Rachel’s Story – I Don’t Want to Be Part of An Institution that Allows Abuse

by Rachel, a 30 something Christian, hockey player and lesbian whose experience in an HTB plant has seriously damaged her faith. 

My name is Rachel and I am a 30 something hockey player, Christian, theatre-goer and lesbian. I came out in my early 30s and at the time was going to a conservative, evangelical church that was a HTB church plant. While exploring the intersectionality of my faith and sexuality, I started blogging and wrote this very early on:

‘My experience of conservative, evangelical churches is that they are welcoming but there are limits for the LGBTQ+ community. Hidden limits. Glass ceilings, that no one speaks of. The challenge for me, is that I joined an un-affirming church before coming out and am now trying to work out what their glass ceilings are and if I can stay to be the change that I want to see without getting hurt or worn down too much in the process.’

This excerpt from my blogging reminds me of the hope I had in my church and vicar. The hope that I would never be defined by my sexuality and that we could agree to disagree well. It makes me incredibly sad to read this now and I wish I could run back to that younger me and tell her to get out of there.

I was at that church for 4 years. I was part of an awesome community, adored being able to serve through leading in Bible study groups and saw my faith grow while I was there. About 3 years in I came out to myself as a lesbian. In May 2019 I came out to my vicar and I asked him specifically whether, if I was in a same sex relationship, I could still lead a Bible study group. He said yes. At this point, I thought this was clear.

Time passed and in January 2020, the vicar asked me and other leaders to meet to discuss our Bible study groups. We were told it was to share how we had been getting on and talk about the future. During the meeting, he explained that all leaders would be expected to attend workshops that would discuss lifestyle choices and how, as leaders, we needed to be ‘beyond reproach’.  My stomach turned and I was very scared that what I thought the vicar and I had agreed had somehow changed and I was about to be seriously hurt. When I pushed him on what that meant for me, he went on to say that:

  1. My social media posts about equal marriage and having an affirming theology were a problem.

I was being silenced.

  1. He had to follow the Church of England’s and the bishop’s teachings on traditional marriage.

Many, church leaders within the Church of England follow the Church of England’s teachings on sexuality and marriage and have congregations that are inclusive.

  1. For me to continue as a leader, I needed to discuss my stance on this issue with him but have refused. 

I told him that I didn’t feel safe to discuss my ‘stance’ with him because I felt that we had an unequal relationship (him being theologically trained) and that he didn’t want to just listen to my views but to change my mind. He admitted in the meeting that he did hope to change my mind!

  1. Finally, I asked several times whether I would have to stop leading a Bible study group if there is a new expectation for LGBTQ+ people at the church.  He was silent. He didn’t ask me to stay, he didn’t ask me to reconsider and stay, he was silent. 

By the end of this meeting, I was distraught. I was sobbing, my co-leader was sobbing and clearly both of us were devastated. I was left with a clear message that because of my sexuality, I could not lead a Bible study group and was not welcome at the church.

For two weeks, no one contacted me.

After this I sent the church wardens and the local bishop an email, copying in the vicar. The emails spoke about how appalled I was at being kicked out of my church because of my sexuality and the lack of pastoral care.

At this point, I received a letter from the vicar that thanked me for my service. He didn’t acknowledge my hurt nor did he state that I had been wrong and that I could lead a Bible study group or stay.

I did have contact with the church wardens. We had a lovely meeting where they listened really well. At the end, I gave them a list of recommendations that I wanted to see implemented to ensure that this never happened again. Nothing on that list was acted upon.

As a result of the lack of engagement from the vicar and how fearful I was that this could happen to someone else, the bishop suggested I take this to an informal investigation to ensure that lessons were learnt and this didn’t happen again. The investigation produced almost identical recommendations to the ones that I had originally given the church wardens.

It is over 18 months since those recommendations were given a second time to the church and vicar. Half of those recommendations have still not been carried out and one of the most central– a risk assessment to keep those in the LGBTQ+ community safe for the future has not been started, let alone completed.

After the informal investigation, several meetings with my local bishop and a meeting with the Bishop of London, the list of recommendations still hadn’t been completed and there was no sign that they were about to be. Out of desperation, I went to the newspapers with my story. This was incredibly tough but I hoped would raise the profile of my story and make change where we hadn’t so far. After fair and detailed pieces in the local newspaper and the Church Times, I am still waiting for those recommendations to be fully implemented.

This experience has seriously damaged my faith.

Often, when trauma happens to someone in a church context, it affects their view of God and it certainly did for me. The PTSD I am experiencing has and will last years. Currently, attending church, in any format, causes me to have a panic attack. Regardless of how affirming the community or service may be, my body does not trust it to be safe and goes into fight or flight mode. I fear that the church and vicar that I once belonged to will never fulfil the recommendations that it agreed to, allowing others, like me, to be repeatedly traumatised.

I do not want to be part of an institution that allows this abuse.

This entry was posted in Conversion Therapy, Human Sexuality, LGBT Stories, Safeguarding, Spiritual Abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Rachel’s Story – I Don’t Want to Be Part of An Institution that Allows Abuse

  1. Anne Peat says:

    It is tragic that this sort of thing is still happening. People leave the church because of this hypocrisy and double standards. How long, O God?

