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:
- My social media posts about equal marriage and having an affirming theology were a problem.
I was being silenced.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.