Day 3: Words and silence

My pilgrimage took an unexpectedly different turn today, when two friends asked (at the last moment) if they could join me for my walk from Coventry to Leamington Spa. I hesitated, because it is important to me to do most of the walking on my own.

However, I’m very glad that I said yes to them. It was great to have a day with company – for the conversation, for the shared prayer and because both the friends concerned are considerably better at navigating than I am.

I am pleased that my pilgrimage combines solitude with company and prayer with conversation. Both have already become very important to my walk.

I’ve had  interesting, helpful and enjoyable discussions with both friends and strangers. Not long after writing yesterday’s blog entry, I had the privilege of visiting Coventry Peace Church for the evening. They are a grassroots group of Christians inspired by Anabaptism, who meet to worship and share food in their members’ houses.

They had invited me some time ago to visit them when passing through Coventry on my pilgrimage, and I really appreciated their hospitality, excellent food and Christ-centred worship. We talked informally about my walk, and there were lots of questions and suggestions about the issues involved.

One issue that came up several times was the relationship between sexuality and other issues, in particular between homophobia and other injustices, and between the struggles against them. I feel that it is important not simply to campaign on various issues but to draw the links between them.

As if I needed a reminder of the reality of prejudice and inequality, Tory MP Philip Davies popped up in the House of Commons yesterday to suggest that employers should be allowed to pay disabled people less than the minimum wage. Disabled people are already being unfairly targeted in the government’s vicious cuts agenda and it seems that at least one government backbencher would like to go much further still.

As a Christian, I believe passionately that Christ offers us a way of looking at the world “upside-down”. The meek will inherit the earth. The merciful will receive mercy. Those who hunger for justice will be satisfied. Christ calls his disciples to radical lifestyles rooted in love.

Jesus showed a different way of for people to relate to each other. This means a rejection of relationships (in any sense) based on power, domination, economic exploitation, tradition or legalism. Instead, we have the chance of relationships rooted in love, compassion, respect and forgiveness. This is not about living by rules but about living by the Holy Spirit – which is much harder but far more fulfilling.

This radical approach to ethics concerns sexuality as well as many other aspects of human relations and behaviour. Thus the campaign for inclusion and equality with regards to gay and bisexual people is not only related to, but is part of, a struggle for a whole different way of living.

This is an issue I will continue to wrestle with as I walk. Your thoughts are very welcome!

Day 2: Forgiveness in Coventry

In planning for my walk, I was concerned that on some days I might take a lot longer to get to my destination than I’d intended. What I hadn’t expected was that it might take a lot less.

I’m pleased to report that I arrived in central Coventry early this afternoon, much to my own surprise. People who know me well (and probably people who know me slightly) will tell you that being early, or even being on time, is not an obvious characteristic of mine.

I visited Coventry Waterstone’s, where I used to work as a bookseller over six years ago. It was great to meet former colleagues, though the context was slightly odd (“What are you up to these days?”; “I’m walking from Birmingham to London”).

I’m really looking forward to meeting with Coventry Peace Church this evening. They have kindly offered me food and asked me to talk with them about my pilgrimage. They are inspired by Anabaptist ideas, and I expect I’m likely to share much of their outlook.

I felt almost guilty after my early arrival today, as if my walk were more authentic the more time it took. This is silly. My walk is neither a test of endurance nor an attempt to impress people.

The unexpected time this afternoon not only allowed me to restore  my energy ahead of the meeting with Coventry Peace Church but gave me time to pray in Coventry cathedral, a long standing symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness.

As I knelt in silence in front of the words ‘Father forgive’, I contemplated the nature of forgiveness and its relevance to homophobia and prejudice. I was interrupted by a cathedral steward shouting to visitors that the place was about to close, fortunately I’ll have plenty of time to contemplate these questions further over the next two weeks.

 

Roadsigns and radios

If I said that I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster, I might sound like a contestant on the X Factor.

However, I’ve been through an extremely wide range of emtion since yesterday evening. From the surprise gifts from friends after yesterday’s launch event – including a cake and a waterproof jacket – to taking the first steps from Carr’s Lane Church this morning, to being interviewed by a Radio 4 journalist as I walked, to the odd feelings as I waved goodbye to the friends who had walked with me for the first few miles, it’s been a strange 24 hours.

Perhaps the most suprising thing has been the media interest. I had a sudden rush of media calls yesterday and there was much more coverage today than I’d expected. I’ve done five radio interviews since last night. I’ve had supportive messages and comments, as well as those asking critical but important questions.

As a former press officer, I’m used to handling media interest – but today was different. Not only because of the personal nature of the subject but because the media interest was developing as I was walking through the streets, with only  a mobile phone to make me aware of it . Thankfully, my very efficient friend Hannah Brock was giving remote support, answering emails and monitoring coverage and making sure the BBC corrected their online story which mistakenly described me as “gay” in the headline (although it was great to see the story on the website; I was delighted that it made the “most read” list).

