Tagged: faith

Feb 19

Supporting LGBT Young People with Faith

In January my wife Sara and I had the great privilege of leading a training session for chaplains working in Further Education (FE) Colleges across the Bath and Wells Diocese. The question they asked us to cover was a great question – how can we better support LGBT young people who have a faith? A few people have asked for the content of our session, so this is a very condensed version of our ten recommendations for chaplains.

Listening is the role of any chaplain, but it is particularly important when it comes to LGBT young people. Let them tell their story. Listen without agenda, bias or judgement. Ask them what they need from you – don’t assume you know even if you’ve worked with LGBT young people before. We are all different, and what this young person needs from you may be completely unique. Being heard is often a healing act in itself for LGBT people, who are often made to listen to the views of others on their sexuality and identity.

It’s important not to use what is often referred to as ‘heteronormative’ language (defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation’). For example, if you’re working with a female young person don’t assume they’ll have a male partner. It’s also really important to challenge homophobic behaviour and language, even what may be seen as harmless joking or ‘banter’ by others. Challenging this educates the young people you are with, but it also communicates you are a safe person to speak to about gender and sexuality issues. Ensure you educate yourself about pronouns and correct terminology, particularly when working with transgender young people. Ask them what pronouns they prefer – he/she/they.

In most faith communities there’s an understanding that we all land in slightly different places when it comes to theological issues, particularly secondary as opposed to primary issues. In youth work, a key principle has always been to journey with and walk alongside young people as they find their way and discover things for themselves, rather than indoctrinating them or creating copies of ourselves! We may give our opinions when asked but we don’t enforce our worldview onto someone, or indeed any viewpoint about a specific theological issue. It’s exactly the same when working with LGBT young people. Walk with them, equip them, resource them, but don’t assume they’ll end up in the same place as you theologically – whatever viewpoint you currently hold on this issue.

One of the many gifts the LGBT community has to give to the church, and in fact this is true of any minority group, is the unique perspective and experience they have on the world and the church. They look at things through a unique lens, and give us the opportunity to see things in a new way. For example, with some of our straight married friends, we love the way our same sex relationship allows them to reflect on aspects of their relationship, that they normally wouldn’t reflect on. We often give the example of how in our early married life we were free from assigning household tasks in accordance with gender stereotypes. Instead we assigned them based on gifting and availablity, and in doing this we enabled some of our straight friends to see they could do the same! This is a trivial example but there are much larger ones – we have so much to learn from every minority group and if you are truly listening and in relationship with LGBT young people you will learn lots of exciting and life changing things!

Whilst being hurt by church is not an experience that’s exclusive to the LGBT community, it is a common one. For LGBT people, church can often feel like a very unsafe, non-affirming and even hostile place where you are vulnerable to prejudice and at risk of being on the receiving end of discrimination and judgement. Don’t push a young person to be part of a faith community if that’s not what they want or are ready for, or unless you can guarantee their safety and protection. Have a wide definition of church – know that a young person can experience church in all kinds of ways and in all kinds of places. It’s worth saying too that church can be a positive place and there are some amazing churches that are fully inclusive and fully affirming. You might need to help a young person to do their research if they’re looking for an affirming faith community.

When I was about 15 I had some amazing youth leaders who recognised some of where my gifts were starting to show themselves. They took risks with me and let me preach, teach, lead small groups and be involved in lots of exciting ways. The chances they gave me helped me learn more about myself, more about the person God had made me to be and the things he was calling me to do. However if I’d have been known at that time as gay, I wouldn’t have been given those opportunities. Lots of churches at the moment seem to find it acceptable to ‘welcome’ LGBT people, but to restrict and limit their involvement and participation. This is very damaging to LGBT people as they are held back from being all they are called to be, but it also damages the church as needed gifts and talents are withheld from the church and wider community. They are welcomed as guests, rather than included and involved as family members. This isn’t going to change quickly! Things are moving, but whilst that happens there is an army of young, gifted LGBT people who are called to all kinds of spiritual gifts – worship leaders, small group hosts, youth workers, preachers etc, who are simply stopped from exercising these gifts if they are in non-affirming churches. Therefore if you have any opportunity as an FE chaplain to empower and enable a young LGBT person to try something out, to be involved, to lead, let them do it!

