Friday, March 07, 2008

Roman in the Gloamin

Caliban's post "Help! The Romans are Coming" about the reaction of the Sydney Evangelicals to the visit by the Pope for World Youth Day in Sydney has inspired me to describe a little of my religious history.
I was baptised, went to Sunday School, sang in the junior choir and was eventually confirmed in a typical Sydney Evangelical church of the 50's. The Rector was a little different however. While he could preach a good evangelistic sermon (and as I grew older he would chuckle as he asked me if I enjoyed it), his typical sermon could be best described by the joke of the Rector's warden one morning when he was found reading the paper before the service and said he was checking what the sermon topic might be. The Rector's politics and mine were quite opposed (I have matured) so I was often annoyed. The services were low church but definitely Anglican with Holy Communion at 8am, Morning Prayer at 9.30 (Communion twice per month) and Evening Prayer at 7pm (Communion once per month)
As I grew older, I taught Sunday school and became Fellowship Leader. As I was considering entering the Ministry (I am using the terms I would have used in those days), I asked the Rector if I could read the service occasionally. He threw me in the deep end by telling me to preach first at the Evening Service. However he told me if I went over 13 minutes, he would announce the next hymn.
Although we argued often, several things stand out for me about his ministry. He told me to beware of both extremes in the Anglican church. He also questioned why I did not regularly attend 8am Communion despite being at church nearly all the rest of each sunday. For him Holy Communion was the most important part of church life. This is not the Sydney Evangelical view today
Finally I am most grateful to him for my Father. The Rector was not known for regular parish visiting (in his defence he was a very sick man and his illness finally killed him) but when my Father had a heart attack, the Rector visited him in hospital. Dad only attended church occasionally and was bemused by his very religious son. He had heard me preach but made no comment. After the hospital visit Dad kept saying "Why did he visit me?" From that day on Dad attended church every Sunday, pushing Mum to attend although Mum had always been a regular worshipper. (I know I owe my faith to my Mother's teaching and example). Dad died 6 months later and I am sure he and Mum are waiting for me.

To return to my religious journey. Besides the parish, I was involved in the Inter-School Christian Fellowship run by Scripture Union and eventually was one of the leaders. When I went to Sydney University, I quickly joined the Evangelical Union which took up more of my time than my studies. I was often at activities in Moore Theological College which adjoins the University. I knew the present Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen and a number of others who are now the leaders in the Diocese. I became Arts Faculty Leader of the Evangelical Union. My plan was to teach for a few years and then enter Moore College. However I still use to say I was an Anglican first, Evangelical second and once told Phillip Jensen he would be better joining the Baptist church. However, I would still make fun of the few Anglo-Catholic churches that can be found in the Sydney Diocese. No bells, incense or bowing and scraping for me.

In those days homosexuality was not discussed, even in the newspapers, and I do not think the word 'gay" existed in this sense. It was not until I studied psychology at University that I was able to put a name to my feelings. I sought help from psychiatrists who told me I would be in danger as a teacher. I, however, still became a teacher, tried through prayer and psychiatric treatments to change and was encouraged to propose and become engaged. I was still a youth leader, supported the Christian groups at the school where I taught, went on Beach Mission, was invited as a speaker at Youth Houseparties and counselled in Billy Graham Crusades.

The engagement was the moment of truth when I realised I could not change. After I broke the engagement, my whole life changed. While I still occasionally attended church, I was more likely to be found at the pub. I still worked with youth but now I took them surfing and no, I never did anything illegal. I joined gay activist groups as we fought to become legal.

