Written as a part of a Lent 2017 project.
Demonstrating outside the Russian Embassy. Photo by Sarah Moore. See more at http://www.femmenism.co.uk/chechnya-protest/
I’m not used to making Holy Week or Easter a spiritual high point in my year. Sure, I go to church on Good Friday but it’s for the maybe-hot cross buns and the chat rather than the death of our Saviour. Yet even when I was wondering what cocktail to have for lunch during the Gospel reading (I settled for Long Island Iced Tea), the enormity of the story pricked away at me. And as we left, Johnny Cash sang out Were You There (When They Crucified My Lord).
I felt I was there, processing along the seafront carrying the cross, our church group smaller and older than it’s ever been before (at 27, I was the youngest). Martha and Sarah asked me how my new job at Stonewall was going. I struggled to explain what I do to these two stalwarts of the church, who I’ve always assumed to be homophobic with very little evidence. This was the first time Martha recognised that maybe I’m gay.
Why didn’t I tell them what’s happening in Chechnya and where I was on Wednesday? Outside the Russian Embassy with hundreds of queer activists and allies demanding a closure to the reported rounding up, encampment and murder of gay men. These men are the scapegoats that deadly hate creates, as was Jesus.
I didn’t see the connection on Wednesday. Despite a Lent of reading the Psalms and reengaging with The Lord’s Prayer, I didn’t think of praying for Chechnya. After the demo, a colleague invited us back to his flat. Fred, in his 40s, welcomed us as his husband Max, 80, told us about closeted life and heartbreak in the 1960s. My face was a picture all night long, sipping the wine and sipping the (metaphorical) tea.
Back at church on Good Friday over the promised cross buns, Diana told us how clearing out her late Mother’s home was going. Christine talked about her husband’s trip to an evangelical Christian festival that she finds too big. And Betty, who a month ago was walking, wheeled up next to me and shared my disappointment over the not-hot cross buns. However much I hate what homophobia the global church has created and maintained, I care deeply for the church ladies I drink actual tea with.
These still feel like parts of my life to reconcile. You can be gay and Christian, but I’m gay then Christian and usually feeling inadequate and inauthentic in both spaces. And then there’s Jesus. The pricking of an unimaginable story of crucifixion and resurrection that maybe I believe more than I think. A story that says I am here now, because I was there when they crucified Jesus and I must be there for the ‘crucifying’ of men in Chechnya. A story that, come Easter Day tomorrow, brings another promise that maybe I now believe or cling on to a little more. Love wins.
How do you pray when it’s no longer your day job? After three and a half years working at Tearfund and Christian Aid, Joey is starting a new job at LGBT Organisation Stonewall. Joey blogs and tweets (@joeyknock) about faith, LGBTQ culture, masculinity, Disney, and Lorraine Kelly. Seaside walks in Southend make him happy.