Hannah’s one of several friends and supporters who have truly humbled me with the time and care they have given to helping out. The friends I stayed with last night, and those I’m staying with tonight, have been really hospitable and given me great food (as has my friends’ dog, who jumped up and licked me the moment I entered the house today, looking considerably more lively than I felt after walking 16 miles). It’s been a very busy and confusing day, and possible only because of the people who have helped me through it, practically, spiritually and emotionally.

I’ve been asked if there is a danger of the publicity and support going to my head. It is a danger I’m aware of, and something I’m seeking to guard against. Perhaps the safest guard is the fact that I’m detached from the media interest by spending most of the time of the road. As I neared the end of today’s walk, my more pressing concern was the inconsistency of Warwickshire signposts.

My destination for the day was New Arley, so I was delighted when I reached a sign declaring that I was one and a quarter miles from New Arley. After walking for about ten minutes, I passed another sign, also telling me it was one and a quarter miles to New Arley. I walked about that distance, before the next signpost declared that New Arley was half a mile away. The claim was repeated by another sign about half a mile further on. I was surprised to find that after half a mile, I really did reach New Arley, which by that point felt like discovering the lost city of Atlantis.

I hope the signposts are at least slightly better on the way to Coventry tomorrow.

With the radio and internet coverage, there’s been a rush of comments on this site and I’ve also had lots of emails and Twitter messages. I’m sorry I’ve not had chance to reply to them all yet. While I can get email and Twitter on my phone, it’s difficult to use it at length, which means I’m dependent on internet access provided by people I’m staying with. However, I’m not walking on Sunday, and hope to catch up with the comments and messages then. Thanks very much for your patience.

Some of the messages raise really interesting and valuable questions, which indicate that this pilgrimage is an opportunity for me to learn, and to be challenged as well as to challenge. This is really important. I was delighted with the range of discussion at the launch yesterday, from a question on Christian attitudes to homophobia, to consideration of New Testament passages that appear to condemn same-sex relations, to a question about how long-distance walking affects our attitudes to the built environment.

It’s difficult to get my head around all that has happened since yesterday afternoon, when I walked up to the ticket desk at London Marylebone station and asked for a ticket to Birmingham.

“One-way or return?” asked the ticket-seller.

“One-way please,” I replied, “I’m walking back.”

I’m not sure he believed me.

Symon starts walking

Symon has begun his pilgrimage this morning, leaving Birmingham and heading for New Arley in Warwickshire. He is really thankful for the support and positive comments he has been getting on the first day of his journey.

You can listen to Symon’s radio interviews from this morning:

BBC Five Live (from 1hr 41mins)

BBC Three Counties radio (from 1hr 9mins)

Premier Christian Radio 

Read the BBC’s coverage here: Bisexual Christian embarks on homophobic ‘hurt’ journey

He’ll be writing a blog post tonight about the first day of his walk, and the launch event in Birmingham yesterday evening.

The walk starts this week

I’ve been getting in training for my walk of repentance for some time, though have yet to see whether it will turn out to have been enough. In my final training walk yesterday, my friend Chris and I walked for six hours in Hampshire. It rained twice: once for two hours and once for four hours. I’m hoping for at least some dry days once I begin the walk for real this week.

The day after tomorrow, I will travel by train to Birmingham to begin my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia. Given that I first had the idea for the pilgrimage a year and eight months ago, this seems unbelievably close. I’ve been in a constant state of mixed excitement and nervousness for the last fortnight. But in the last two or three days I’ve felt calmer, as things have come together and I prepare to begin very soon. I thank God for keeping me focussed.

My pilgrimage will be launched with an event in Birmingham on Wednesday evening. I’ll then set out the next morning to being the walk to London.

All are welcome at the launch event. It will be at 7.00pm on Wednesday (15 June) at Carr’s Lane Church in central Birmingham (B4 7SX; a few minutes’ walk from New Street, Snow Hill and Moor Street stations).   I will speak and answer questions, before Robin Fox, a Methodist minister, leads a brief act of worship and commissioning. People of all religions and none are welcome to attend, whatever their views on sexuality. Those who would rather not participate in Christian worship are welcome to leave for the worship, but all will be welcome for tea or coffee and informal conversation afterwards.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at symonhill@gmail.com.

Greenbelt festival endorses pilgrimage of repentance

Greenbelt, one of Britain’s biggest Christian festivals, have contacted me to express their support as an organisation for my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia. I’ve been a big fan of Greenbelt since I first attended it ten years ago. I now go every year, have spoken there twice and I really enjoy it. I’m really chuffed to receive Greenbelt’s endorsement.

I’ve been taken aback (in a good way) by the number of organisations that have contacted me in the last few days to endorse my pilgrimage and ask me to list them as supporters (seven in the last week alone). With some of them, I had known that they were thinking about it. But with Greenbelt, I had no idea. It was a wonderful surprise.

