“I reached through the decorative wrought iron grill to touch the granite surface. As my hand passed over the moulded flames my body shook with piety. I looked heavenwards and felt a sense of completeness and protection.”

Over the past two and a half years Christianity has made an incredible impact on my life. The quote above is taken from a blog I wrote for the Huffington Post: The Beginning of my Journey with Faith. It demonstrates the intensity of my journey with Christianity. Faith massively empowers me, Christianity now having a central place in my life. It is a never ending source of hope and I have found the Church of England to be overflowing with love. With Christianity propelling me forwards, my life continues to be transformed. I have not felt so much positive energy in my life since the formative years I spent at university. At university I was challenged, learned academically and about life, made new friends, my aspirations changing and my identity developing rapidly. Christianity, in particular the church I attend, is providing a similar stimulus in my life now.

Faith for LGBT people, and specifically the LGBT movement within the Church of England, is one of the main components of my human rights agenda. Christian values can inform and enhance the gay rights agenda. I want other LGBT people to realise that Christianity can be welcoming and supportive of them. For me religion is about acceptance and not repression. LGBT people can enrich a congregation and form a key part of the Christian community.

I am a member of an amazing church in Waterloo called St John’s. There are six wonderful priests there, three of whom are gay. St John’s is inclusive, welcoming and a place of profound hope. I have a strong sense of personal piety, by which I mean a loving connection with Jesus. I know that Jesus loves me. My faith informs self expression. St John’s embodies the values of equality and diversity which were central to my human rights activism before I connected with faith. The mission statement of the church, as set out on our website is: www.stjohnswaterloo.org “Being radically inclusive, welcoming people regardless of faith background, economic circumstances or physical ability.”

The diversity of the congregation is something we are proud of. All come together to worship God. The website notes that the: “Congregation is made up of people from the UK, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Germany, the USA, Australia, Malaysia and many other places. We have LGBT members, married people, single people, children and adults.”

In the past LGBT people have experienced discrimination from the Church of England. This has taken many forms, including outright persecution. LGBT people have not been loved by the Church as they should have been. Often they have been left feeling “like second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone” (Open Letter Sent to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on 7 January 2016 by 105 Senior Anglicans). I have found the Church of England, particularly St John’s, to be welcoming and inclusive. At St John’s they are interested in helping me develop as a person and celebrating my individuality. It would be wonderful to fall in love with another man who is as passionate about Christianity as I am, so that we can celebrate Jesus together in church. The team of priests is headed by the inspirational Revd Canon Giles Goddard. Giles is a beacon of hope. On same-sex issues Giles notes that the Church of England must come: “to acknowledge the loving relationships which are all around us.

For most of my life I perceived myself as an atheist or an agnostic. I did not believe that there was a God, or did not think that it was possible to determine if any God existed. Neither of my parents is a practising Christian. At school we attended church services, but this was more of a formality, an obligation which I often resented. In my late teens and twenties I constructed my identity in opposition to faith, having a respect for the beliefs of others and acknowledging the humanitarian work of the church, but ultimately dismissive of Christianity as tradition. In my twenties I became a successful lawyer working in financial services in the City. I led a culturally rich and fulfilling life. My identity as a happy, confident and successful HIV positive gay man, co-infected with Hep C, has been enhanced by incorporating Christianity into my life. I feel more at ease with myself than ever.

After the end of 2013 I felt a new energy and hope in my life, that of Christianity. I had experienced a period of depression, a crisis linked to my health deteriorating at the end of 2012. My physical health picked up quickly, the incredible medical team at the Royal London Hospital’s Grahame Hayton unit correcting the dip in my CD4 count, which is the main indicator used to measure the health of an HIV positive person. Although physically better, I experienced a psychological malaise, lacking motivation and enthusiasm.

