Tag Archives: Courage

2012 Project365 (Day 257)

Courage CelebrationToday I flew to London to go to the Courage 25 year anniversary service. Jeremy Marks, the founder of Courage, is semi-retiring and as a result Courage will be ceasing in it’s current form and taking on a new format called The Two 23 Network. It looks like it should be really exciting and I can’t wait to see how things develop.

The Thanksgiving Service was absolutely lovely, although a little lengthy, which was a bit of a shame as it meant that I wasn’t really able to spend much time chatting with people. One of the nicest things about the service though was hearing people talk about their experiences of being at Courage and also the impact that Jeremy has had on their lives. Dave Tomlinson spoke at the service and was really challenging.

I miss seeing the Courage members. Over the years their support and faith has been both comforting and inspirational. Whilst being in Guernsey is, without a doubt, the right thing for us, it doesn’t stop me missing people and having input from them. Courage has played such a major part in my own life over the last 15 years, and I truly appreciate all that the organisation has done for me over this time.

It has been a lovely day, but now I am absolutely shattered! I think I need to take it easy tomorrow! This photograph is the beautiful window at St Luke’s and Christ Church in Chelsea which is where the service was.

The glorious mess of humanity

DSCN4319On 7 October 2008 an article appeared in The Times called ”The camp that ‘cures’ homosexuality”. The reporter Lucy Bannerman took a little trip to an Exodus International conference where she met some people who were intent on kicking their Same Sex Attraction (SSA).

The article is interesting, but it left me feeling sad, unbelievably sad, that beautiful people are still putting themselves through these sorts of programmes. I know of several people who have been involved with these sorts of organisations, all of whom have now accepted their sexuality as part of who they are. The damage that is caused when people try to change their true nature can be catastrophic, and I still believe that some people will never recover from the emotional trauma they are put through. Not only is damage done to those people who attend the programmes but the assertion that ”marriage is evidence of healing” also means that spouses, and children, are damaged too. The idea that getting married and living this fake life is evidence of healing scares me. Living an inauthentic life can never be evidence of true healing.

Instead I believe that individuals who truly find out who they really are, and who learn to celebrate their identity are those who truly find healing. I have been involved with Courage for many years and originally they were an ex-gay ministry… these days though they are gay-affirming and it feels like a very different place to be. Jeremy Marks who heads up Courage is mentioned in the article…

“One ex-gay leader who has come to the same conclusion is Jeremy Marks. A mild-mannered 56-year-old from Surrey, he pioneered one of the first ex-gay networks in the UK. But after ten years, the attempted suicide of a former resident led him to question the value of SSA therapy. He found that, rather than helping people, it led to depression and dysfunctional behaviour. “They stopped going to church, stopped going to work,” he recalls. “The only ones who appeared to be doing well were those who accepted that they were gay and got on with their lives.” Marks is now openly gay and runs Courage, a support group for gay Christians.”

To be honest I think he nails it with this quote…

“Really, what the ex-gay movement is all about is salving the conscience of the Christian leaders who don’t like to be accused of homophobia,” he says. “That way they can say ‘we don’t hate gays – look how we are welcoming them’.”

The article also mentions Peterson Toscano who is an ex-gay survivor and along with Christine Bakke set up an organisation called Beyond Ex-Gay They offer help and support for those who have been through ex-gay movements and allow them to share their stories, often stories that have been hidden for many years behind layers of guilt, shame and a sense of failure.

Whilst organisations such as Exodus exist the need for people like Peterson and Christine will continue. We need those who have gone before to share their stories and show that the pressure that is put on people to conform to a particular set of values, roles and identities is not necessarily the right way. We need people to show that there is light at at what might be a very dark tunnel for those who struggle with their sexuality and identity. We also need those people who are straight allies. Those who will share the pain, stories, tears and the hopes and fears with those who are trying to work things through. We need people to advocate in our churches, who will continue to suggest that ex-gay programmes do not work and in fact will be damaging for the beautiful LGBT people in our congregations.