Speak out where you can on behalf of LGBT young people. Better still, take their voices with you. LGBT people are often restricted from leadership meetings or any structure or system which has the power to effect change, especially young LGBT people. Think about ways in which you can help their voice to be heard and listened to. The times my wife and I have felt the most loved by those around us, is when they have stood up for us, spoken out on our behalf, challenged prejudice and discrimination, risked their own relationships and hurt with us as we have felt hurt.

Sexuality and gender are complex issues. They involve long and often difficult journeys. It may take time for a young person to find an identity they feel comfortable with, to settle or decide on language or pronouns. Give them time, be prepared for the long term as well as the short term. Understand that young people will shift and change in their views, understanding and expression as they grow older.

What does it look like to be a holy, LGBT Christian? To be set apart, purified and counter cultural? This is an exciting question, and it’s a question the church isn’t often prepared to help LGBT people answer, as they’re only just starting to figure out you can be fully gay and fully Christian! Don’t feel you can’t challenge a young person about their behaviour – there are ways to explore sexuality that honour God and please him, and there are ways to explore sexuality that are destructive and unhelpful. When I’d come to the resolution that I was gay and that God was ok with it, I remember desperately searching for books, internet articles, anything that would tell me ‘what the rules are’! Sexually yes, but in other ways too. Until there are more books written, until we talk about this in church, until churches actually teach and guide people and provide LGBT role models in leadership positions who can help young people figure this stuff out, it will always be tricky and new ground for young people to explore. Don’t be afraid to ask the awkward questions and have the difficult conversations, you’ll find LGBT young people are actually yearning for someone they can speak to about the tough stuff.

Being LGBT, young and Christian can be difficult, but it can also be amazing. Don’t assume it’s a problem for a young person, or something they see as negative or difficult, they might be fine with it! Show them that their sexuality is a strength, that it’s part of who God made them to be. With it they can go places others cannot go, reach people others cannot reach, and see things in a unique way unlike anyone else.

(These recommendations come with a few disclaimers! I am no expert – I’m drawing on my own experience as a gay, married Christian with over fifteen years of youth work experience. Therefore these are opinions, and you’re welcome to disagree with them. I’m aware that issues transgender young people face have not been covered in detail here, nor issues young Muslim or Jewish young people face. For that I highly recommend and


Mar 18

These Are Things That Can Go Together

A poem inspired by a blog written by Danielle Strickland –

I am in hospital corridors.
White walls, white floors,
Dropped jaws.
Good news, baby born.
Bad news, treatment withdrawn.
First breath, last breath ever,
These are things that can go together.

I am in prison chains.
Blameless, the only one to blame.
I walk free but I’m crippled with shame,
That sticks and stains,
Despite life regained.
Righteous judgement, grace unmeasured,
These are things that can go together.

I am on battle ground.
Broken, beaten I will not back down.
Weakness is where real strength is found.
In failure, in loss, when enemies surround,
Mercy will come and justice abound.
Hard as a soldier, soft as a feather,
These are things that can go together.

I am in wooden pews.
Abusers seated beside the abused.
Unity, oneness, polarized views,
Wounded healers, beautiful, bruised,
Teachers, preachers, prophets, fools.
Honoured kings, forgotten beggars,
These are things that can go together.

I am under a broken tree.
A man hangs, bleeds for me.
He gives, I live, He dies, I’m free.
God and flesh, crushed seed,
Emptied, defeated, victoriously.
Death and life, now and never,
These are things that can go together.

These are things that can go together.


Nov 01

Ethos – ‘I Will Still Dance’

A film commissioned by YFC’s ‘Ethos’ project – a series of short films for young adults.


