Why I’ll be Marching at Pride (2024)

I slipped into an unknown pub in Middle England to get out of the rain and have a pub lunch. It was welcoming and cosy. Steak and ale pie, since you ask.

The part of the pub I was sitting in was right next to the bar. A small snug. The kind of room where you can hear everyone else’s conversations though it wasn’t too busy. Just a group of fifty-something men in for their pies a table a few feet from me, right next to the bar. It wasn’t terribly busy and so our host behind the bar joined in with their conversation, which soon turned to the result of the General Election. Everyone was interested in what it might mean for them. (Bartenders round here want firm action on business rates, I can tell you.)

After a while, one of the pie-eaters suddenly said for all to hear, “Did you know that 61% of the new MPs are gay?”  The others at his table and the host at the bar expressed surprise that it should be as high as that. “It just isn’t right – not that number, that’s far too many of them. How have we become a country where 61% of our MPs are gay?”.

And I remained silent.

I remained silent because I was in a strange place and didn’t want to risk any unpleasantness.

Well no, I remained silent because homophobia stalks my world. I remained silent because I didn’t know how anything I might say might be taken. It probably wouldn’t have led to a punch in the face but the truth is, you never know.

The person making the claim about the number of gay MPs was wrong. Spectacularly wrong. I suspect he’d been told that 61 MPs were gay and had heard it as 61% and accepted that as being true. It was true in his inner world, a world in which the gays were getting above themselves. It was also a believable fact for those around him. They were surprised it was 61% and yes, that did seem a bit high. And yes, the gays were getting a bit above themselves.

I gather that a few more LGBT+ MPs exist than 61 – the number is about 66. That means that it is about 10% of the MPs in the House of Commons. LGBT+ people are sometimes estimated to account for about 10% of the population. So 60-odd members of parliament who fit that profile is something to be celebrated as a good example of representation. Once upon a time, every one of those MPs would have been subject to blackmail or worse. Once upon a time, every one of them would be silent.

Me remaining silent in the pub for 10 minutes and then, after finishing the pie, going off without a word, is minor when compared with the violence that many gay people face on a daily basis in other parts of the world.

Yet that incident played in my mind the rest of the day. I went over it again and again. Should I have spoken up and called out this nonsense? I can argue that both ways. But the thing that I care more about than putting someone right in a pub is that this nonsense claim inhabited my head for half a day. Not so much the absurdity of the suggestion that 61% of MPs were gay but the commonplace assumption, held by a group of apparently nice people in an agreeable country pub, that yes, the gays were getting above themselves. Too many in parliament. Too many in power.

Power that should, apparently, be exercised by the dominant majority. By people who are not like me.

How many gay MPs should we have anyway? And how many is too many?

It is these thought patterns which form the framework in which homophobia thrives.

Kelvin Holdsworth at Pride MarchI rejoice in the progress that we’ve made. But I’m impatient for more. I’ll carry my placard on Saturday at Pride and put a smile on my face. Blessed Are The Fabulous I’ll proclaim and I’ll mean it. But I’ll still be walking on streets in which it only feels safe for most same-sex couples to walk hand-in-hand for a couple of hours a year during Pride itself.

I’ll also be marching wearing a black suit, clerical shirt and a white clerical collar because of the thousands who will be there for whom that will be an extraordinary thing to witness and something that they can scarcely believe possible.

Yes, my own small corner of the world still has a lot of work to do. In my own diocese, the clergy asked clearly during the last Episcopal vacancy for intentional work to be done on racism, sexism and homophobia, recognising that these were all issues that were real in the diocese and that our attitudes to difference had played an ugly part in our attempts to try to choose a new bishop. A few years later, we are going into another Episcopal vacancy with none of that work done. And yes, what I experience as homophobia is deeply related to what my female colleagues experience and it is made out of the same basic material as the racist presumptions that black colleagues know well. And even since that time, anti-trans prejudice has grown and grown like an invasive new plant species. It poisons and diminishes all who taste its fruit.

There’s nothing new about that poison either. Lots of us know it all too well.

The easiest prejudice to counter is that which is most obvious. In-your-face discrimination is easy to point out if you are able to speak from a place of safety. Much harder is the bitter prejudice of the well meaning – that of those who couldn’t possibly be homophobic because they went to such a lovely wedding only last month, who can’t be sexist because isn’t it wonderful that we have lady vicars now and who couldn’t possibly be racist because that would be just unthinkable!

Prejudice is part of the psychological air we breathe. It forms part of who each of us are.

Think you don’t have any yourself?

Think again.

Think I don’t have it?

I wish.

How long will it be before it is unthinkable that women colleagues will ask whether another woman will ever be elected as a bishop due to accusations being made about the alleged behaviour of a bishop who happens to be a woman right now? How long before the qualifications of those who arrive in the church who happen to be black will be treated as being on a par with those who happen not to be? How long before I can simply sit and eat a pie?

