This is a question I get asked all the time – by straight and gay alike! So I thought it was time I shared a bit of my story here, partly to answer that question but also as an expression of thanks for all of you who have been so open in sharing your journey with me.
I grew up in the western suburbs of Melbourne and all through my childhood and teenage years didn’t hear anything about homosexuality at church, at school, at home or anywhere. But by some strange process of osmosis, I learned that there was something about homosexuality that was just plain wrong. If you’d asked me though, I doubt I would have been able to answer with anything other than “because it’s in the Bible”.
After school I went to Melbourne Uni and completed an honours degree in synthetic organic chemistry. This was not a total waste of four years as I managed to score a wife out of it! Being a practical course by nature, I was required to work with a partner or in a small research group for much of my project work. During one physics lecture, I was talking to my partner about instead of listening to the professor, and we got on to the subject of homosexuality. Of course, I blurted out my ‘theology’ but then also added “But I don’t know anybody who is gay anyway.”
My prac partner looked at me with that ‘Are you really that stupid’ look and said, “You DO know people who are gay.”
Thinking about it now, I don’t know how on earthed I missed it. My prac partner was as gay as they come, was out and proud, and I was oblivious to the whole thing! He then proceeded to point out to me the others that I knew who were gay. As it turned out, every prac partner I had, and at least one person in each research group I was in was a gay or lesbian person.
And you know what? They were great people! I really liked them – and they became the image that I identified with gay people.
A couple of years later I was sitting in church with my soon-to-be wife, listening to a woman tell of her ministry to the gay community. The stories were amazing, and while we had little idea of what we were getting ourselves involved in, we decided to support this ministry. We wanted to get involved in something that wasn’t really popular amongst church people and, given we both had well paying, corporate jobs, our support was financial in nature.
Three years later, I became the youth pastor of that same church and, with a change of career for my wife as well, found that we no longer had any money to give. Instead I decided to donate my time and spent some time in the office helping out with web stuff, admin and the like. This was great fun, but the best part was meeting the people and hearing the stories. Again, great people, but now I started to hear about the pain that went with being a a gay person of faith.
In my ministry, I was becoming increasingly frustrated about how taboo anything to do with sexuality was in church and so I made a concerted effort to break down the barriers and make sexuality a normal part of discipleship. I got involved in the reference group for a gay and lesbian youth group run by the local council. I stuck a rainbow sticker on my office window. And I talked about sex and sexuality a lot.
Of course, I was in a conservative Baptist church and faced a bit of opposition. But the leadership of the church was right behind me and we saw some remarkable things happen. The approach was simply to not make sexuality the issue. Instead, the aim was to create an atmosphere in which it was ok to talk about your sexuality if you wanted to, but you didn’t have to. And sexuality wasn’t a barrier to coming to worship at the church or coming to chat to me about whatever you wanted to. After nine years of serving in that church, the greatest compliment I received was at my farewell service where the youth pastor said publicly that “Sexuality was no longer off limits in our church.”
In November of last year I started as senior pastor in a new church in a semi rural area on the outskirts of Eastern Melbourne. While I was in between churches I felt the urge from God to ‘step up’ my ministry and care amongst the gay community. Up until that point it was a little bit ‘accidental’, relying on people crossing my path, but now I felt God prompting me to “Go” and be part of the gay community myself. I shared this with the interview team at my new church, and whilst there were some questions (well a LOT of questions) they again backed me a said they’d just hold on tight and see where the journey ended up. (As an aside, I’ve now been there for seven months and have spoken about my views and ministry to the gay community a few times, and have had nothing but positive feedback.)
So that’s how this straight, married, Baptist pastor ended up hanging out with gay people. I don’t see myself as an evangelist to the gay community, but a pastor who will care and pray and teach and walk this journey with you, wherever it may lead. And as I do, I’m learning more about what it means to be gay, what it means to be a pastor, and what it means to be a person of faith. And I hope I can build some bridges between the church community and the gay community, because I’d really like others to have the same amazing experience that I am.
So thanks for having me on the journey. I’ve loved being part of the forums, meeting some of you folk face to face and going to the Melbourne F2B meetings. I’m praying that there will be much more and together, with God, we can experience ‘life to the full’.