ACC, it sounds like some sort of city council, doesn’t it? Truth be told it’s a community of faith. An organisation of gay Christians dedicated to serving the needs of gay Christians in New Zealand, whatever those needs may be.
For me, the need was quite great back in 2005 or so. I was in a â€œquestioningâ€ phase in my life. It’s interesting that both gays and Christians use this term â€œquestioningâ€ to refer to a time in one’s life when you’re questioning the assumptions you’ve lived under so far. It’s a phase where you step outside your comfort zone and take a risk (some call it a leap of faith) in order to grow as a person.
For those discovering Christianity it means trying to come to grips with the previously unknown spiritual component of themselves and then understanding how to integrate their Christian beliefs into the rest of their lives. For those discovering their sexuality, it involves self-acceptance and understanding how to integrate that previously unknown part of themselves into the rest of their life. I’ve also heard people referring to â€œcoming out Christianâ€ as the increasingly difficult task of letting friends and colleagues know you really do believe in all that Bible stuff.
I walked into my first ACC service with my friend Alastair, whose mother had recommended the church to him. The service is held in a beautiful old church with stone walls, stained-glass windows, solid wooden pews and a real organ. The first service was a special Easter service and I remember spending the whole time trying to figure out which people were gay and which were straight. We accept all sorts of people at church. Often the homeless people from the mission next door will join us for tea afterwards.
It was here that I met Peter, a Biblical Historian of great reputation. He was an elder in his open Brethren community till he discovered his sexuality late in life. He simply took this in his stride and turned his energies towards helping his fellow gay Christians. His brethren brothers & sisters didnâ€˜t take it so easily though, and excommunicated him. All it took was one lazy afternoon conversation with Peter for my religious anxiety to fade away.
The image to the left is of two church members: Tony (ordained Methodist) and Charles (Catholic) taking part in a communion ceremony (Anglican). It’s one of our most important rituals. Although it’s modelled on Anglican communion, people from all Christian backgrounds understand the symbolism. For us it’s a chance to reaffirm our faith and reaffirm our commitment to each other, as people of faith. There was a time when I didn’t really understand the significance of communion, my Pentecostal background never really placed any great importance on it. I understand now.
The community is made up of all sorts of denominations, from Pentecostal to Catholic and everything in between. Somehow we manage to keep these denominations together under the banner of â€œChristianityâ€. It’s no mean feat as I discovered recently. You see, I was recently voted onto the board, we meet every month to discuss things like worship, pastoral care, finances and suchlike. It’s purely voluntary work, but rewarding. One of the things we’re struggling with is how to make the services appealing to people with more modern church experiences while keeping the â€œhigh churchâ€ atmosphere people like me love so much.
Another important ritual we celebrate is the peace which can be a little off-putting for first-timers. Usually, in a church, people are encouraged to share â€œpeaceâ€ with each other by shaking hands and a few murmured words. At ACC, the peace is an extravagant 10 minute affair where everyone gets a chance to hug everyone else. Hint: you can tell who the gay guys are when they kiss during the peace.
I think there definitely is a need for spirituality in people’s day-to-day lives. I’m committed to finding ways in which ACC can be that place where curious people can rediscover their faith and hopefully â€œcome outâ€ as Christian all over again.