Dec 07

The Big Black Truck

Having a mobile skate park in a trailer that weighs over a ton is great, but also involves some slightly annoying practicalities, such as needing quite a meaty vehicle to tow it. At first I’d recruited some local volunteers with tow bars on their cars to help us transport the trailer whenever we had a session.

After a couple of burnt out clutches and near death experiences, we decided we needed our own vehicle. We put an advert in our newsletter, and amazingly someone from a local church gave us a vehicle that could tow the trailer easily. This became lovingly known as, ‘the Shogun’; a ten year old automatic three litre four by four. Here she is:

We had our own vehicle, nice one God. But it was ten years old, and it wasn’t long before the dashboard did its own little disco every time you put the key in, and lights came on I didn’t even know it had. In the end we had to ignore the lights, because we didn’t really know what was actually a problem and what was just the disco. Then came the genie lamp sign. This was the light that just stayed on all the time, no matter what we did. Apparently some people call it the oil light. Anyway it became obvious the car was on its way to motor vehicle heaven and that we needed to think of something fast, because without a vehicle, our project doesn’t really work.  I had a plan that we could just put another advert in the newsletter, and that, just like last time, a nice big free four by four would arrive on our doorstep and save the day.  Guess what? That didn’t happen.

We had some visitors from another youth project, and I was sharing the vehicle problem with them. I told them my next plan was to look around some local garages and find a cheap old vehicle that would do the job for a bit longer, meaning I wouldn’t have to raise loads of money and do anything that scary. A youth worker from the visiting project, said to me;

“What vehicle do you really want? What would be the absolute best vehicle you need for this project?”

In a moment of fantasy we discussed Land Rovers, Hummers, Nissan Navaras, Monster Trucks, Helicopters, newer Shoguns, and loads of other massive four by fours that would do the job perfectly. We looked at websites, watched YouTube videos, and laughed and joked about our dream vehicle. After saying something like ‘oh well, back to reality’, my other youth project friend said something that challenged me to my core;

“You are saving the lives of young people. What you are doing is of the highest importance and you should have the very best equipment to do it with. Our God is big, and nothing is impossible for him. Don’t get a cheap second hand vehicle, ask God for what you want, and what you need, and he will give it to you”.

He was totally right. Which was really annoying.

So after lots of research and thinking and dreaming, we decided that the vehicle we needed and wanted, if money wasn’t an issue, was a brand new Nissan Navara. Brand new, they cost £25,000. That is well over what the project cost to set up in the first place. Oh crap. Where am I going to get £25,000 from?

I decided I needed to test drive the vehicle. Mostly because it would be really fun, but also because I needed to see it. I needed to sit in it with God and ask whether was just a stupid idea, or whether it was really something he wanted for us. I phoned up our local Nissan garage, and arranged a date to go and test drive it along with Max, our year out volunteer at the time.

As we walked into the garage and registered our arrival, I became aware of some strange looks from the staff. I suddenly remembered what we must look like. A couple of youths, with big baggy jeans and hoodies are not their usual potential brand new four by four customers. They looked a bit scared, like they thought we were going to rob the place. They made lots of checks, looked at our ID and seemed happy enough. It probably didn’t then help when I told them that we would be purchasing the vehicle in about two months time, and would not need finance as we would be paying the full amount. The sales assistant paused for quite a long time and said, “OK then”. At that point we didn’t have a single penny of the money and I had no idea where it was going to come from. But I had to speak out in faith that we did have the money, the money was already ours, and that the vehicle was already ours.

Test driving it was just the most ridiculous amount of fun ever. Oh and also, it totally did the job we needed it to, towed the right weight and had a large storage space in the back. We wanted one, and we were going to get one.