After a difficult school posting, I changed to the Catholic school system and am coming to the point of this post.
I was bowled over by the life of the religious with whom I taught. The sermons of the priests was different to anything I had heard in Anglican sermons (and they were very unlikely to go over 13 minutes). I was accepted although a protestant, encouraged to partake of the Mass, because I was a member of their community. I was not thrown out when I came out as gay. I know this was not the official lines but the position taken by ordinary religious and lay people. I use to state I would never be employed in an Anglican school.
In the same week as I stormed out of my Anglican church (having just read the epistle) after the Minister equated homosexuality and bestiality as evil, I attended a retreat for lay teachers and received help, acceptance and support from a wonderful sister who was leading the retreat.
I began to attend "Acceptance" for gay catholics where we once had a Bishop (since retired) preside. This became my weekly communion. I came to the realisation that God loved me as He had created me - gay.
I, naturally, began to accept incense and bells, make the sign of the cross and to bow and scrape myself. :-)
I did attend Catholic parish masses for a number of years but never felt I was part of the community and there were a number of obstacles to my converting, papal infallibility being the most obvious but also devotion to Mary (less a problem today), prayers to the Saints and transubstantiation. Some of my Catholic friends did not agree with everything either but they did not have to make a statement of support in order to be a Catholic today.
Eventually I moved back to the Anglican church and tried several parishes here in the Blue Mountains but never really belonging, always wary and moving on if they became too inquisitive.
Finally in 2006 the Rector where I was worshipping at the time preached the sermon I often expected. This was brought on by the film "Brokeback Mountain" which had emotionally swamped me a week or so earlier. I stormed out (during the hymn that followed the sermon) and decided to travel the 2 hours each way to St James, King Street which is one of the churches I laughed at in my youth. The sermons provide some meat, not out to convert me again every week. Sometimes they even preach about God's inclusive Love for all including homosexuals. Women take an important role in the service (other than arranging flowers and handing out books which is all they do in the churches near my home). We have women priests from other dioceses preaching. They cannot preside at communion as we are under the authority of the Archbishop of Sydney. I have begun to attend classes and meetings at the St James Institute and at one of them I met Bishop Gene Robinson. I can go to coffee after the Eucharist and not worry about being asked personal questions and have often mentioned I am gay even to the Priest.
So while I am not a Roman Catholic and will remain an Anglican, I thank God that I was led to work for 25 years in Catholic Diocesan schools and experienced the teaching and acceptance of all those Godly men and women. I will pray for World Youth Day here in Sydney as I know 'God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.'


Boaz said...

Hi Brian,
Boaz here. Thanks very much for this post.
I don't normally comment on blogs though I do read them, but I wanted to thank you for being so open. I found the ordinariness of your life experience (can I say that? ordinary? without giving offence) the ordinariness, quite inspiring. I've done all the things you've talked about and so I've lead the same ordinary life. I haven't had the sexual struggle so I take my hat off to you there. But your experience reminds me we are all the same and that God has some pretty ordinary folk that he looks over. Mind you I think all bloggers are pretty extraordinary.
Thanks again and nice writing too.

Brian R said...

Thank you Boaz. I do appreciate that you commented and yes the majority of God's creation are just ordinary people, wonderfully made. I do appreciate your blog which I read regularly but do not always comment. I am thankful to see members of our diocese making a stand who can not be accused of having a personal agenda.

Alcibiades said...

Yesterday while quietly having coffee after the service at St. Lurker's I bumped into a former Moore College lecturer (yep, they get chewed up and spat out like the rest of us, and he was one of the last people I'd ever expected it would happen to) who's done a tremendous amount of thinking since I last saw him.

He mentioned that he believes the only way the diocese will ever change is if everyone finds the courage to start telling their story - irrespective of what that story is - until the collective creature that is Sydney Anglicanism is forced to stop seeing those who dare question the system as freaks and outsiders, and instead start acknowledging we are all real people, with a real faith and real salvation in Christ, who loves us.

You've done exactly that, and in speaking out this way shown the kind of tremendous courage needed to start opening the floodgates. History shows voices like yours - the straighforward ones which carry the weight of a lifetime's experience - have a way of starting something which can never be shut down again. Right now there might only be three dissident's words on this comment page, but in making this beginning it's certain you'll eventually be joined by hundreds - if not thousands. God hasn't brought you this far to allow the bullies to silence you: thanks to courage like yours their day is almost over.

Brian R said...

Thanks Alcibiades. I just will pray that your words come true.

Doorman-Priest said...

I've really enjoyed reading all of this. Isn't life a pilgrimage eh?

Brian R said...

Thanks D-P. Yes, it is wonderful to look back over one's life and see God at work. However I have often joked that I do wish He could have given me the itinerary first :-)