Spring Harvest not working for you any more? Read this!
If the Christian festival you've grown up with is no longer a place you can comfortably be yourself as an LGBTQ person, maybe it's time to look at something different.
Over the past few years we've become increasingly aware of people being asked to stand down from volunteering roles at Christian festivals because they're in same-sex relationships. This is always really upsetting and hurtful - because we know how important those festivals can be in our faith journey, and that the friendships we make there are precious. It's good to feel you can give something back to a community that's supported you - not so great when you're told your gifts and time are no longer required, simply because you've come out as gay. Even more hurtful is believing you're accepted for being gay - but later discovering that the tone is very different once you're in a relationship.
We know that many parts of our churches are wrestling with issues of sexuality, and that change is happening, but it's slow. But we also know that people came away from one festival, Spring Harvest, last year, telling us they were deeply hurt by how they were treated and by what they heard as part of the programme.
This is not acceptable. It's a betrayal and a distortion of the Gospel. It harms and diminishes young people - in particular - and drives them away from, not towards, Jesus. It doesn't have to be this way.
As the Christian festival season kicks off in a few days time, if you're feeling uncertain or uncomfortable about Spring Harvest, if you're one of the people who felt they had to ask for prayers in advance of attending last year, because you were afraid of being outed, then know this:
You are OK just as you are. There are people and spaces who will delight in you as a Child of God, whatever your sexuality or gender identity, and where you will be welcomed. You can find some of those places here.
Changing takes time. Moving on to a differerent stage in your journey of faith and belief will take time, and you can do it at your own pace. Be kind to yourself.
There are festivals where you can be yourself - as a festival goer, or as a volunteer. Greenbelt is our favourite. LGBTQ people have always been welcome there, and they're open right now for volunteering roles too. Have a think about it - if not for this year, then maybe in 2019? Maybe that would be something to work towards.
Diverse Church might be a good space to explore alongside other people who have walked a similar path to you. They have two groups - one for 18-30 year olds, and one for over 30s. They're confidential, and work across the UK. Here's their website.
Two23 is a great organisation that meets in London five times a year. Their next meeting in April is an opportunity to hear from Nick Bundock, a remarkable Christian leader who has gone on an extraordinary journey in relation to sexuality and gender. Go and hear his story!
Stonewall has some great advice about coming out, which you might find helpful.
Above all - know that you are loved, and that another way is possible.