Life would be so boring if we were all the same. Who wants to be surrounded by people who are identical clones? Let us share in the glorious mess of humanity, the wonderful different people we come across and celebrate the individuality we find around us every day.

The retreat

DSCN5225Well now I have finally had time to catch up with myself I can think a little bit about the weekend. As usual it was fab to spend some time with the boys and girls of Courage in the beautiful Charney Manor. The company was fabulous, the surroundings wonderful and the food spectacular.

DSCN5222The subject matter for this years retreat was ”From Certainty to Serenity” and it was mainly about the the questions we ask ourselves and others. Questions about God, the church, life, relationships, where we’re going, why we are here. Any and every question possible. Instead of shying away from those questions the retreat encouraged us to keep asking and keep searching, and more importantly to enjoy the journey even if we didn’t get the answers we wanted or expected. The last session we had was communion. There is something particularly wonderful about sharing communion with such a diverse group of people. The singing, as always, was divine, harmonies all over the place. The weaving together of the voices seemed to reflect the fact that the differences we all had didn’t matter too much when we all came together for a common reason.

DSCN5230This retreat wasn’t quite what I expected but during the middle of it I realised just how far I have come since I first started attending Courage retreats about 8 years ago. Back then I was just a sobbing mess in the corner with someone supplying me with a constant stream of tissues. I was insecure and naive and whilst I still have moments when I feel like that the majority of the time I am more confident about who I am, and more importantly who God has called me to be.

Courage has done me good. It has given me the space to find out who the real me is, and the safe space to explore what that really means. The retreat gave me space to reflect and consider what was in the past, to look at the present and to wonder what the future might be like. I also laughed my socks off and drank plenty of wine… but that was an added bonus :)

Retreat

Today I am off on a retreat with Courage. I am really looking forward to it, not least because I have had such a tiring week and I am looking forward to not having to look after myself this weekend. All my meals are provided, I have a bed to sleep in and I can spend time with people who I love and who are such fun. Not least I get to have some time with God in a totally different environment.

One of the best things about Courage is the singing! It is totally heavenly; mainly men, often singing in harmony and I adore it. The subject is “From Certainty to Serenity” and it seems to be mainly about the questions we ask. Lord knows I have asked so many questions over the last few years, and whilst I have had answers to some of them, it is the ones that haven’t been answered that I am more interested in.

RC Part 52 – Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks

I have just finished reading Exhanging the Truth of God for a Lie by Jeremy Marks.

This is Jeremy’s story of how he founded Courage and how over the years the focus of Courage has changed and transformed into something very different from that which he expected. In the early years Courage encouraged gay men and women to pursue celibacy and whilst (I don’t believe) they encouraged people to change from being gay to being straight, they did advise and counsel people that they would have to suppress their same-sex attractions in order to live a Godly life. Over time Jeremy became increasingly uncomfortable with this position and in 2001 they changed their pastoral approach to one which fully supports same-sex partnerships. As a result they lost many supporters, had to leave Exodus International and the Evangelical Alliance.

I have had the privilege of being involved with Courage for about 12 years, so have been with them both as an ex-gay ministry and an affirming ministry. This book charts that progress and the difficulties that have been faced along the way. Jeremy does look at Scripture on the way through the book, but what struck me again and again was what enormous integrity Jeremy Marks has show through the process. I have always known that he is a gentle, kind and Godly man but his strength is something that I have often overlooked.

This is a great read, especially if you are unsure as to how to respond to the issues and, in my opinion, should be a compulsory read for everyone who is in the church!

Courage

I have had a very moving day, in so many ways. Today was the 20th anniversary celebration for Courage. Courage is a Christian organisation which works with lesbian, gay and bisexual men women, as well as being a safe and open place for their friends and families.