I got on the case with grants, and found two that were eligible. These would take us up to about £19,000, if we got the grants. ‘If’ is a big ‘if’ in the world of grant applications. As part of the grant process we researched how much it would cost to get our logo and details on the side of the vehicle. I was sent a picture of what it would look like. I added a bible verse and I stuck it on my wall, knowing that one day soon I would replace it with a real photo of our own vehicle. Sometimes you need to visualize how you want something to be, as well as talk about it.

We prayed. We filled in forms. We waited. We prayed the Shogun wouldn’t die.

The first grant we applied for was for £7000. A few days after the deadline has passed, I got a phone call from the grant administrator, who told me that in their grant criteria, it clearly stated that they did not fund vehicles. My heart sunk as I waved £7000 goodbye. Then she said something very funny;

“Next time you make an application to us, please make sure you read the criteria properly. This time however, we have decided to make an exception to our rules because we like your project, so we will be awarding you the full amount of £7000”.

Ching ching! We were one step closer. £18,000 to go.

Then came the youth bank fund. We had helped some One Eighty members apply for some money on our behalf. We had applied for £12,000, which was a lot of money for one project to receive from a relatively small grant. We were short listed however, and had to take the four lads to a grant panel to give a presentation on One Eighty and why we needed the money.

It was really simple. All we had to do was pick up four young people in the Shogun, take them to a youth centre and let them give their presentation. Then the grant people would discuss it and send us a letter in the post. Then hopefully, we would get the £12,000 and be almost there! It started to become real, it started to feel like we might actually do this.

I was using the Shogun that day for an event site visit, and had a couple of hours to get back to Bath, pick up the young people and a staff member, then head straight to the presentation. No problem, plenty of time.

After the site visit, I got into the Shogun and started to head back to Bath. I looked at the dashboard, and then came the disco. But it was a different disco. Then there were noises. Strange noises.

I was still ten miles from Bath, and things were getting worse. There was smoke, and more noises. I started praying, “Not now, not today, please”. More smoke started coming out of the bonnet and I knew I had to stop. I pulled over in a bus stop and popped the bonnet, staring at the engine, because that’s what you do when your car has broken down and you know nothing about cars. The smoke was still coming out, and I didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have break down cover, I was in the middle of nowhere, and I had about an hour before I would have to leave to go pick up the lads. The car was still working, so I decided to keep going and hope it didn’t explode. I drove really slowly, and the disco now had a smoke machine.

I made it to a village a few miles nearer, and pulled to a stop at a pedestrian crossing. The lights turned amber and as I put my foot on the accelerator, nothing. Beeping from behind, more smoke, the car wasn’t moving. It had died. I burst into tears as cars started to go by me, and no one offered to help. I looked around at where I was, and of course by complete coincidence and nothing at all to do with God, I was right outside a massive car garage. Within thirty seconds I had four mechanics pushing the vehicle to safety, and within two minutes I knew exactly what was wrong with it. The crank on the engine had gone, which in other words means, the Shogun had gone to motor vehicle heaven. In less than one hour I was supposed to be picking up four lads from all over Bath and taking them to a presentation that might mean we would get £12,000 towards the new vehicle that would ensure the survival of our project. Even if we did get that money, we still had £6000 more to raise which I had no idea where to get. I cried again, a lot. All over the four nice mechanics. They looked a bit awkward. After I’d stopped crying I began to think of a plan. We had to make that presentation. We just had to.

I took out my phone to call Max at the office, battery low. Rubbish. I got through, and tried to very quickly and clearly explain the situation. I was still going to be a while getting back to Bath on the bus and I needed him to figure out a way of getting all the lads to the youth centre as well as me and him, with no car. He was only 18, possibly the most laid back person I had ever met and I’d never really given him any serious responsibility before. I didn’t know whether he’d be able to pull it off. After more crying he seemed to understand it was important, and he said he’d sort it. Then my phone died.

The bus ride was 15 minutes, but it felt like three hours. God knew we needed the car, why hadn’t he stopped it from breaking down until after the presentation? What were we going to do if we didn’t get the money? How were we going to run One Eighty for however long it took to get the new vehicle? Why had I thought I could do this? I have no clue what I’m doing. I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this anymore.

