The Portsmouth curate
25 June 1962 At my first staff meeting the
vicar said that the Mothers' Union wanted a talk: "A day in the
life of a parson". "Malcolm, you've been here seven days, so go and
describe one of them." The days are certainly very full -
communion, matins and meditation in the morning then work through
the day, mainly visiting the 1000 homes in my area of the parish,
and tramping over every inch of the cemeteries.
28 May 1963 Am at Cerne Abbas, the Franciscan
friary, taking stock of my first year in the ministry, and I'm not
sure I like what I see. It has been frantically busy so personal
needs have been shoved into the background. . . My big problem is
still my sexuality and every day I think about it. In some ways it
hinders my work but strangely enough I don't pray about it. If only
my homosexuality could be taken away. As well as the daily office I
only spend about ten minutes in prayer. What shall I do after
Portsmouth? Become a Franciscan, go to New Guinea or back to
Norfolk? I feel very lonely and need a wife and children.
1 May 1965 Mrs Phillips, my therapist, the Jung
Lady, is horrified that I am considering having a dog, and says
that it would obviously be a substitute for a lover, so I
straightaway go out and buy one.
15 January 1966 One of the Jung Lady's
bright ideas is that I should mix more with healthy heterosexuals
of my own age, and last month she encouraged me to go skiing with a
party of young people. So I have just spent ten days in Solden,
Austria. . . What an odd time, the highlights of which were the
meals après ski and looking at the devastatingly handsome young
instructor. Bronzed and fit, he hit the nail on the head by telling
me I need to use my "boody" more.
14 December 1968 Our wedding day in
Rickmansworth where Susan's parents live. After a splendid Nuptial
Mass our 100 guests drive to the Bull at Gerrards Cross for the
1 August 1969 Susan and I have agreed to
separate as the suffering of the last few months has been intense.
I walk with the dog each day around Victoria Park feeling depressed
and guilty because I cannot return her love, and have no sexual
feelings for her. She is moving into a flat in the West End. I am
London University chaplain
2 September 1969 Wearing my best suit I drive
to Fulham Palace, park the car in the Tudor quadrangle, and ring
the bell. The chaplain takes me down long corridors and into the
Bishop of London's study. Robert Stopford, a fatherly pipe-smoking
man not long from retirement, has no idea why I am there. I explain
what has happened [to his marriage] and offer my resignation. He
listens intently then there is a long silence. . . Then the Bishop
refused to accept my resignation, saying that I had done nothing
1 December 1970 The SK social group which I
helped found two years ago at the Wychcroft conference has been a
lifesaver for me. Robert [Wilson, his partner of 46 years, who was
by this time living with him in Woodford] and I go every Saturday
evening. . . We have a stunningly boring handout in case the police
or press raid us - along the lines that we three wonderful social
workers wish to provide a space so that homosexual men can discuss
their problems together. We left out the social slant as we might
be accused of running a bawdy house where people meet for sex, and
we did not mention the illegal bar.
18 January 1971 I speak in the Tower Hamlets
Deanery debate on homosexuality and am opposed by the evangelical
vicar of Spitalfields, Eddy Stride, who has the air of a shop
steward about him. His speech is dominated by the horror of sodomy,
and he talks of "the racked bodies" it produces, whatever that
means. Lesbians must find this talk very odd. After the debate
Eddy's lady worker collared me and said, "You'll be condoning sex
with animals next."
15 May 1971 I had a good conversation at
Fulham Palace with Bishop Stopford who asked some very searching
questions about gay men and women. How do they see the Church? How
do they cope with living secret lives? I felt he was very
perceptive about the pain that is caused by the Church's attitude.
. . The Bishop realises that many clergy are gay, and feels that a
hidden ministry to them is also needed. He promised to think the
matter over and see if he could help. I drove home feeling very
supported and affirmed.
23 October 1973 Gerald Ellison, Bishop of
Chester and the post-war vicar of my first parish, St Mark Portsea,
is the new Bishop of London because +Robert has retired which
saddens me as he has been so good to me.
2 February 1974 Out of the blue comes a letter
from +Gerald Ellison asking if I would consider becoming rector of
St Botolph Aldgate in the City of London. I took two minutes to
1 December 1974 Gerald is at St Botolph's
for a confirmation, and comes to lunch afterwards with Robert and
me. Before the meal he takes me into the dining room, sits me down
and asks if I had been married. "Bishop Robert burnt your file
which was very irresponsible, tell me about yourself." So I take a
deep breath and tell him the full story. He looked apprehensive,
but made no comment.
10 March 1976 Bishop Gerald who visited the
crypt two nights ago writes, "I am greatly impressed and proud of
what you are doing."
2 April 1976 I receive an urgent summons to see
the Trollopian Archdeacon of London, Sam Woodhouse, so I hurry to
Amen Court. Seated on a chintz-covered sofa sipping China tea I am
told that the Bishop is anxious about the Gay Christian Movement's
opening service in St Botolph's tomorrow, and would I explain.
"What is gay?" asks Sam.
3 April 1976 For ½ hour Gerald berates me for
not asking him if an RC priest (Giles Hibbert) could preach, or if
the service could or should be held. "Why don't you keep quiet? I
don't tell everyone what Mrs Ellison and I do in bed." I try to
explain the aims of the new organisation but carefully omit telling
him they will have an office in the tower.
13 April 1976 . . . Gerald says [in a letter]
that he "thinks it unwise for homosexuals to group together as it
draws criticism and hostility". He wants me not to attract
unnecessary attention to St Botolph's.