Greenbelt draws over 20,000 people to Cheltenham every year. I find it a genuinely safe, but challenging, space in which to explore a whole range of issues with people of varied perspectives. While most of the people who go there have no problem with homosexuality, it’s still a place in which those who disagree can be welcome and be heard. This is overlooked by groups such as Anglican Mainstream, who campaign against the acceptance of same-sex relationships, and who called for a boycott of Greenbelt last year because Peter Tatchell was speaking there.

Greenbelt told me:

“Greenbelt is happy to support and encourage Symon in his walk of repentance. Our belief is that our Christian community is enriched by the inclusion of all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief. As a previous speaker and a loyal festivalgoer, Symon has always been supportive of this inclusive approach. We are pleased that we now have the opportunity to reciprocate that support, as Symon explores and promotes a vision of a faith where all are welcome.”

Christian students and Bisexual Index back walk of repentance

The Student Christian Movement (SCM) and the Bisexual Index have become the latest organisations to endorse my walk of repentance for homophobia. They’re both organisations which I really respect and I’m honoured to have their support.

SCM does great work promoting a socially inclusive and politically radical image of Christianity and helping students explore faith, life and politics in an open-minded environment. It is Britian’s oldest national student organisation, having been founded in 1889. The Bisexual Index plays an important role not only in fighting homophobia but in challenging the notion that everyone is either straight or gay. It is the first endorsing organisation that is not specifically religious.

This means the pilgrimage has now been endorsed by ten national organisations, as well as four local ones. This is more than I ever expected.

More endorsements are welcome at any time! If your church or other group would like to back the pilgrimage, please email me at symonhill@gmail.com.

I continue to be overwhelmed by the kind words and encouragement I have received in emails and Twitter messages from all sorts of people. There has been a steady stream since the Guardian reported on my pilgrimage plan yesterday. Last but by no means least, my own friends are providing more help than I could ever have asked for, both practically and emotionally. I’m feeling inspired but nervous as I prepare to begin walking a week today.

Evangelical, Quaker and Anglican groups endorse pilgrimage

My walk of repentance for homophobia is now just over a week away. I’m deligthed to say that in the last few days, another three national organisations have given their endorsement.

The groups in question are Accepting Evangelicals, who encouarge acceptance of loving same-sex relationships amongst evangelical Christians; Changing Attitude, who work to develop Anglican attitudes to sexuality; and Young Friends’ General Meeting, the organisation of British Quakers aged around 18-30. 

They join five other national organisations, along with individual churches and local groups, who have backed the walk. Please click here for a full list.

The support of these groups is a reminder that there is growing acceptance of same-sex relationship across nearly all wings of Christianity. Church divisions over sexuality are not – as the media sometimes imply – a matter of “liberals” on the one hand and “conservatives” or “evangelicals” on the other. The range of views that people hold are much too varied to fit into those two blocks. Furthermore, the endorsement for my walk by two evangelical groups (Accepting Evangelicals and Courage) is a reminder that many evangelicals d0 not reject same-sex relationships.

Along with the ednorsements from organisations, I continue to be humbled by the emails and comments I recieve from individuals. This evening, I recieved an email from a Christian mother of two adult children who are both gay Christians. She is proud of them, accepts their faith and their sexuality, and works with a support group for Christian parents with LGBT children, some of whom have difficulty reaching a position of acceptance.

I am only one of many, many people in Britain and around the world who are inspired by the radical inclusivity of Christ to work for the full equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, intersex and queer people within Christiainity. I do not think I could do what I am doing without the support of others, and I thank God for all of them.

Bishop welcomes walk of repentance

I’m delighted to report that the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, has expressed his support for my pilgrimage of repentance for homophobia.

He said that the church needs to repent in relation to gay and lesbian people.

In an email that I received on Monday, Richard Harries said:

“It is very good that you are undertaking this pilgrimage of repentance. I very much hope it will have a wide influence. Repentance in the original Greek word means changing one’s mind, and rethinking one’s whole outlook in the light of God’s saving presence in Christ. That is what the church needs to do today in relation to gay and lesbian people.”

It is great to have Richard Harries’ support. I wish more church leaders would be prepared to take this sort of stance.

I have also been overwhelmed and deeply moved by the many messages of support I have received from a wide range of individuals and groups who have heard about my plans. They include a man whose Christian parents won’t accept homosexuality, a gay Methodist minister who used to be homophobic, a straight Muslim and a bisexual teenager. I thank God for the courage these people have given me as the date of my pilgrimage approaches.

List of pilgrimage events now available

It is now less than four weeks before I begin walking and I’m delighted with the help and support I’ve received. I’m very pleased to report that details of the events during the walk have now been published. You can click here to read about them

As you can see, there will be three city centre events. These will be in Birmingham on the evening before I start walking (Wednesday 15 June), in Oxford around half-way (Sunday 26 June) and in London on the evening I arrive (Friday 1 July), which will be the day before Pride.  

I am still discussing events with churches in other locations, and details will be available shortly. In addition, a few churches and other groups have kindly invited me to meet them more informally or join them in worship. 

If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me at symonhill@gmail.com.