John was born in Wigan and spent his childhood there during the war; he attended primary school with Ian McKellan. After training as a music teacher he moved to London, where he still lives. He was at the first meeting of the Gay Christian Movement and remains a member, and co-ordinator of the 3F fellowship which continued to meet monthly at St Botolph’s church, Aldgate.
“When I came to live in London I was already thinking along the lines – I wouldn’t say of being militant, but of being freer to express my point of view in church circles, and having found LGCM I felt that was the thing I should be concerned about. Finding a church where I felt at home was not easy. There weren’t any. Every church at that time was pretty careful about expressing a radical view. But I did meet people from time to time, including clergy, who were quite clearly gay and were prepared to risk their reputations by pursuing gay relationships. So that gave me a certain confidence.”
“But I still felt the church needed to get its act together about this. LGCM seemed important to me, and being in touch with people who were similarly minded was important. And so through that I met Richard Kirker and became friends with him. Other people I particularly remember were Malcolm Johnson who was the Rector of St Botolph’s. And one or two other clergy who were quite clearly gay. As an organist I got around quite a number of churches and met clergy who were fairly openly gay amongst people they felt were sympathetic. And so it seemed as if the church was on the move at least, even though there were still issues.”
“I wasn’t very ‘churchy’ at the time. I was a bit fed up with the Church and didn’t feel very – not just on this issue – and I wasn’t sure what I really thought about God and the church. I think I was much more willing to consider other ways of being. But I’d always maintained an interest in church and I suppose one of the things that kept me going was church music. People always assume that my main interest in the church was through music – it wasn’t but it did help. Because worship had always appealed to me, I’d always enjoyed being in church, as it were. And on the times when I got rather fed up with the church’s official attitude on sexuality, I could always remind myself that quite a lot of church musicians were in fact gay. And that helped me over quite a lot of difficult situations. I think the human contact with individuals whom I go to know, helped a lot.
And of course LGCM too. That came along and I wouldn’t say I became a keen soldier for the cause, but at least I felt that having an opinion about it was a worthwhile thing to do. And it was worth being prepared to take risks. For the sake of what I considered to be truth.
I first went along to the meetings that were held at the Grosvenor chapel out of curiosity. I didn’t always find gay Christians particularly appealing for various reasons, some because I thought they had rather a toffee-nosed, academic approach to the whole thing, and I felt a bit out of my depth because I didn’t have any formal theological training, although I’d been interested in the Bible, I’d done a course at university and so on. At the same time they didn’t seem as attractive as some of the people who claimed not to be religious, not Christian.”
“…it’s a very different story now. It’s a very different world we’re living in. And in some ways it’s a very much happier world. At the same time I still think there’s a long way to go and I’m still very frustrated by the church’s attitude. The over-cautious attitude on the part of some people. When the recent Archbishops’ conference on this issue was held, I was disappointed with the outcome. I felt that people should have been more prepared to condemn what I consider to be the unchristian attitudes that were expressed by some of the bishops, particularly the African bishops, the Archbishop of Uganda, and others. And the rather careful approach to the whole issue which seemed more concerned with maintaining a kind of Anglican appearance of unity rather than speaking the truth. That’s my non-Conformist background coming to the fore again!
I find it encouraging that there’s still a strong Christian presence in the gay movement. Even though things have changed quite a lot, and the role of for instance 3F, which we’ve mentioned, seems maybe to be changing, and most of the people coming to the meetings are well on in years, as indeed I am I realise now. But I still value the input that is made into Christian thinking by people that have gone through this whole process that we’ve talked about. I hope that there will still continue to be religious movements in the church which identify themselves to be both gay and Christian.”
You can hear John’s story here.