IN MAY 2022 I became a member of the Methodist Church in Britain, inspired by moves in 2021 for greater justice, dignity and solidarity for all, especially LGBT+ people.
In February 2023 I led my first service as a trainee local preacher. To be considered for ordination, it used to be necessary to complete local preacher training first, but in May 2023 that restriction was lifted, and I began the process of applying to begin training as a Methodist minister in 2024. Below is the text of a testimonial I wrote for a portfolio as part of my application. I will find out in February 2024 if my application has been accepted.
Hello, my name’s Kieran.
I’m from an Irish Catholic family, and I went to Catholic schools until I was 18. I remained active in the church where I was baptised and confirmed until I went to university at 19, and for several years as a young adult.
Aged 14, for Confirmation preparation the priest gave us a 5,000-word project on ‘Service In The Church’. I was the only one to complete it, which led peers to comment on my faith and commitment.
At 16 I completed a Cathechist’s course, which included teaching R.E. to a small group in a junior school. It led me to helping with Confirmation clas ses, and becoming a Eucharistic Minister, distributing communion in church, and taking it to people who were housebound.
At university, I volunteered with the Catholic Society, leading on fundraising and social justice activities, and hosting Evening Prayer. My Literature degree included a module in The Bible & Problems of Interpretation. While studying, I began discerning a call to ministry. Having survived a serious mental health crisis as a teenager, I felt I had been given another chance, and needed to give my life to God in gratitude for the gift of new life. During a selection conference at a Catholic seminary to assess my suitability for priesthood, I expected to be told I needed more experience. Instead, I was given 24 hours to decide whether to take a teacher training course I had also been offered, or start seminary the next year.
I withdrew my seminary application and trained as a primary teacher. I taught in church schools for two years, then successfully re-applied to the seminary. It was soon mentioned that, after ordination, I might return to the seminary to teach. But cracks began to show, as I confided in my spiritual director about struggling with sexuality. He helped me begin to be free of shame and judgement. I was driven by the belief that God had ‘saved’ my life, so I had to ‘repay’ that gift. This negative image of myself and God was not a firm foundation for a life-long commitment to the Church, so I left, with my spiritual director’s support.
I then stayed with a religious community which ran a rehab for people in recovery from homelessness and addictions. They sent me to a retreat on Merseyside to discern my next steps. I left the community house and continued to work for the rehab. I left church completely, then returned cautiously, not knowing whether I could bring my whole self authentically into church, as a ‘failed priest’ and a gay man. I gained journalism qualifications, and my freelance clients included a young people’s charity, which hosted an LGBT+ youth group. I ended up working with that group for ten years, eventually coordinating the whole project. I felt called to this, though I struggled to reconcile it with my place in the church, which I felt would not recognise this as a valid expression of vocation.
The retreat centre I had been to on Merseyside advertised an annual weekend for LGBT+ Christians, which I attended for the first time two years later, and regularly for many years. The retreat leaders invited me to co-facilitate the weekend. Initially I declined – I felt I needed a place to receive, and not give. When they offered again in 2019, I accepted – it is a privilege to offer for others a ministry I have deeply valued.
As I had made friends on Merseyside through the LGBT+ Christian weekends, I moved to Liverpool 20 years ago. Here I have been involved with several churches, including Liverpool City Centre Methodist Church (also known as Somewhere Else, or the Bread Church) from 2005 to 2011, where I served on church council and received spiritual accompaniment from the minister, Barbara Glasson. Barbara helped me understand myself and God better, and integrate my spirituality and sexuality. I contributed to her book, The Exuberant Church: Listening to the prophetic people of God, about ‘coming out’ as a spiritual experience, and what the church could learn from it. While contributing to Barbara’s book, I began writing my own story, which became a blog I have maintained since 2012, called A Brave Faith.
Also in 2012, my husband and I became the first couple to register a civil partnership in a place of worship in the UK. We wrote our own service based on the language of covenant, not marriage, which was not legally possible for same-sex couples at that time. In 2015 we converted our civil partnership to marriage.
As my youth work became busier, I could no longer join Somewhere Else for midweek worship, so I found a new spiritual home at St Bride’s Liverpool, which had been in decline, until it piloted several ‘fresh expressions’. One of these took its name from the Methodist understanding that members and non-members are welcome to Communion. Open Table began in 2008 as a group of six Christians from four traditions who valued Communion, and their identities as LGBT+ people, who had not always been welcome in their churches. I was a founding member of the first Open Table community, and I joined its leadership team. By 2015, other churches started asking how to host an Open Table community. I supported this transition, from one to many communities, to becoming a network with a shared vision, mission, and values. The Open Table Network, now a registered charity, has grown to 35 communities across England and Wales (with more to come), hosted by churches in five different traditions, including two in Methodist churches. I’ve also spoken to more than 150 other churches about how they might better welcome, include, affirm and empower LGBT+ people. This has repeatedly involved stepping out in faith, not knowing from where the resources will come to sustain the work, or myself. I have received frequent affirmations that this is a Spirit-led movement, and that what we need will come.
In 2016 the Archdeacon of Liverpool commissioned me as a Local Missional Leader (LML for short) to serve the Open Table Liverpool community. I reflected deeply about whether to commit to a formal role in a church which struggled to recognise my ministry and relationship.
After commissioning me, the Archdeacon asked if I had thought about my next steps in ministry. I reminded him that licensed ministry in the Church of England was not open to me as a married gay man. As my role within the Open Table Network grew further across and beyond the diocese, I stepped down as an LML in 2021.
As part of my work with OTN, and freelance work for other ecumenical charities, I’ve followed the URC, Methodist and CofE conversations around identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage. I’ve been impressed by the grace, humility, and integrity of the Methodist conversations. When Conference voted in 2021 to allow same-sex couples to marry in churches which support this, against so-called ‘conversion therapy’ which tries to change people’s orientation and identity, and for using more inclusive language in its governance, I was impressed.
As I completed one year of working full-time for OTN, I went on retreat to review where I, and OTN, were going. In a guided meditation on the story of the road to Emmaus, when I prayed ‘How can I know you in the breaking of bread?’ I heard ‘Try the Methodist Church’.
I felt strongly that presbyteral ministry might yet be open to me, having grieved that it was closed to me in the Catholic and Anglican churches, as a married gay man. I discussed this with Barbara Glasson, and Mark Rowland from Dignity & Worth, a
‘group of Methodists committed to the full dignity and worth of every person, whatever their sexuality or gender identity’dignityandworth.org.uk
I asked him if the Methodist Church in Britain was open to ordaining someone in a same-sex marriage. When he said Conference had agreed to this soon after the UK Government legalised same-sex marriage, I wondered whether it would have changed anything for me if I had known this sooner.
I also spoke to the Chair of Liverpool District, who suggested I join St James Woolton, where I have attended regularly since January 2022, and became a member in May 2022. I began to get more involved, with leading prayers and reflections during telephone worship, reading and sharing intercessions in church, joining Church Council, organising a Lent course, and leading services as a local preacher on trial. I have also met regularly with another new member of the church to explore the Methodist Way Of Life together. Like the road to Emmaus, it’s good to have a companion on the journey as we pray, share, learn and serve together, our hearts warmed by our experience of the risen Jesus.