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Imagine if you will, the perfect son… Studious, smart, polite, proper, humble, courteous and full of manners. Well, instead, my parents ended up with me. A constantly inquisitive, loose cannon with a peculiar sense of humour, fast mouth and faster mind, who, like the ‘Catchphrase’ slogan suggested said what he saw regardless of who he offended at the time.

My mother, coming from a strong Irish chain was a fully paid-up member of the Catholic Church, and she instilled those values in my sister and I from birth – Baptism, First Confession and Communion whilst at a Catholic primary school, and Confirmation at a Catholic secondary school. I sometimes surprise myself that they didn’t just push me straight into the seminary to become a priest, but luckily several other family members had done that, so I dodged that bullet. Attending services with my mum was a regular Sunday fixture. To me, attending church every week also allowed me to attend Sunday school and the weekly youth club – an opportunity to hang out with friends. My mother was the parish secretary for our church and so during school holidays or when sick from school, I was taken to the church presbytery for the day. I explored. I knew every single nook and cranny of the church from the excellent hiding place of the confessionals, the huge walk-in secure room where they kept all the gold in the sacristy, to the steeple loft – which I’ll have you know was a long way up a very rotten ladder to a small wooden platform overlooking an unknowing congregation below. In hindsight I’m surprised there wasn’t more accidents when I was younger, but that platform was a brilliant place to sit up high in the church (frankly, there was nowhere higher) and contemplate the big crucifix, or statues of the Virgin Mary and Saints. All of the priests and other people involved in the church knew me, usually to yell at me for being somewhere I shouldn’t be, but this would stand me in good stead later on, because when I got too old for Sunday school, I took an interest in reading at church and so once a month, I’d be up at the pulpit reading from the Old Testament, bidding prayers and acclamations.

Towards the latter years of teenage-hood, I fell away from the church almost completely. Not necessarily away from my faith, but I was a teenager and the premise of missing church so that I could sleep-in on a Sunday became my own religion. It got to the point when the only time you’d find me in church was for weddings, christenings, the odd ordination, funerals and, of course, midnight mass at Christmas.

In my early twenties, I took a position in a government agency that offered to pay for me to study a degree in religious texts, hermeneutics and religion in conflict. An odd degree for a company to ask anybody to study, but it was relevant to what I did – it didn’t take me long to agree. Whilst I may not have attended Church regularly (at

all), I was proud to call myself a Catholic and religions and religious study was something I’d always had a strong interest in. But at the same time as I started studying, another huge realisation dawned on me, that would have as equally a profound effect on my life as my faith – the realisation that I was gay. The inner conflict I felt at this pushed me further away from my faith and the Catholic Church, but strangely pushed me even deeper into my studies. I wanted to know what different faiths trully taught about this and I was in the perfect discipline to research to my head and hearts content. But this post isn’t about my sexuality, it’s about my faith.

I came home from work one day (was mid-20’s and still living with my folks). When I’d left that morning, my mum had been ill and was in bed. By the time I got home, it was apparent that something was quite seriously wrong. We called an ambulance and rushed her to Casualty. Within a few hours we found out that not only was she not going to be coming home, but in fact, had only a few hours left to live. My heart broke! Being the “coordinator” that I am, my first thought was to let all of the family know, followed by the church. She’d worked there for as long as I’d been alive almost, so knew everyone and everyone knew her. I wanted to get a priest out to deliver her last rites. But alas, no… Nobody was available. Incidentally, an Anglican priest who was visiting someone else in the hospital had heard my exchange and asked if he could pray with and over her, and brought some peace to my mind… But the church she’d spent twenty something years serving, couldn’t send out anybody to counsel her, her family or deliver her the last rites – the last of sacraments that the Catholic church has offer. The little flame of faith I had left inside of me started to diminish. Less than a fortnight later, after the parish priest refused me participation in the Eucharist at her funeral (due to being gay), that little flame almost extinguished completely.

Because of my studies I was in the perfect place to maintain a passing resemblance to a flame, though. Realising that I wasn’t accepted by my own church and therefore probably any, I had to form my own system of belief which to me was based SOLELY on my own relationship with Christ.

With my own beliefs I was happy to continue living my life happily for the next 13 years or so. The flame might not be burning bright, but, despite the flickering, it was still burning. It had gotten me the most awesome degree and had allowed me to argue different aspects of faith and religious texts with Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Wiccans and, yes, even Christians.

Running parallel with my studies track was meeting and becoming close friends with probably one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. He’d been born into a deeply religious family and I was humbled by his Christian faith, by his beliefs and more importantly by his willingness to discuss different aspects of religion with me

till we were both blue in the face, without reaching the point of wanting to ‘obviously’ kill me. Over the years we discussed everything from abortion and contraception through to souls and transubstantiation. He even had me join him a few times at his church, once in Hull and a couple of times at a vibrant church he’d fallen in love with, in East Grinstead.

And then one day, he laid the gauntlet. “My home group are hosting an Alpha course, online because of Covid, do you want to join?”.

⁃ I did!

The Alpha team had a challenge with me from before the first session even started. In my head I’d decided I was going to use everything I’d learnt from my studies to be as big a pain in the butt as I could be. But then I met Hollie. And I met Sam. And I met Dan B, and Hannah, Dave and Sue, Karen and Adrian – and maybe even more dauntingly, I met Faith!

I was surprised at how immediately I jumped into the teachings and discussions with gusto. I found myself taking notes, and questioning what I’d previously studied, what I believed, and what I was being told. I found myself opening-up in the first small discussion group more than I had intended and could have ever planned for and when I posed a question about sexuality in the discussion, Hollie laid the groundwork for bringing me into the JCC family by answering my question with the deeply honest answer of “I don’t know!”.

Over the preceding weeks, I looked forward to joining the weekly Alpha session, and slowly the flame inside me started to find its fuel and grow again. So much so that when I was invited to join the church in person one Sunday, I was excited to do so and since then I’ve kept coming. I was welcomed with open arms and been made to feel at home with you all. I even joined a home group.

I’m grateful for everyone at JCC. Everyone has purpose, and since I’ve been coming, I’ve made lifelong friends and not just the kind of friends that coddle you, but, more importantly, friends that challenge me (yes, you Faith). What was reaffirmed to me is that my faith is my relationship with Christ. I love God! I accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I will try and lead my life to Christian values as strongly as I can, knowing that I may fail occasionally, as many of us will. But what’s important is how I pick myself up, own that burden and answer for it when the time comes.

After a bad week, I remember quite clearly saying in one of the Alpha sessions one week that I felt a bit lost in my professional career, that I didn’t feel comfortable doing what I was doing, but didn’t know what to do and Dan B, in his wisdom, read aloud Psalm 139. God has a complete life path for me. He set that path and I walk it. It’s had curves and obstacles, and occasionally I may stray from it and crush a few

daisies, but I have faith that when this happens, He will lead me back to it in order to continue my journey. I can’t wait to see where it takes me!