I have been involved with Courage since about 1996 when my friend Simon (who obviously at one point I thought I was going to marry because he is lovely!) came out to me. As a very naive 20 year old I didn’t really know how to deal with it, despite wanting to support him and gain some understanding into what he was going through. I was trying to reconcile my faith and beliefs with what Simon was experiencing and my brain was a bit fried really. Simon got involved with Courage and he introduced me to Jeremy Marks, the founder of Courage who offered me an amazing amount of support, helping me to try and understand what Simon was going through. At this time Courage was an ex-gay ministry; they believed that it was possible for gay men and women to change, either to become heterosexual, or to live a life of celibacy but not necessarily changing their sexual orientation.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, due to personal circumstances I stopped going to Courage for a while and when I went back in 2000-and-something I found that they had changed significantly. Instead of being an ex-gay movement Courage had transformed into this wonderful ministry; affirming gay men and women and encouraging them to be real and honest about their personal journies.

Today’s celebration was a very moving and emotional experience. I saw friends I haven’t seen for years and years (including the lovely Maris who still gives the best cuddles ever) and as part of the service we heard testimonies from several people who shared their stories of faith, recovery and hope and the ways in which Courage and Jeremy had helped them. I unashamedly wept throughout some of these stories as the individuals shared about their brokenness.

Having had a train trip home to reflect on today, and the last 12 years, and once again I realised that it is such an awesome privilege to have shared the journey with these men and women. During the service I stood alongside my friend Simon and some of my other close friends, and as we worshipped I know that I have such a depth of connection with them. Despite the fact that I am a straight woman, my journey with these guys has run a parallel course with their journies, intersecting at various points along the way. The pain of their brokenness and the ways in which their churches have treated them have increased my passion for those who are disaffected by our religious institutions and leaders. My desire to stand up for their rights as individuals who are loved by God, to be a straight ally, is undiminished. This role has been costly, being seen as an outsider is difficult, no matter the reason you feel excluded. Indeed being seen as an ally has put me at odds with church groups and leaders, and at times even my family, and yet, I hold onto the belief that this is a place that God has called me to be.

Would I have chosen a different journey if I had known that it would be painful along the way? I doubt it somehow. Their experiences, and mine, have brought such a richness to my life. They have challenged me out of my middle-class, self-righteous, charismatic, straight, evangelical, know-it-all roots.

These days I am happy to live with the not-knowing, with not being able to make things OK for them. I am happy to not have all the answers. I am content to be a safe place for them to come home to. I delight in being a refuge for them when everything is confusing and difficult and I am grateful that they have shared their lives and struggles with me. The extremes of emotions that we have shared is extraordinary and I laugh and cry more with these people than almost anyone else.

These people have made me who I am today.

Thank you.

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London, sunshine and the media whore

What a gorgeous day today!!! Peterson and I went into London and wandered around for quite a considerable portion of the day. We started off in Soho and went to a fab vegan restaurant for lunch and then we went down by Charing Cross Station for coffee where Peterson proceeded to fall asleep in Starbucks. I left him to it for a while. He was very tired. Must be his age I think. After that we had a little wander through the gardens and I took arty photos of things.

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Then we wandered back up to St Martin in the Field Church in Trafalgar Square which has recently been refurbished. It has the most beautiful window – very simple but so striking.

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The weather was lovely, hot and sunny for most of the day and on the way to our next engagement we stopped off at the National Portrait Gallery for a quick culture fix. Our next stop was to the BBC radio studios for Peterson to do an interview for BBC Ulster. I am just hoping (and praying) that the interviewer didn’t hear us talking too much before the interview – there was some rather “interesting” comments going on.

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After this we made our way to Courage for their monthly meeting and Peterson was presenting. Once again I found the evening quite emotional, although I am still processing the exact reasons for that. Maybe I will come back to that sometime soon when I have thought things through a little more.

We finally got home at 12.45am. Tired, but it was a fab day.