I took out my iPod, and I put on some music. I calmed down, and I stepped out of the emotion of the situation, looking at the facts. God loves me, God has chosen me for this, God is with me and loves this project way more than me. He knows we need that vehicle and he knows we need to get the lads to this presentation. We’re going to get there, we’re going to get that money and everything’s going to be OK.

When I arrived back at the office, my jaw dropped. On my desk were two piles of paper, they had the names and phone numbers of two of our trustees, who had agreed to use their cars to pick up the lads, and us, and take us to the youth centre. There were maps and directions for both cars, it was exactly what we needed, and perfect. Max got a high five.

We went to the presentation and made it on time.

The lads did a brilliant job, and gave an excellent presentation.

I walked out of the building with a cheque for £12,000. A trustee just happened to bring his camera, and captured the exact moment we found out we’d been successful:

There were more tears, but this time, they were tears of joy. And if it’s possible, there were tears of confidence, tears that God is everything he says he is, that all things are under his control, that nothing is impossible for him, that he is faithful and will come through. Tears because we are going to get that car.

The next day was so mixed, as I had the celebration of winning the grant, but the nightmare of figuring out how we were going to tow our trailer around until we had enough money to buy our new big black truck. It could still be months and we needed it now.

Then, God spiced things up a little bit, because he obviously felt the last few days had been too boring. He told me to order the new vehicle. It was no audible voice, but a strong sense that I just couldn’t ignore. I tried to fill my day with other things, but I kept feeling it. Order the vehicle, order the vehicle. I think my reply went something like, “WHAT? You have got to be joking. We don’t even have all of the money yet and I don’t even know where the money is going to come from. Also I’m probably going to get fired if I order it”.

Order the vehicle. Order the vehicle.

I phoned the Nissan garage and ordered it over the phone. It would take six weeks to arrive and they needed a £7000 deposit with the other £18,000 payable on collection. Guess how much money had just cleared in our bank account from our first grant? £7000. Done.

As I put the phone down, I felt sick. I’m going to get fired. We’re going to go bankrupt. The treasurer is going to have a heart attack.

I’ve got six weeks to find £6000.

There were no more grants to apply for. I didn’t have any rich friends. I wasn’t really experienced in bank robbery. So it had to be God. I’d done everything I could, I’d fought with everything in me. It had to be God.

A few days later, a church was having a giving day for Bath Youth for Christ. They told us what they had raised every year and what they were expecting to raise this year, and our director budgeted accordingly. They raised £2000 more than we had expected. This had never happened before. They were surprised, we were surprised. We had £2000 for the vehicle.

£4000 to go. Five weeks left.

A week later I phoned the garage and negotiated £1000 off the price if we put the garage’s name on the back of the truck.

£3000 to go. Four weeks left.

At this point I started to panic because I was totally out of ideas. There was literally nothing left for me to do other than pray. It was incredibly scary.

About a week later I walked into the office, turned on the computer as normal and checked my emails. I had an email from an old friend who now managed a large internet florist company. She read the newsletters and knew we wanted to get a new vehicle but had no idea of the events of the last few weeks. She told me she wanted to donate some money from the company, that she had prayed about how much, and that she had decided on an amount.

Would £3000 be OK?

More tears.

In the same week, a garage offered us the use of an amazing Land Rover for as long as we needed it. For free. It even had one of those remote starts, so you could start the engine from almost a mile away. This was completely pointless, but great fun to scare people with. Another local man gave us £2500 for our insurance costs. We had more than enough. More than enough.

Within another two weeks our vehicle was ready, and Max and I went to pick it up. I will never forget that day as long as I live.

As we pulled into the garage, I saw it. This big, black truck; spotless, beautiful, ours. We didn’t owe any money for it, we didn’t have to give it back, it belongs to us. It’s ours. As I looked at it, my whole body tingling, I closed my eyes as they filled with tears, and I promised God I would never forget what he had done for us. Because it’s easy to forget. I don’t ever want to forget.

