When I decided to move to London in 2010 it was with two aims – moving away from and experiencing more than a village and suburban lifestyle as well as taking my spirituality to another level. I had no idea what God had in store for me. I’d worked for years in London but never really lived there except for a brief period in 2001 and that was actually in Richmond (Surrey)
From the first week I stepped into London and without any effort on my part I had several encounters with a certain group of people , gay and Christians. It was becoming so frequent that I felt God placed a sign on me (invisible to me) saying ‘All gay people this way please’. I was overwhelmed with stories of how these people were ostracised by the church, so much that I did not know what to do. I’ve had a few clients in my counselling experience who were gay but this I felt was beyond me. In all my counselling sessions I’ve always try to create a space to be non-judgemental and for people to journey and find their way out of whatever situation they are in. I listened and invited the Holy Spirit to guide. I was not only meeting gay people who were Christians but started to connect with gay people at work, in the gym as well as gay priests. My Pilates instructor then who is gay made a joke saying that if I continue like this I was going to end up single for the rest of my life. God forbid!
Being ill-equipped for such a task I remembered that three years prior to this when I was looking for a spiritual director I came across Jeremy Marks who was one of the two persons recommended to me. Jeremy was the founder of Courage ( a gay Christian network in the UK) , openly gay and married. I must say that at the time I honestly admitted to him that as a recent bible college graduate I did not know where I stood on the topic of homosexuality and so I did not feel I was at a place to receive from him , so I chose the other person. Jeremy was so gracious and accepted my reason but encouraged me that if I ever wanted to speak to him in the future, not to hesitate in getting in touch.
I am a hoarder when it comes to email and little did I know that three years later I would be ringing Jeremy Marks to asked him to come and speak to me on the topic of being gay and a Christian . Jeremy met me at work and after a chat over lunch he gave me some resources and invited me to visit a gay Christian meeting. My friends tell me that I go where angels dare not tread. Looking back now I am not sure where I got the ‘courage’ to do so but I really felt God was in this. I attended the Courage meetings for a year, went on a retreat with LGBT Christians and even shared house with gay people including a house which was predominantly gay. I’ve met Justin Lee, Executive Director Gay Christian Network (GCN) in the US and went to Brighton Pride along with a friend from bible college who has a heart for the lesbian community.
I remember saying to God ‘I am a black woman from Jamaica’ (known as the most homophobic country in the world where homosexuality is characterised by vicious intolerance) but I really felt God was saying, ‘Go with no agenda but just to learn and receive’. After the first meeting, a group of guys invited me to the pub where I was asked why I was there and my orientation. I was told that as a new person I had to sing Diana Ross ‘I’m coming out’. I’m sure the guys were winding me up but because I love a laugh I did with the words ‘I’m coming out! I want you all to know that I am straight’. This was followed by an applause from the crowd.
During my time at Courage I was blessed with the powerful worship periods, hearing the testimonies of many and great friends. Two of them, I am not afraid to say are my biggest sponsors and one in particular is my greatest encourager on my mission to South Africa. I have read a few books on homosexuality. One in particular that I would recommend is ‘Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community’ by Andrew Marin. Andrew is an American author, evangelical Christian and founder and current president of The Marin Foundation, a non-profit whose purpose, according to their mission statement is “to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church through scientific research, biblical and social education, and diverse community gatherings”. His book invites Christians to consider how they appear in the eyes of the gay community. It challenges Christians to think about how to build bridges with that community. One of the other authors whose writing intrigues me is James Alison (a Catholic Christian theologian and priest, who identifies himself as gay and noted for his work on gay issues) especially in his books “Knowing Jesus” and “Broken Hearts and New Creations: Imitations of a Great Reversal.”
When you make the decision to join a LGBT community, you will experience suspicion from your friends and family, questioning from your Christian friends even exclusion. I remember friends asking me why, and my sister pleading with me not to do this as they would change me to be like them. My response to my sister was ‘I do not expect you to understand as God has not given you the grace to do so’. There were times when I have been a bit out-spoken and probably over-emotional in my attitude towards the church and especially my evangelical friends, on hearing the stories of these people and experiencing those who have been rejected by the church. I would openly drop this topic in my conversations and I am sure I was rejected for many jobs I applied for with religious institutions because of my honesty about my involvement with Courage. I once invited a group of friends from Courage and a group from my bible college for dinner without disclosing my intention to my bible college friends until they had turned up at my house. My aim was to try to bridge the gap between these two groups. My living room is very small and so it was interesting to see the interaction in the room. My gay friends and I had a great night but I was probably insensitive to the feelings of my evangelical friends, some never accepted my invitation to dinner after that.
My time at Courage was lonely on one hand and this happens when you decide to stand out amidst the cries from friends and family but on the other hand fruitful as I was opened up to a different level of spirituality and God’s grace – one of my aim in moving to London. My spiritual life was not only influenced by the many gay friends I met at Courage but by many gay priests and vicars including a spiritual director who all played a major part in my journey. I am enriched and more tolerant due to this experience. I am not fully sure why allow me the great privilege to be apart of this group but my ministry is more informed as a result of this.
The LGBT community like any other community have the good, the bad, the ugly, the extremists. I do not have the answers to explain why people are gay but I know that to some this is a natural orientation and I’ve had friends who tell me that they wake up each morning wishing they are not gay and that God would take this feeling away. Others have embraced their orientation with experiences of persecution, some have not and choose not to come out and continue to live a lie.
