From ostracised to ordained
When I was little I heard my pastor saying, “Gay people should be herded up and shot.”
I would have been seven or eight years old and even at that age I wasn’t surprised at hearing those words.
Back then the big thing was Mardi Gras – we’d pray against Mardi Gras and adults would make horrible comments about “these people”.
I had a sense of being different but if I’d known that difference was being gay I would have been horrified.
I’m the interim pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Sydney – we’re based at Petersham. There are also MCCs in Granville and the Central Coast.
MCC started in 1968 in Los Angeles – the only reason I remember 1968 is I know it was after the Stonewall riots.
It was specifically started as an outreach to the gay community because it was in LA where there were lots of gay people, but it soon became all about the then AIDS crisis.
However, I was brought up in the Pentecostal church – the Assemblies of God that Hillsong is also in.
My parents were ministers in the Pentecostal church and I fell into leading youth groups and Bible study right through high school.
But when it became public knowledge I was gay I was accused of sexual misconduct – that’s what the Assemblies of God called being gay – and was stood down from the ministry. Because that was the church I grew up in – those were the people I looked up to when I was a kid – it was humiliating.
It was also difficult with my parents. They were in charge of the church so they had two things going on. There was their son whom they wanted to help and wanted to be gentle with. But I was also on the staff of their church and there were people who suggested they’d gone easy on me.
I could be rehabilitated but I would have to look into counselling and try to become a heterosexual person.
Within a few weeks I’d realised that wasn’t the path I was going down. I was 20 and all the emotions were amplified 10 times because of the age I was.
For a long time I was trying to make the choice to be Christian and not gay but it didn’t work.
I think if a person has spirituality and is gay and they try to repress it, it’s going to be just as destructive and can lead to drug use and risky sex.
I’m not saying I’m morally opposed to alcohol – just when it becomes destructive because something else is being repressed.
The first few years after I left the Assemblies of God I was in recovery mode – healing from what had happened.
I began to read up on gay-affirming ways of reading the Bible and I was becoming more convinced by that so I was looking around for something different.
I Googled “gay church Sydney” and MCC came up.
When I first came to MCC I was finishing a degree in music and was thinking of doing a research degree but I thought I was running away from something. I had a really strong spiritual yearning and I had to face up to that.
My partner at that time was also a minister and he encouraged me to move back into ministry.
I’m an intentional interim pastor. I’m leading MCC Sydney through a process of change until their new pastor – Pat Langlois from LA – starts next Easter. She’s having a baby girl with her partner at the moment.
It’s time for a whole shift in the way we’re organised. I’m trying to set up a model of independent ministries that look after things like welcoming people, serving coffee, calling people up if they haven’t been for a while so that all these things are running smoothly when the new pastor arrives.
I don’t want her to have a million things to do, and crash and burn. I want her to be the spiritual leader she needs to be.
People say MCC is really warm and inviting and I think it’s like a family because it’s so close-knit.
One thing you’ll notice in MCC is the use of gender-neutral language to talk about God. We don’t use “Father” or “He” with reference to God. Instead, we use “parent” or “abbagod”, which is the original Aramaic term Jesus used, as it doesn’t carry the patriarchal connotations.
We perform partnership ceremonies all the way up to what would be considered a traditional wedding. Although we understand that it’s not valid in the eyes of PM John Howard, it is valid in the eyes of God which, believe or not, is a higher body.
My belief is if straight people have a right to something we have a right to it as well. Accepting anything less than full equality is humiliating for us as a minority group and is settling for crumbs from their table.
Where will I go after MCC Sydney? Overseas is a possibility – our biggest movement is in Eastern Europe where all the neo-Nazi and anti-gay violence is happening, so I might go there.
The whole process of being a pastor has been quite scary. But the whole time I’ve had this sense of being guided and helped. I have a very strong sense that God is smiling down.
As told to Benedict Brook
Tell us your story: Want to share your story with our readers? We are interested in hearing first-hand accounts of everything from coming out experiences, to your first Mardi Gras, to tales of love, loss and friendship. Submissions should be about 800 words and accompanied by a hi-res photograph of the contributor. Send them to [email protected], marked First Person.