My Christian experience has helped shape all the reasons why I am passionate about IC – and that passion has swung from one end of the pendulum to the extreme other. My first few years in the faith which hindsight informs me were fundamentalist churches, exposed me to theology that told me that ‘same-sex attraction’ was anti-God and that those feelings needed to be dealt with, and groups like IC were heretical. Subsequently, I endured conversion therapy. I knew no better back then, but it taught me whole new ways to hate myself – and fired me up to convert all my LGBT+ friends and contacts to ‘the truth’.
I got married – that was no mistake (we have an amazing son) – and life went on, though the feelings within me never went away, and I tormented myself with the inner voice of ‘I am sick for having these thoughts’. We moved home and joined the local CofE Church -a very different environment.
My marriage ended in 2011 while I was an independent theology student, and it was then that I first encountered alternative theologies, and my eyes started to be opened, and I finally saw the true beauty of the rainbow reflected in what I was learning. I started to challenge my identity and finally accepted that I was not straight, and that I’m gay – or maybe even pan, though I told very few people. I met my now partner, but again, it was all secretive…and still felt ‘wrong’. I was reintroduced to IC, which further opened my mind and faith to how God’s love is shown through people of all backgrounds. During this time my health went downhill, and I became physically disabled and also (much to my relief) diagnosed as Autistic and ADHD – I’ve had to stop work – I was an Educational Sign Language Interpreter and Note Taker, so ironically I now find myself in many of the groups supported by IC.
Through the previous Regional Ambassador, Rev. David Babbington, who was based locally to me before moving to Mirfield as Dean of Pastoral Studies, I became more and more in the work of IC, visiting churches with Rev. David, and also by myself, showcasing all that IC does to congregations eager to learn more about God’s inclusive love for all. This has awoken a deep-seated desire to see all on the margins – where I am myself – acknowledged, recognised, seen, welcomed, and affirmed for who they – we – were made to be. So many live behind a façade imposed from outside, that imposition often being unconscious until someone offers them that red pill. It is this drive that has led me to be selected for Reader training within Lichfield Diocese, and alongside this, I lead a British Sign Language worship group, Signs for Worship Walsall (we’re on Facebook and we visit churches!), with Deaf and hearing members coming together on Friday evenings in worship and praise. I see the colours of that beautiful rainbow shine in so many ways, in so many places, from so many hearts. It’s an honour to be in that position, and I hope that through all I do, alongside so many others, the cause of IC will be forwarded to the point where we’re not needed, and radical inclusion becomes the norm.
Colin Townsend is the regional ambassador for Lichfield. If you would like to donate to Inclusive Church, please go to this page.