I would often visit the historic Baroque churches near where I lived in London. I would go and sit in the churches, admiring the architecture and savouring the atmosphere, appreciating their tranquillity and feeling reinvigorated when I left. In October 2013 I started to feel there was more to this than beautifully arranged columns, architraves and cornices. In November 2013 I was inspired, when sitting in St Lawrence Jewry, to ask if I could take home a Bible to read. They gave me one and this is still the Bible I use today. I sleep with my Bible next to my bed, or with it under my pillow. I think of the love of Jesus protecting me and feel happier and safer.

However, it was when I found St John’s in Waterloo that I really felt at home. Between October 2014 and May 2015 I had a series of meetings with Giles to discuss my nascent faith. This helped to give focus to the passion and gratitude I felt for God. He suggested books and scriptural passages for me to read, including Mark’s Gospel and Jeffrey John’s seminal The Meaning in the Miracles.

From the beginning of 2015 I took part in the service not just as an onlooker, but as an altar servant. I was really honoured to be asked and felt that this was a visible statement of my faith. I carry the crucifix as crucifer, or the candles as an acolyte, wearing the traditional alb, a flowing white robe. I felt special to be sitting so close to the altar. There was also an element of responsibility though and it made me perceive the service differently, as I was now an integral ceremonial part. I love being in church, talking to the multiplicity of people in the congregation and making new friends. They accept me as a gay and HIV positive young man. In May 2015 I was confirmed at Southwark Cathedral, which represented a new phase in my spiritual maturity (My Confirmation).

There is a great project, headed at St John’s by the wonderful Revd Les Acklam, called ROBES, which supports the homeless in south London. Twenty-three churches have united to provide accommodation for the homeless from January to March, St John’s providing shelter every Wednesday night. I help to set up camp beds, distribute sleeping bags and prepare a dining table from which the guests eat. I love the thoughtful and respectful way in which the homeless are treated, each having their own sleeping bag. In Handsome and Homeless, but not without Hope, I’ve written more about my experiences with ROBES.

I wish to place an emphasis on inclusion for LGBT people within the Church of England. Jesus’ attitude, throughout the New Testament, is one of love and inclusivity. The Holiness Code, in the Old Testament’s Leviticus, is anachronistic. Anything homophobic needs to be read in the context of the other historically specific references found there, including not eating shellfish, a ban on wearing mixed fibres and suggesting stoning a child to death as an appropriate punishment. Once contextualised even Leviticus’ homophobia dissolves. These statements cannot be taken out of context and are not a template for Christianity or modern life. Romans I and Paul’s Letters (found in the New Testament) include some insubstantial remarks about behaving in an effeminate way, or in a way which is contrary to nature. However, as set out in The Meaning in the Miracles, a book which has been a key influence on my faith, in the New Testament’s miracles, Jesus seeks to include previously excluded groups within the love of the Church. With the healing of the centurion’s servant, found in Matthew, Luke and John, Jesus does this for gay men. The centurion goes to Jesus, telling him that his servant is sick. Jesus miraculously heals the servant of his illness. As Jeffrey John sets out, the centurion’s servant was almost certainly his lover. Such liaisons were commonplace in Roman military life, as evinced by Hadrian and Antinous. The allusion would have been clear to Jesus’ contemporaries and Jesus does not criticise their homosexual relationship. The values of equality and diversity are found to an even greater extent in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus demonstrates a strain of altruism which is powerful and compelling. It invigorates my soul, inspiring me and driving me forwards.

Giles has written a great book on Church of England inclusion called Space for Grace. The Meaning in the Miracles, Space for Grace and Mark’s Gospel are a great place for any gay man to start if they would like to reconsider the question of faith in their lives. My Huffington Post blogs contain more information for anyone wanting to learn more about my journey with faith. I would also urge people to check out the websites of St John’s (www.stjohnswaterloo.org), Inclusive Church (www.inclusive-church.org.uk), the Church of England (www.churchofengland.org) and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (www.lgcm.org.uk).