  2. jemsykes says:

    So impressed with your honest sharing Rachel. This behaviour you have experienced is appalling but is typical of a mindset deeply embedded in conservative circles. But cracks are starting to appear and stories like yours will widen them.

  3. Helen Carter says:

    My heart goes out to you Rachel. I feel you have been treated appallingly by the church. I would love you to find a church that not only embraced you but who also enabled you to BE YOU and offer you a spiritual home. My prayer is that ALL will be accepted into the church of Christ.

  4. The Reverend Sue Makin says:

    Rachel, I’m so sorry you’ve had such a bad experience of church.
    Please remember that this is not a reflection of the love that God has for you, just as you are.
    Its a reflection of a judgmental church system.
    Not all of us are like this, and i can assure you that if you ever came here you would be more than welcome.

  5. Keith Rogers says:

    I read your original post about the callous and appalling way that the vicar of this church-St Luke’s,Kentish town-had behaved.It was so heartless and cruel of him to initially state that your being in a relationship wasnt an issue,and then doing an apparent volte face.The man isnt fit to pastor a herd of sheep,let alone a flock of Christians.
    It was all done so disingenuosly and stealthily,with no open dialogue.Im also disgusted that he thought he had a right to instruct you not to express your affirming views on social media,that’s so controlling.
    Prayers for your healing and for you to find a genuinely loving and accepting christ-like church.

  6. williambuggins says:

    “I was at that church for 4 years. I was part of an awesome community, adored being able to serve through leading in Bible study groups and saw my faith grow while I was there. About 3 years in I came out to myself as a lesbian. In May 2019 I came out to my vicar and I asked him specifically whether, if I was in a same sex relationship, I could still lead a Bible study group. He said yes. At this point, I thought this was clear.”
    It sounds like you were really happy and fulfilled there Rachel, and I think you did exactly the right and honest thing in going to your vicar. Did he suggest that together with a chaperone you look at the passages of OT and NT Scripture that speak about sexuality and sexual relationships?

    • Jayne Ozanne says:

      I very much hope not – his interpretation is so utterly homophobic there’s no point retraumatising her. Instead I suggest that you, William, go back and look at Scripture (in the Hebrew and Greek) and understand exactly how much God loves us all and creates us to love and be loved.

      For the record, I shall not be posting anymore of your comments.

      • MariHoward says:

        Support you Jayne in that repost. So easy sometimes to fall into invitations like that one… and only grief will follow… Very sad that the church – especially Evangelical parts of it – behaves so very two-faced and secret about ‘sexuality’. Appalling ‘witness’. Also, Christ was totally inclusive: within his culture, helping and inviting all comers…

  7. James says:

    As a gay man I know this story too well. I’m sorry your hurt, homophobic abuse in the church is disgusting.

  8. Canon Dr Michael Blyth says:

    The lack of transparency and the ‘hidden agenda’ are very telling here. What happened between May 2019 and December 2020? Probably a staff meeting or two. What is going on when a church leader – twice – is unable to answer a question about whether a believer in a same-sex relationship can lead bible study? Cowardice for a start. The main issue which is emerging now in a number of churches is a safeguarding one and is very serious. You say twice that you do not feel ‘safe’ and that you now have a panic attack attending any church service (I’m not surprised). What a terrible indictment of the way this church has presented the gospel and exercised ‘oversight’. The wardens at least sounded pastoral, but the final call would not be theirs. Give yourself time and space to regain the sense of your true self – it was your own church which sought to deconstruct you. In my opinion such things come close to the sin against the Holy Ghost.

  9. Katrina Hadland says:

    Thank you for your courage and honesty. This is the way the church will be called to account.

    This is EXACTLY my wife’s experience 3 years after becoming a Christian and joining a lively evangelical ‘affirming’ (not) church. I’ve left more churches than I care to remember for this very reason after being a Christian for 35yrs but only coming out in my early 40’s. I’ve had so many friends just walk away and leaders not care enough to engage or understand the trauma of the rejection. I thought we were family?? Soooo hard to find a modern, welcoming church that is also inclusive. We are both now at an inclusive church that champions us. Augustine United Reform Church, Edinburgh. It’s not the style of worship we would have naturally chosen but it’s loving, gracious, Christ-like and progressive, so that’s good enough.

  10. Martin Sewell says:

    I can only urge anyone who experiences alienation from a Church to shake the dust from their feet and seek an inclusive Church which is open and accepting. They do exist and there, the excluded can find the acceptance they seek, worshipping the saviour who counselled “ judge not”.

    What is especially distressing is that some of these Churches are the least challenging towards their own abusive false shepherds, closing ranks protecting the guilty and silencing the victims.

  11. An all too typical case of Church of England backstabbing. it would have been helpful if at the onset the Church in question had been honest and open about its position concerning homosexuality from the very beginning. The worst thing for a church to do is to virtue signal that they are open and inclusive when in reality they are not. Such a policy smacks of hypocrisy. Having said that the Church of England is not worth wallowing in endless self-pity for. That conveys the impression of snowflake behaviour. What I do suggest is that you contact older lesbians who have endured real persecution. They are a tough breed who can impart much wisdom. You may not realize it yet but you are well out of that ghastly institution. I wish you all the best in your spiritual search.

Any thoughts?