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A Moment After Church

That moment was chilling, I saw all my friends and my faith in a new light

Autumn 1984.

I was a shy and very confused eighteen year old, trying with all my might to fit into the world around me. A main part of my life, then, was church and being a good Christian, though I struggled so hard at this. The Church was my only social life, the high-point of which was the Sunday morning Eucharist service.

After the service the congregation would move into the Church Hall to have a cup of tea and split off into the church’s different cliques. The clique I belonged to was the Young People’s Fellowship, the church’s spiritual youth group. For me it was a safe clique to hide away in. We all sat together in church, went to the same church activities together, and when the Young People’s Fellowship met, we’d all agree on the same things.

That morning the church service was very different. Our regular organist, Alan, wasn’t there. Instead an elderly man had slowly and awkwardly played the organ, all the hymns at the same painfully slow pace. Now, after the service, it was all we could talk about. Where Alan was and how terrible the hymns were, some people were even calling them a disgrace.

Each Sunday, Alan had been sat at the church’s organ and his friend, Terry, sat in the pew next to him. Those two men had fascinated me, but I never spoke to them because they were in such a different circle to me. They were adults and socialised with different people at church, the cliques rarely mixed.

Young People’s Fellowship was run by two married couples, the clean cut Arthur and Julie, and the round and comic Colin and Glynis.

That morning, Colin almost bounded up to our group exclaiming:

“You lot heard, Alan the organist has had to leave church because he went and married his husband!”

“What?” Julie replied.

“Terry, that friend of his, was his male lover and they went through a mock marriage,” Colin gleefully added.

“That’s disgusting!” Julie said, her whole face twisting up with the same expression.

Suddenly the whole group was talking about it, alive with the subject, and they were all condemning it. Homosexuality was disgusting, immoral, a perversion. No Christian could be a homosexual, they said and they were certain that God condemned it, look at AIDS and all the other failings they attributed to being homosexual.

I withdrew to the edge of them, my hands pushed into the pockets of my duffle coat, and just listened. I felt I failed so often, as a Christian, because of the inner doubts that plagued me, the biggest doubt was that I was already going to hell just for being who I was. I am gay, but back then I couldn’t even admit it to myself and the only expression of my sexuality was quick and very furtive glances at handsome men. It was my deep secret that I feared exposing, and now I saw I was right to fear.

These people around me, these who called me their friend, who told me they were my Christian Family, were now pouring out the most terrible prejudice and hatred towards homosexuals simply because of their sexuality; would they turn that onto me if they knew the truth? I couldn’t take the risk and therefore I withdraw further into myself.

That moment was chilling, I saw all my friends and my faith in a new light, this church wasn’t the safe place I’d always hoped it would be. Equally, I wanted these people to like me and wanted to be part of this group. If they found out I was gay would they treat me the same way, pour out their prejudice on me and force me to leave the church? I couldn’t take that risk. In that moment I learned a lesson, my church only really wanted me if I fit their rules.

Eighteen months later I was outed at church and they did behave exactly as I had feared, I had no choice but to leave. I should have known it would happen, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

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