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Retired priest recalls homophobia he experienced during his ministry

12 October 2018

The Revd Stanley Underhill was introducing his memoir, Coming out of the Black Country

Dave Allinson

The Revd Stanley Underhill at the launch of Coming Out of the Black Country, at the Charterhouse in London, on Thursday of last week

The Revd Stanley Underhill at the launch of Coming Out of the Black Country, at the Charterhouse in London, on Thursday of last week

A RETIRED priest has described how the homophobia he experienced from his own congregation and members of the Church during his ministry — who said that he was “abnormal and an abomination to God” — compounded by his almost lifelong depression and subjection to conversion therapies.

The priest, the Revd Stanley Underhill, who is 91, was introducing his memoir Coming out of the Black Country, published by Zuleika, which was launched on Thursday of last week at the Charterhouse, in London, where he has lived for 15 years.

The Charterhouse, a former Carthusian monastery, is now a charitable almshouse for older people (Features, 13 January 2017).

Mr Underhill, a former Franciscan, explained: “My depression was brought about by my inability to accept that I was a homosexual. I didn’t want to be a homosexual: I wanted to be like you, to have a wife and children. I was very upset about it. The inner conflict was compounded by members of the Church who said that I was abnormal and an abomination to God.”

Reading part of a chapter — named after the pop song “I will survive” — he reflected on his own survival until he found “self-acceptance and ultimate freedom” from depression. He had been bullied at school, rejected by his father for his “artistic tendencies”, and, during his time in the navy, fell in love with a man who converted to Christianity and “tried to exorcise the devil” from him.

“I realised that the only way to survive in this world was to accept that I was a homosexual, and pretend to be a straight man,” he said. “God does not deliver us from problems, but carries us through, enabling us to survive.

“I suppose that I am a lucky chap.”

Dave AllinsonThe Revd Stanley Underhill signs copies of his book, Coming Out of the Black Country, at its launch, on Thursday of last week

Mr Underhill, a former accountant, did not find the confidence to go forward for ordination until his forties, he said, despite sensing a vocation as a teenager. “Even now, my Church still cannot agree that men and women are born that way, and homosexuality is not a choice, and therefore it is not a sin.”

The foreword to the book was written by Jayne Ozanne, an LGBT campaigner who represents the diocese of Oxford on the General Synod, and whose book Just Love: A journey of self-acceptance was published recently by DLT (Books, 17 August).

She said on Thursday of last week: “We are all here united to celebrate a wonderful life. . . On reading his book, I realised that so much of his life resonates with my own and others who have struggled to come to terms with, or to live in, a world which has struggled to come to terms with our sexuality.”

Ms Ozanne’s motion for the Church to lobby the Government to ban conversion therapy was carried by the Synod last year (News, 14 July 2017).

Before the debate, she had received a handwritten letter from Mr Underhill, “of grace, of pain, of truth about a man who had gone through virtually every form of conversion therapy that man could throw; and yet he had come through, knowing that he was loved by God, and lovable.”

In the letter, part of which Ms Ozanne read to the Synod, he prayed that God would support her endeavours to “bring about an end once and for all to the Churches’ homophobia in all its forms, which have, throughout the ages, caused so much misery and suffering to countless thousands of people who were made in the image of God”.

The Government has since agreed to ban conversion therapy. Crucial to this move were the stories of individuals, Ms Ozanne said, and that was what his book was about. “Thank you for your honesty in the book, and the kindness which has come through it.”

The profits will be donated to the Charterhouse. Its new public entrance, museum, and café were officially opened by the Queen, last year (News, 3 March 2017).

Coming out of the Black Country, by Stanley Underhill is published by Zuleika at £20. zuleika.london/product/coming-out-of-the-black-country

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