On Sunday I found myself somewhere unexpected: my local United Reformed Church LGBT service.
Unexpected because being at a loose end with my wife being at her mother's place I'd seen myself spending an evening in front of the telly watching CSI, but I ended up giving a disabled friend a lift into town.
There is something deliciously naughty about parking on a double yellow line, even if you have a blue disabled badge in the window. I could imagine the judge looking skeptical when told that I was running a disabled pensioner friend into her church service, but that was the truth and anyway no traffic warden wrote me a ticket.
As I've probably mentioned before, I was raised as an Anglican in a rural community. Growing up an Anglican is easy, there's God and Jesus, then the Queen, and the vicar comes round to primary school in his Morris Minor to tell you all the bible stories and everything's so frightfully nice about it all. You sing rousing hymns about saints and seasons to the soft refrain of a church organ, you pick blackberries in the churchyard and there is always honey still for tea.
If Jesus' message was of a higher authority than the Emperor of His day then British rural Anglicanism is there to remind you of the contrary: a cosy certainty that His message on Earth is safely coincident with being British, and that the Queen is a much more benevolent figure than Herod or the Pharaoh. Belief is optional, it's all about taking part. If you've never read the Terry Pratchett novel Small Gods, I suggest you do so, I see in it a biting satire of British Anglicanism.
Blimey, being a five-year-old was so easy!
Of course, when you grow up and become a rebellious depressive teenager you realise that the church is a creaky old building with holes in its roof, and that the Church it represents is run by stupid old men whose minds are in another era.
With respect to Church attendance, I'm definitely a Harvest Festival Anglican. But I know all the moves and more importantly for last Sunday I know all the back story as told to me by our vicar back in the sunny 1970s.
So there I was, sitting in my first Bible discussion for thirty years, and finding it interesting to look upon it with the eyes of an adult. And unexpectedly not finding it embarrassing, thank you Vicar, I know this stuff!
Sadly for my more faith-led readers though, this was no Damascene moment. I still count myself the same small-c christian I did before and there was no blinding moment of renewed faith. I envy those with Belief, but I'm still not one of them.
The service performs a vital role for its regulars, ministering to Christians who may have been excluded from their own congregations. The minister, a very down-to-earth American lady, was very welcoming to the extent that I almost felt guilty, as though there on false pretences. The other people present came from a variety of backgrounds within the LGBT alphabet soup, among them several transgender people, but there was one in particular who stuck in my mind. Though she was presenting female she like me spends most of her time as a bloke, but there our similarities end. She had only come out of her closet in the last few months, and just at that most vulnerable point her (AFAICT some kind of Baptist) church had ousted her and persuaded her wife to leave her. She wasn't even certain that transitioning was for her, but unlike me she'd been denied the chance to even try to hang in there for her wife.
I'm sure her church could go on for hours and hours about the sanctity of marriage. Her minister probably has a great sermon on the subject, about sin and fornication and all sorts of other temptingly forbidden stuff. But just at the point when one of their own really needs their help and support, all that sanctity of marriage stuff goes out of the window and it's all get lost and don't come back. [Village in Austria] [village in Worcestershire]s!
My apologies. Living in a largely secular bubble, you forget that this kind of stuff can happen here, too.
On a lighter note, afterwards we found ourselves in one of my town's gay pubs. As a new attendee I was naturally asked a few questions. I don't think they expected a giant sized scruffy bloke to be transgender, I was asked something that made me laugh. "Which way?". I suppose I should take heart, if my questioner believed from looking at me that I might once have been female then all is not lost for me on the passing front!