For all these reasons and 10000 other micro and macro aggressions, I’ll be marching at Glasgow Pride on Saturday.

Anyone who shares the dream of a world where we are all treated equally and treated well is welcome to join me.

Blessed are the fabulous.

And blessed are the impatient too.

A sermon for BBC Radio 4 – 7 July 2024

We were asked to produce a service to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 7 July 2024 a few weeks before the General Election was called. The service had to be recorded in advance as the date for the broadcast fell within choir holidays. Once the election was called, I soon realised that the service would be broadcast amidst all the Sunday morning chatter about the election result. So, that meant trying to think about how to speak into that situation without actually knowing the result of the election. That’s not an easy thing to do but I soon realised that we have skin in the game here. People from St Mary’s have been involved in the election as candidates, activists, tellers, agents and pundits. This is part of what we do here. I wrote most of the script for the service, which can be found here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0020xkw but the reality is, these things are a team effort and some of the wording needed to be very carefully chosen for this one. I was the preacher for this service, and this is what I had to say:

The thing that I remember most is crawling around on the floor. That and the feeling in my stomach. People refer to stomach churning moments. I never knew what that felt like until that moment.

I asked people to pick up all their bags and coats and shuffle their chairs. And I got down on my hands and knees just to check one more time that nothing had gone missing.

I was looking for a bundle of votes that might, just might,  have fallen off the counting table onto the floor.

20 years or so ago, that bundle of votes meant the difference between victory for me and victory for a political opponent.

The imagined bundle of votes on the floor never existed. Victory wasn’t mine that day and I soon had to concede that someone else had won. Less than 20 votes were between us after weeks of frantic campaigning.

There is something incredibly moving to see votes being counted and stacked up in your favour. And it is gut wrenching – there’s no other word for it, to miss out by just a few votes.

Our procedures for choosing leaders, using stubby pencils to mark slips of paper seem a long way away from David being chosen as King of Israel by the acclaim of the people. But there’s things to learn even from that account.

David and the people entered into a covenant with one another. And that word, Covenant is laden with meaning as it echoes the various times that the bible speaks of a covenant being made between God and the people.

Speaking of the relationship between leaders and those looking for leadership as a covenant relationship is to speak of the trust between them as being nothing other than sacred.

A covenant sets boundaries on what someone can do. Sacred boundaries.

I’m not involved in party politics now. But when election times come around and I get to cast my own vote, I have a strong sense of the deep, deep significance in casting a vote in a land where everyone gets to be involved if they choose. That does feel sacred to me. Who I vote for is my business. The act of voting feels like an immense responsibility – an act of faith in a common desire for our land to be governed well.

And as I vote, there’s one thing that I long for, for all who stand in elections. And that’s also a deeply biblical notion – I long for all those seeking to make decisions on behalf of others, to be blessed with wisdom.


Lord of wisdom, lord of truth, lord of justice, lord of mercy.  Walk beside us down the years, ’till we see you in your glory …

I’ve stood in quite a few elections. Elections to public office and elections within the church. And looking back, I started doing it by standing in student elections whilst I was in college.

More often than not, things have not gone my way. Losing elections seems to be one of my hobbies.

And I’ve learned you get better at losing elections as time goes on.

I’ve also learned that having wisdom and having a win are not the same thing.

Indeed, many of the biblical writers are, at best, ambivalent about the powerful, but passionate in proclaiming that God’s love is particularly poured out on the powerless and the weak.

In one of the readings that we heard this morning and which will be read in many churches today, we hear of Jesus feeling powerless himself and then starting to send out his disciples to proclaim his message – a message of repentance, a manifesto for changing everything.

Repentance means nothing other than changing everything and turning yourself around to face a new direction.

But those disciples who were sent out with this message were far from being the powerful of their day. They were mixed up, muddled up and much of the time they didn’t seem particularly bright. They were argumentative and squabbled about who was the most important. They got themselves into factions and when Jesus really needed to depend on their loyalty they all ended up running away.

And yet, these were the ones who carried a message of love from God to the world. These were the ones who brought good news to the world. These were the ones who did indeed turn the whole world around with the stories that they spread about the Saviour whom they each knew intimately.

As they carried that message, somehow they knew that God was with them wherever they went. Somehow they knew they were cared for and nourished and beloved. The love they knew, was the grace of God that they had seen in Jesus and which Christians still see and proclaim with confidence and love for the world today.

When everything seems mixed up and muddled up. God still loves us. When there is fighting and division, God still loves us. When we need to know love most. God’s love is right there.

Worship and prayer often connect people with that love. And prayer connects us with all who are in need. My colleagues Oliver and Maggie now lead our prayers for the world.