach in our friendship for a while. Technically we both should have been able to get Housing Benefit. The real problem was that the Lambeth Local Authority seemed incapable at that time of administrating Housing Benefit. I was used to helping homeless people with this; now it was my turn to be on the (not) receiving end . . .
A good friend offered me a room for six months. JJ also found a place. I was to apply for 28 posts before one came up. Time went by and it was 2001. When I came back from a Courage meeting one Friday night, my friend had received a phone call from my elder sister. My friend broke the news to me of my father’s sudden death from a heart attack.
Dad and I had spent time together at the family home in Cheshire each December before Christmas. In the days after 1998, we became closer. We would sit up late and talk about things. It was then that I could tell him how I was – and equally, he could tell me how he felt with utter honesty.
He told me that he was disappointed in the way my life had gone. He didn’t understand my Faith. He was glad that an unhappy marriage had been resolved but unhappy about the gay thing. "In my day we simply called you people dirty buggers!" he said. These words didn’t hurt me. I was hearing my father engage with honesty and I knew above all that he loved me despite these thoughts. I loved him. Truly I was not upset with this. The last time I saw him, he was preparing to move from the family home of 50 years in 2001 – and we talked about this in our Christmas 2000. It was not to be.
So in March 2001, I became head of the family and had to organise with my sisters the funeral and all that followed. I also realised that I needed a home. I knew that an inheritance would come – and quickly I rented a new flat in Walthamstow London E17 sharing with two friends I knew from Courage. By luck I got a job in Walthamstow at the same time – as Director of a new Volunteer Centre.
In early 2002, I bought a home there – a small cottage in Walthamstow Village, merely a mile away from my old Hall of Residence at South Woodford. (The Halls were demolished in 2005). I was to have five good years at the cottage.
This time I did not have to buy a magazine to search for a partner – I was able to look via the Internet. In January 2002, I exchanged over 360 emails with a contact in Germany. We met weeks later. I got cold feet and gave up. But we were back in contact at Christmas. I went to see him in Germany at Easter 2003 – and made a commitment to him. A year later he moved to London to be with me and in September of that year started a University course that went on for three years.
Matthias is twelve years younger than me. We are very different and have different experiences of life. He loves me. Full stop. In 2007, my health finally stopped me – and my doctor told me starkly that I must choose between my job or my life! So I retired and we left London. We now live in Wurzburg, Germany. I am experiencing a wonderful sense of provision at this time. A new phase again – but a total change – with one exception. I am still – as ever – beloved of God. And nothing will take that away from me.
13 Looking back: Gay & Christian? Truth & lies; Fear & love
In 2008, it seems that my beloved Church of England is convulsed. The issue that demanded change from Jeremy Marks in 1997/2000 for his service to God in the Courage ministry is now a worldwide matter with different cultural takes on this and that. Schism and sheer tribalism – akin to my early experience of village Methodism in the 1950’s in rural England – are back with a vengeance in the Anglican Church.
My life began in a wonderful way, starting with a great family and good solid relationships. I loved my parents and their love for me was always there. My homosexuality simply was and is. I am a gay man. I buried this fact under a web of lies and denial that allowed me to be seen as OK and even to be accepted in the Church. Eventually I was to marry, but this was a road to disaster. Fear was the master. And this went on through the time when I met and grew in Christ. But that disaster was eventually to propel me to Truth with a redemptive dynamic.
The Church has blessed me greatly – BUT at the same time it has been an agency of fear and lies in the matter of my sexuality. The destruction in my life was a product of my choosing to adopt those fears and lies. To quote Jeremy Marks, by the name of his book to be published in July 2008, I exchanged the truth (i.e. a simple fact!) for a lie. But God brought me to life afresh, and to see Him above the ‘issues’ Christians struggle with over being ‘gay’.
At this time, the Church struggles to speak Truth on this matter. People are confused, especially as the rulers of the Church are divided, hostile and openly unloving to each other sometimes. But that is how the Church has been for ages.
However, God still speaks. He redeems. He loves. He receives. He brings us through. His Love cannot be denied. And Love never fails. Of life’s founding principles, Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these – is Love. No place for the other stuff – fear, dishonesty, lies. It is time for us to get back to the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 13 if we need texts – to encourage us to live lives of Christian love.
Will we allow ourselves to go the way of division, hostility and fear – and deathly tribalism (labels of Conservative, Orthodox, Strict and Particular?). This must and will come with it. Or – will we embrace the whole truth of God? Love is hard work. Love demands the best for others. Who will cast the first stone at Love?
Trevor Moss, Wurzburg