I grew up in a very strong Methodist family in the bible belt here in Epping, in Sydney. Faith was very important to me, but I think I learnt at an early age that religion can be quite hurtful and horrible.
I basically left the Methodist Church as a result of my sexuality. Being gay in that church in any way, shape or form was totally unacceptable.
Mum and Dad left the church as well, because of the way I was treated. They were fairly radical sorts of Methodists. My dad was into things way back then about women’s rights and rights for indigenous Australians and all that cutting-edge stuff.
Mum was involved in anti-Vietnam war stuff and got thrown in jail for hitting a policeman with her handbag at an anti-war rally.
It was very clear Mum and Dad totally supported who I was. They left me a great legacy of love and understanding. I’m very grateful for that. I always had a background faith.
But I must admit there were times when I walked away from it and absolutely rejected God and church and anything to do with it.
It really wasn’t until I came to the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) about 20 years ago that I realised it would continue to be an important part of my life.
A friend invited me to an MCC service at Paddington, where the church was at that time. Basically, I just walked in the door and I haven’t walked out since.
One thing led to another, and I received a call to ministry. I served a period as MCC lay pastor during my training at theological college, which began in 1988. After that my then partner and I moved to Mudgee for four years, and I took on the role of Australian coordinator for all MCCs.
There is no MCC in Mudgee, but I was very involved in the local Uniting Church up there, which created a challenge for many people because I was very openly gay.
It ranged from people who were unbelievably supportive and took great risks to support me, to those who were very verbally hostile and worked actively against my being involved. It was typical of the sort of responses that gay men and lesbians and transgender people get in society. After that I became MCC Sydney’s minister.
There have been lots of positive changes in my time at MCC. A highlight was when we purchased our own church five years ago -“ we used to meet in a rented council hall. I think it’s rather ironic that a mixed-up bunch of Christians have managed to pull that one off, when other community groups have tried and failed over the years.
I also see the respect the church has built up in the community. When I started out people were very cautious of MCC and the church in general, but we’ve stuck in there and not gone anywhere and not had any scandals.
Now, we have an active membership of about 105 people, and on most Sundays we’d average between 100 and 150 people in church. We have a true community of young and old and gay and straight and confused and all of those things.
There have been dark times, of course.
We’ve lost a lot of our long-term members through HIV/ AIDS. When I became pastor here 12 years ago, I was burying three, four, five people a week, whereas I might do a funeral every three months now. I can recall one day, back in the 1980s, when I did three funerals on one day. That was just a terrible time.
The divisions over homosexuality in churches around the world also make me very sad and at the same time very angry because it really is a total distortion of the Christian message.
To this day, it beggars belief that people can read the Christian message and come to some of the conclusions that they do. It’s just not there and they really are distorting what is a powerfully passionate and compassionate message, and then using it for agendas that I often can’t figure out.
I am not optimistic about the situation in the immediate future. But I think we will see a growth in affirming churches, individual parishes that say, Come here, there’s a safe place for you.
But that still falls short of what MCC says, about total involvement, total acceptance and totally embracing all the person is.
The reason I am leaving MCC after so many wonderful experiences is simply that God is calling me somewhere else.
Most people can’t understand that, and I can’t understand it. But at the moment I truly believe God is calling me to be in Cambodia, to work with children there who have lost their parents as a result of HIV/ AIDS. My partner, who is Cambodian, is coming with me.
I don’t know what the future will bring or how long I will be in Cambodia. Whether it’s six months or six years or the rest of my life, only time will tell.
But as long as the good times outweigh the dark times, I think we’re doing okay. And in my time at MCC, I think the good times have outweighed the bad times. It’s been an amazing journey.
Interview by Ian Gould