Friday, September 18, 2009

Sad history

At the meeting with Archbishop Aspinall last Wednesday, I was introduced to a priest in this Diocese who is inclusive and told me about his discussions with other priests about homosexuality.
In telling him my story I mentioned the Rev John T and he confirmed a fact about John which until now had only been suspicions in my mind.

The story of Rev John T (I will not divulge his full name at this time) is very important to me and explains some of the anger I feel with the Diocese of Sydney today.

During the early 60's I was at university doing an Arts degree followed by an Education diploma. I was heavily involved with the Evangelical Union and became Arts Faculty Leader. I was also Youth Leader at my local parish church.

In 1966 I became a teacher at Kingsgrove High School. My focus for Christian service turned towards the Inter School Christian Fellowship at the school. While I never led the group, there were keen women teachers to take that role, my diary shows I regularly attended, took bible studies, ran social activites etc.

I began to regularly attend the Anglican church near the school. Reading my diary for 1967 I find I would often attend both my local church and the church near the school on the same Sunday though I seemed to be alternating until I resigned as Youth Leader in November 1967.

The Rector at Kingsgrove was Rev John T. He was probably in his 40's but very committed to the Youth work of the parish and soon conscripted me into assisting him. Many of the young people were my students.

In 1968 I began teaching scripture at school on behalf of the parish during what would otherwise have been preparation time for me. My diary shows that I went with Rev John on a youth camp in February. I was the only other 'adult' there. He appointed me as one of his parish councillors and I was often at supper in the rectory after Evening Prayer.

My diary is difficult reading at that time. There are comments about "having an opportunity to witness to the Lord", there were times when I took particular girls 'out' but much more about my going to the beach with various boys (students and ex-students) one of whom I idolised, he had a stunning smile. I took him and 3 others on an unforgettable camping holiday to the Gold Coast over the new year 1967-68. There are also cryptic entries which list times I drove alone to areas where I might meet up with gangs. I had no idea where to meet other gay men and as far as I knew did not know any other such men although my diary also records that I had long heart to heart talks (no details recorded) with another ex-student who was a committed Christian. I now occasionally exchange emails with him, still an Anglican but also worshipping at an Anglo-catholic parish, in Melbourne and in a same-sex partnership. I have a feeling that he, although also struggling, may have been more aware than the teacher who was 6 years his senior.

Rev John was a single man and had a boarder living with him in the rectory. The boarder was leaving and I was asked to move in. The Billy Graham Crusade at the Showground was about to start and I had trained as a counsellor. Rev John suggested I move in for the week partly as a trial and also to reduce my travel, as the Crusade was closer to the school and rectory than where I lived with my parents.

On the first weekday of the Crusade (April 22) the assistant priest visited me at school to tell me Rev John had gone into hospital and I would not be able to stay in the rectory. All I knew was he had some kind of breakdown. With a few other young people from the parish I visited him in hospital on May 7. A google search of the hospital name shows it was a Methodist run private psychiatric hospital. Rev John never returned to the parish and his resignation was announced on June 11. I never saw him again. I read that he was working as director of the Sydney office of the Church Missionary Society. Some years later I read that he had died. It was confirmed to me (I had an inkling) on Wednesday night that he committed suicide.

I know that was in the 'bad old days' Homosexuality was illegal, 2 years later I also underwent psychiatric treatment and as a result became engaged to a girl from the same parish. Six months afterwards I realised it would be an impossible situation, broke the engagement and also left the parish. There were several years of only occasional church attendance. I have never been so involved in church since. I do not know when I became aware of why Rev John had a nervous breakdown but it was one factor in showing me that the priesthood was not for me.

In hindsight I realise Rev John must have understood more about me than I did at the time, we joke about 'gaydar' these days.

These days in liberal, inclusive dioceses, men like Rev John could find an adult partner which would give him a feeling of contentment and joy. He would not therefore feel tempted by the young men around him in the parish. I am sure he never acted on those temptations but know only too well the feelings of self-loathing they must have generated in him.
That any man (or woman) should still be made to feel that way in these days angers me immensely. Thank God I came to realise those teachings were false and that God loves me as I am.

I am sure God welcomed Rev John into his arms as 'a good and faithful servant'.

4 comments:

Revd Ivan Ackeroff said...

A truly honest and heartfelt posting. Thank you for a such a moving article.

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Thank you - and thanks that those bad days are almost gone now!

Birdie said...

It breaks my heart to read this and any story that culminates in suicide, especially because of one's faith. It is a crime that churches still inculcate guilt for what should be considered a gift from God.

Alcibiades said...

Thank you for posting this deeply moving account. Rev.John's death was just one of countless such tragedies, both in Sydney and around the world, and whenever I hear people describe this time as if it was Sydney Evangelicalism's finest hour I can't help but think of all the blood shed as people like Rev. John fell under the pressure of trying to be someone other than whom God had made and called them to be.

I too have no doubt that Christ welcomed him into the presence of God, and can't help suspect that those responsible for the system and values which ultimately crushed his earthly body and mind are now, as they age and also pass from this world, finding those sitting at Our Lord's right hand are very different indeed to whom they expected to find.

Praise God indeed that you weren't also crushed, and for your powerful witness to the truth of a reality far more wonderful that these deceived and spiteful little bigots pretend to read in Scripture.