A Lesson in Tolerance
After a year in Courage, I felt it was time to leave as I was becoming a distraction instead of a blessing. I’ve had experiences of several women trying to find out if I was a lesbian or whether I would like to try at being one. I must confess that my tolerance level for lesbians is something that I still need to work on. Not because of their orientation but because I struggle with women who try to impose their sexuality on me (the very thing they complain we heterosexual do) and those who cannot seem to take no for an answer. There have been times when I had to be very rude in my response. I’ve tried to refrain from sharing with people that I’ve spent a year in a LGBT Christian network group as they automatically assume that I have issues with my sexuality. The only issue I have with my sexuality as a single, Christian woman is keeping sexual purity and refraining from sexual intimacy and a relationship with the opposite sex in the wrong context. I must confess that I am naturally drawn to gay men and had a few instances where I have been attracted to some without realising they are gay. I put this down to my first encounter with a boy during my early high school years who was my best friend or boyfriend if you call it that, only to realise years later that he was gay. I also empathised and made friends with a girl who was being teased and called a lesbian. I developed then a heart for the marginalised and I think God had a bigger agenda, a sense of humour and was probably grooming me for future experiences.
Growing up in Jamaica I was surrounded by many uncles who were my nurturers and thus I am drawn to caring and nurturing men. Some evangelicals would see my connection with gay people as having a familiar spirits and I have been encouraged to break this many times but like Paul perhaps this is my thorn in the flesh. As long a God bless me again with another heterosexual husband in due time then I refused to make this an issue. His grace is sufficient for me (2 Cor. 12:9)
Jamaica is known as the most homophobic country in the world, Cape Town the gay capital in Africa and this is where I am currently on mission. After Courage I’ve decided to take a break from any connection with the LGBT community. While I have not connected here I’ve had encounters on a regular basis both in and outside the church. In fact I am trying to refrain from doing so as I find that it does take a toll on you, remembering the loneliness and having to explain yourself all the time. I guess I’ve become cautious and experiencing only an iota of what most gays and lesbians experience on a daily basis.
The Visitor AND The Rainbow Fairy
A few people are intrigued by the name of my blog ‘Rainbow Fairy’. One friend thought I was a gay (a lesbian) with the rainbow, I found out later signify the LGBT pride flag and ‘fairy’ a derogatory name for a gay person. I actually got this name while reading one of my friend’s children book that was on the book shelf in the toilet. From childhood, I love fairy tales and was moved by the story of the various fairies, their roles and how they add spark to your day. Little did I know then that I was going to be doing mission (adding my little spark) in the Rainbow nation.
My blog name and photo are all a result of sarcasm and my inner journey. I am not a Rev (not yet); I started this blog during my vocational journey when I was struggling with the thought of ordination and looking for an outlet to express my struggle. I am still working at being a fairy. The drawing of the fairy was done by a friend who ignored my request of a black fairy as he did not think my colour should be an issue. However, recently one of my Xhosa friends said that he made it an issue by depicting me as white. I laughed at this comment.
We are so hung up on sexuality and colour. Incidentally my friend is gay. I met him at the end of my ‘Courage’ period. I actually met his wife first and this is another story. I walked into a Anglican church which I’d visited a few times and a lady came over to me and said she felt God told her to share with me something on her heart and to ask me to pray for her. She then revealed to me that her husband had come out as gay. My first thought was ‘Not again! Lord , why me?’ Incidentally I went on to becoming friends with the whole family and Paul who is openly gay has been a blessing during my many moves during my time in London. Here’s something he wrote about his experience – ‘The Visitor’
I suppose I never expected him to turn up. But his knock at the door was surprisingly welcome. I answered the door and welcomed him in, I sat on my sofa called fear, hoping he would not see the boxes behind it.
Over the years I had collected boxes behind that sofa, bullying when I was younger, rejection, pain, They were all there hidden, he just smiled. He sat on a chair called love.
“So”, he said, “do you like sitting there?”
“It’s all I really know”
“You could sit here, but you would have to leave your fear”
“Where will you sit?” I asked
He did not speak
He just walked over and took my hand
He led me to the love chair
I sat down, I felt very exposed
He walked over to my fear sofa and started pushing it towards the door, “but” I said, he just kept pushing, then he started taking each box, one by one, as he did it seemed as if he was bearing up the pain of each box.
Then he left for a moment and returned with an old wooden cross which he laid where the sofa had been. I understood.
Then he noticed the rainbow colours of my walls that had become clear and bright as he had removed the boxes and sofa.
“Your Walls are nice”
“Thank you, to be honest I thought you would not like them”
“No, he said, I designed the rainbow”
then he left, but he was still there.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Rev 3:20
(by Paul Clevett)
An Inclusive Dialogue
Recently, I was having a conversation on Whatsapp with my gay friend regarding the recent article of 300 clergy signing a letter and urging gay bishops to come out. I said that I think it is fair in order to avoid confusion and second guessing, that all clergy let their congregation know that they are gay. He thought it sounds like a good idea if you are a bishop and surrounded by support…but if you are not then it is setting gay bishops to face persecution alone. See link below.
I am a Christian, I have read all the passages in Leviticus and Romans. I have done essays and grapple with the subject of homosexuality at bible college. I’m neither liberal nor a radical evangelical. I see myself as one God is using to bridge the gap between the church and the marginalised including the LGBT community, the homeless and I guess that makes me suspicious to some. My natural desire is for a heterosexual relationship. My spiritual life has been enriched by many gay clergy and thus I believe God and the gospel revolution of love is bigger than our sexuality, our colour and that’s what is so amazing about grace. I believe that we need to be long-suffering, take courage and invite the God of the Old Testament and New, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the church, the gay community around this Rainbow Table (if you have issues with this, then think of an inclusive table) and have an open dialogue on this issue instead of excluding and ostracising each other. Maybe then and only then will we be able to hear from God on how to move forward. We are all one in the body of Christ (Gal 3:28) and Jesus has called us to bear with and love one another. (Matt 22: 36-40)
Love is an Orientation and I’m coming out!