I’ve got a guest weekly walker over here this week. Rev Dave is a real character. Within moments of me meeting him he invited me on his radio show Punk Monk and the Angel and we’ve been firm friends ever since. A man of many talents and a big ‘ol heart full of love he is the man behind Creoginity and available for weddings, baby namings, funerals amongst other things.
Rev Dave marches at Manchester Pride every year with a group of like-minded Christians, out to show the unconditional love of God to everyone Gay, Bi, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and straight. Here are some of his memories from a couple of these events in his own words for you to enjoy.
When Manchester clergy walked in a previous Pride festival brandishing a banner with the legend: “WALKING WITH PRIDE for INCLUSIVE CHURCH!”, we met the party-poopers who sadly always try to spoil Pride for the thousands of well-wishers lining the route. Holding our banner aloft, we told the crowd that these hate-mongers did not represent Christianity. Someone shouted: “Then the church is dead! Long live The Church!”
My Grandson Liam was asked to be at the head of this year’s parade, just behind the open top car leading the procession from which Sir. Ian McKellen waved to the crowd. Liam had recently won a Homo-Hero Award for his role in founding the youth movement Queerstianity to counter hate preached in the name of religion. Queerstianity members are gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist – any young people who are sick of the world being defined by people’s prejudices. Membership is approaching 1,000 in this their first year.
Gandalf and Granddad The Gray with Liam, Lois and King Bling at PRIDE 2010.
Lucky to be strolling along with Liam and one of Manchester’s favourite daughters, Claire Mooney, I enjoyed the fantastic atmosphere. People of all backgrounds from all over Manchester and beyond had turned out in their thousands to affirm that sexuality is a human right. Just behind us, the Coronation Street cast were waving to the crowd from their 50th Anniversary float. Children waved back their rainbow flags, people in party mood blew whistles, others leaned out of windows to take photographs of the floats. Just near John Ryland’s Library, the hate-mongers had grouped to spread their weird interpretation of the bible – which in their hands is like someone reading the maintenance manual for a Volkswagen who doesn’t own a car and has never actually driven one. It would shock their socks off if they put the biography away and met the person! Spotting I was a Christian priest, one of them told me: “You don’t love Jesus!” Well, if anyone wants to tell me what to think, I reserve the privilege of telling them where to go! Nice to get a handshake from a police officer for the grace of my delivery!
To my grandchildren, I’m “Granddad the Gray”. As the crowd cheered Sir Ian, who played Gandalf the Grey in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, it struck me that people of all sorts were deeply relieved to be celebrating their commonality, a little like the scene in the film where the races of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Men, having defeated the mind controlling, destiny defining evil of Mordor had come together to crown their king. Well if any heart-warps are reading this – let me tell you something really important about Mancunians: like Hobbits, we bow to no-one! As a composite race in a great land that recognises the dignity of everyone who does not abuse others with words or actions, we believe in religious freedom and in a higher good that embraces everyone.
Manchester Pride 2013
As in previous years, I was walking in the parade with other Christians. We were in good company. A Scottish pipe band, Manchester Police Band and projects like Albert Kennedy Trust were among the many floats showing pride in the diversity of our city. Progressive Muslims were walking this year too.
As in previous years, we had to walk past a group of part developed Christians who have not fully engaged or understood their own story, yet nevertheless believe they understand other people’s stories and have a duty to tell them of a Christ filled with vehement hatred and loathing. We forgive them, for having placed their little selves above the magnificent heart of God they literally have no idea what they are doing. That said they do make it difficult for others to understand the inclusive love of God. From being a gauntlet of hate,fear, ignorance and prejudice, this passage of faith has become for we happy band of pilgrims the highlight of the parade. This year we had “Big Jesus” walking with us, a huge figure attired in white with a rainbow shawl. As we drew near the prophets of hell, the crowd around them drowned out their vitriol with loud, joyful cheers. I’m afraid my little self kicked in, for in a lull I called across to the hate preachers:
“We reclaim the inclusive love of the Christ who you have sought to defile with your misguided nonsense. We are tired of being misrepresented and defy your vile message in His name!”
The crowd went wild and the self-loathing homophobes were silenced.
We marched on. I did magic tricks for the children cheering from the sides, rushed to hug friends, neighbours and folk whose badges and banners declared they understood the right of every human being to dignity and integrity of personal identity. Folk asked us for blessings – which we gladly shared – and among the many photographs we were asked for was one from an Irish Catholic woman who wanted a shot of me and a black clad priest side by side. After taking the photograph, she explained that she lived in part of Eire where folk would not believe how loving the faith was in our fair city and that she planned to make the image into a banner to hang above the site of a certain post office.
..People asked to have their picture taken with “Big Jesus”. From luscious red devils, glowing angels and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, everyone wanted their picture alongside the “Big Yin” who had put the hate preachers to shame. Charged with leading “Jesus” back to the car park through the heaving crowds, I had my work cut out. But despite my aching feet this proved a most joyous task. As we inched along, Chinese, Japanese, American, and other visitors to Manchester posed with their children and “Big Jesus”.
“Hey!” suddenly I was enfolded in a beautiful hug from a young woman I’d known when I was a social worker. “Good to see you and to see you are still letting people know it’s ok to accept themselves and shake off the fear and prejudice of others”.
As we moved through the Pride market stalls, I met neighbours and other friends and “Big Jesus” prompted further brief positive exchanges. One group of women stopped me and asked quite honestly:
“Doesn’t Jesus hate us lesbians?”
I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Not at all”, I responded,“some people just don’t know how to get out of misguided interpretations of an old book to accept the touch of what is being written on human hearts in every age …”
As one, they rushed round to hug me.
“By heck!” I joked, “It’s a good job I’ve taken vows of chastity. I’m an old man now, but in my teens it was my dream to be in a scrum with a group of lesbians. Perhaps older means wiser and it’s far nicer to touch base with who people really are nowadays”.
“Come here, you daft bugger”, one of them said, “I want my picture taken with you”.
“You’d do better with a camera”.
They took it in turns to take each others pictures with their arms round me and as they went to depart, one gave me a kiss.
“I’ve been too hurt by church to go into one”, she said. “I know that Jesus loves me, but its good to hear that there are priests who know it too”.
I walked away smiling, but my heart had almost cracked at the cruelty of a world where the gospel of love had been so manipulated and twisted that decent people were left feeling beyond its reach. All day people had been coming up to us, often secretly, to ask where they could find churches that would accept them and between us we were able to point them towards various places of worship across this city where Jesus true message of inclusive love and personal identity in the great cosmic heart was shared among equals.
To read Rev Dave’s exploits at Manchester Pride this year check out The Brit Babes blog on Monday 8th September. He’ll be the first man of the cloth to visit our little smutty corner of cyber space but he won’t be the last!