6 May 1976 For the last few months I have been
planning a meeting of gay clergy (someone said that we would need
to hire the Albert Hall) but in fact 55 of us met today at the
Royal Foundation of St Katharine in Limehouse. Peter Elers, Douglas
Rhymes and I wrote to all our friends who would appreciate such a
meeting and phrased that it was for "those who are homosexual or
interested in the condition". The cost was £1 for lunch and tea.
Men came from as far away as Truro and Birmingham, and there were
10 hetero/bisexuals present.
1 December 1976 I wanted to have some
input into the church working party who are preparing a report [the
Gloucester report] on homosexuality, so I sat down and wrote out
the names of 100 clergy I know well who are predominantly or
exclusively gay. . . Forty-four of the 100 live in London which
must help loneliness a little because of other gay clergy being
near, and gay meeting places being more accessible.
12 May 1982 The News of the World runs
several reports about gay literature on sale at St Botolph's, which
causes a flurry of interest and headaches for me. I have to explain
that GCM sell their literature in their tower office, and that the
only pamphlets for sale in the church are academic lectures on the
subject. The Bishop comes to look and says that the pamphlets are
1 January 1986 HIV/AIDS hangs over us like a
black cloud. The Royal College of Nursing estimate that there will
be 1m cases in 5 years. Last year I travelled to the Statesto talk
to clergy and counsellors about how Christians should be
responding, and when I returned I called together what has become
known as the Ministers' Group to share experience and plan events
such as services of healing. It's a marvellous mixture of hospital
chaplains, maverick priests like Bill Kirkpatrick and me.
25 September 1986 I was told to be at London
House at 9.30 and having been given no explanation was trembling in
my shoes. What have I done? It turned out that the London bishops
wanted to discuss HIV/AIDS particularly amongst the clergy. +Graham
asked me if the gay clergy were being more careful, i.e. celibate
which threw me so I said that the younger, red-blooded ones were
probably not. The bishops all talked at once, but at last I got a
chance to speak so said that I thought that there are at least 200
gay/bisexual clergy in the diocese, and that I already knew three
who were HIV positive. Guessing wildly but using DHSS estimates I
suggest over the next three years it is possible there would be 14
affected by the virus, maybe more. I asked what could be done about
early retirement, pension and medical care - would St Luke's
Hospital for the clergy admit HIV-positive clergy? . . . I was
enormously impressed by them all. "We must not give in to hysteria
and stand firm against prejudice."
7 January 1988 Yesterday at the press
conference to welcome the new theologically conservative,
anti-women's ordination Dean of St Paul's, Eric Evans, a reporter
asked if he realises that a City church is the HQ of the LGCM. [The
Archdeacon of London, George] Cassidy replied, and said that he was
taking steps to remove them. All the papers have this on their
front page, and I am rung up at 7.20am for a comment. At 10am I
read a statement in front of the cameras saying that 11 years ago
GCM rented a room in our church tower, and a year ago the PCC
decided to draw up a legal agreement and apply to the Chancellor
for a faculty. This has been done and the only objection comes from
Archdeacon Cassidy. The PCC feel that having this office on church
premises: "is a powerful symbol that gay people are welcome in the
Church", and should help them put their faith and sexuality
together. I say that St Botolph's main work is with the homeless
because 200-300 visit us each weekday for help. They are on the
fringes of society, and so are homosexuals.
7 May 1988 A letter of support and a cheque
arrives from Rowan Williams in Oxford who is to issue a press
release on "this wretched business". In response to my request he
offers to be a witness if the case comes to court.
9 May 1988 I am at a whole day's hearing before
Chancellor Newsome, now 79, in Westminster which was a mixture of
Toytown, Trollope and Alice in Wonderland. I ask for leave to
withdraw the application (because I have been advised we cannot
win). It was very humiliating. The Chancellor said, "The rector
must throw himself on the mercy of the Court; much evil has flowed
from his actions." I suggest to him that as this is a Christian
court it should be concerned with pastoral responsibilities I have
for the members of LGCM, but he is not impressed. At 3.30 he asks
if the proceedings could end soon because his train to Sevenoaks
leaves at 5pm.
10 September 1988 A triumphant Service of
Exodus at St Botolph's to mark LGCM moving to new offices in Oxford
House, Bethnal Green. The special liturgy moved through the
recognition of oppression and the need for reconciliation. Ken
Leech preaches and the story is told in prayer, dance and song and
the sharing of the Eucharistic meal - food for the journey. We
moved out of the church and the LGCM statement of Conviction is
read on the steps. The whole sorry affair need not have happened.
At the very time when homosexuals need affirmation and acceptance,
Graham Leonard, George Cassidy and George Newsome have slammed the
Church door in our face. May God forgive them, I can't.
21 December 2005 Civil partnerships become
legal today, so Robet and I go to Walton Registry Office where we
say we don't want a ceremony, thanks. After 36 years it seems
rather unnecessary although we have lunch afterwards with John
Gaskell and Roland Macleod, our witnesses. . . . Both of us are
"company directors" on the form as there has been a lot of press
interest even in Surrey and although I am a has-been priest I am
still a priest. In the evening I write to Tony Blair to thank him
for this momentous move; if anyone ten or twenty years ago had told
me this would happen I would have laughed in their face.
Diary of a Gay Priest: The tightrope walker by Malcolm
Johnson is published by Christian Alternative at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £9 - Use code
CT577 ), and is reviewed on page 32. This edited extract
appears by kind permission of the publishers.