I remember paying for the final amount, putting my pin into the machine as it asked me to pay £17094.22.

I remember the face of the sales assistant as we told him the story of the money.

I remember when he put the keys in my hands.

I remember him talking through the engine and the spare tyre, but I wasn’t listening to a word he was saying. I was just smiling.

I remember him saying we were the youngest people he had ever seen buy a brand new Navara.

I remember taking it straight to the petrol station, and the attendant saying, “nice truck”.

I remember driving back, with the stereo on full blast, laughing and crying and singing and shouting, full of the presence of God, feeling happy for Max that he was taking the other vehicle back at the time.

I remember driving past people and seeing them looking at the brand new big black truck. Our brand new big black truck.

I remember sleeping soundly that night.

I remember the picture on my office wall.

Most of all, I remember feeling that this was all really about something else. Something much bigger.


Dec 05

Back by Morning

Josh had been coming along to One Eighty for a while. He was a nice kid, quiet, and a very good skateboarder. His Dad wasn’t really around, and his Mum Alison would nearly always drop off and pick him up from One Eighty sessions. We started chatting to her, and got to know her quite well. One day she shared that she had a job interview coming up and I told her we would pray that the interview went well. She said she had a catholic background, but didn’t really believe in God anymore as the last few years had been so bad for her and Josh that she couldn’t believe in a God who would let that stuff happen. Breast cancer, Josh’s Dad leaving, trouble with the neighbours, it had been a tough life.

As the weeks passed and we got to know her more, I invited her to church with me. She kept saying she would come but didn’t show up, so in the end I picked her up and took her to the Sunday morning service of my church. She was blown away. Church can be like this? There are so many people, they seem happy, and reasonably normal.

A few weeks later, she became a Christian. This was very cool.

The next day I got a phone call from her and she was distraught. Being a single Mum meant things were tough financially for her, and she had saved up for months to buy Josh a Nintendo DS for Christmas. Josh was sat on the front doorstep of their house playing with his DS, when his Mum called him inside to ask him something. After the conversation when he returned to the doorstep, the DS had gone along with the box of games beside it. Someone had stolen it from their doorstep in a matter of seconds, and she was gutted;

“How can God have let this happen? He is not with me, this was all a mistake, how can I ever afford to replace it?”

I found myself incredibly angry, wishing she could just have a break and enjoy the first few weeks of having Jesus in her life in peace. I was surprised how angry I was. I told her to go and get Josh, and pray with him that the DS would come back. I told her I would pray too, and that the DS would be back by the morning.

Back by the morning? Why did I say that?

I ended the phone call and then had a bit of a chat with God which went something like; “Hi God. Erm…so I sort of told Alison that the DS would be back by the morning. I have no idea why I said that. Any chance of some help?” I did not believe it would ever return, let alone be back by the morning. I totally panicked. I was going to add to her fear that becoming a Christian had been a bad decision.

God’s response? Trust me.

Maybe I should go and buy another one and drop it round in the morning? I could get it on my credit card and have it paid off within a couple of months.

God’s response? Trust me.

I have a friend who is a games journalist and I knew he had a spare DS. Maybe he would lend it to Josh until she had enough money to replace the stolen one. I phoned him and he agreed because he is lovely. Hi John.

God’s response? Trust me.

I prayed like I had never prayed before and I went to bed scared and dreading the morning when I would have to try and explain to Alison why I had said it would be back by the morning and it wasn’t. I eventually got to sleep.

The morning arrived. My phone rang. It was Alison. She was talking very fast. Someone had dropped the DS and all the games back through the letterbox during the night. I mean really, who does that? I was speechless and she was still talking, about how much she had felt God with her, about how amazing it was to pray with her son for the first time in years, about how she could see that God was looking out for her and everything was going to be okay.

I was definitely more surprised than Alison.