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Diary Of A Gay Priest: The Tightrope Walker Paperback – August 16, 2013
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About the Author
|Rev. Dr. Malcolm Johnson is a retired Anglican priest. He has always been open about his sexuality and has lived with his partner for 43 years. He was rector of St Botolph Aldgate for 18 years, a member of the General Synod for 15 years and much involved in gay and HIV work and work with the homeless in London. He lives in Woking, UK.|
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Diary of a Gay Priest is one of the funniest and sane memoirs I have ever read, and with little or none of the solemnity and religiosity one might expect. It is a sign of what is wrong in publishing that it has come out from an obscure press and not likely to find the readership it deserves.
Johnson was born in Yarmouth “the boil on England’s eastern cheek,” into a relatively wealthy family of clothing manufacturers. It was a chilly, respectable family, which was not at all religious-minded. But it seemed to accept the eccentricities of its son which included not only an eye for interior design, but an interest in the homeless and drug addicted. He was called “the pink bishop” not only because he was gay but because of his concerns for social justice.
These concerns were an immediate presence at St.Botolph’s, his first church located in the poverty stricken Aldersgate area, not far from where Jack-the-Ripper committed his murders.
At St. Botolph he housed the homeless and the Gay Christian Movement and a shelter for run-away children. A superb fundraiser, he opened four group homes as transitional housing and later as hospice for people dying of AIDS. Businesspeople liked working with him because he had a practical mind and kept a keen eye on the books, but he soon discovered that he was not going to go up the church hierarchy because he was openly and unapologetically gay.
He was also unafraid of rebelling. Early on he is a patient of a Jungian analyst, who tells him not to get a dog because it will be a substitute for a lover. He leaves her office and goes to the pound where he buys Ben, a beloved cocker spaniel. After forty minutes of a particularly boring lecture, Ben gets up, walks to the middle of the church and vomits. He had read his master’s mind.
Johnson had many famous friends and associates. The Queen Mum, was the patroness of his second church, St Katherine’s. She thought the church needed more laughter and color. When she first came to tea, Johnson called up her secretary to see what she ate. “Something stronger than coffee,” he was told, three parts gin to one part martini.
One day Johnson goes to Wippells, the store for clerical clothing, to be measured for shirts. The assistant turns to him, “Well, Father, you’re ordinary, normal. Most people in the Church wouldn’t think so, but you are.”
Johnson is now retired and living with his partner of many decades. He takes the odd funeral, a ready source of “ash cash,” which he needs in the England of the great austerity.
The author carried out his controversial ministry during a time of great change. He tried to follow George Macleod's advice: unpopularity is OK, providing you don't inhale.
Despite liberal attitudes gaining ground in secular society, the Church of England seems to have gone backward on `the gay issue' and he, like many other priests, inside and out of the closet, have suffered depression and committed suicide. But the author's ministry has been outstanding, not just to homosexuals but to the homeless. As a spiritual director, he has had as many as fifty people on his books at any one time.
Even a well-meaning liberal like Chad Varah, founder of The Samaritans, suggests that all he needs of a good woman. There was also a dose of psychotherapy, designed to turn him straight. A disastrous marriage lasted only for a year.
His use of rent boys and his suggestion that a little infidelity is necessary for people in gay relationships annoyed me, though I am no prude. Maybe gay men reacted so strongly to having been repressed that they `went too far the other way' and I suspect that young gay men who have grown up in a less repressive climate see things differently now.
One forgets how liberal the C of E had been compared to now. The Bishop of London, Robert Stopford, sought advice about the needs of gays and sought to fund the author by giving him light parish duties so that he could carry out a ministry towards them. This was the 1970s.
One feels that nothing has moved on when reading the recent Pilling Report.
Despite the Church's public face, the author enjoyed all the perks of establishment and I am astonished that many bishops happily came to dinner with him and his partner. Also that priests and partners were tolerated, despite the official line. This angers me because I think of many gifted people who would have made good priests but who never even thought of applying because they believed that they wouldn't be accepted if they were honest. Why are we laypeople kept in the dark as to what is really happening?
I always found Archbishop Donald Coggan to have been as dull as ditchwater so I was surprised to learn of the author's liking of him.
There is a delightful story of the Queen holding a conversation with a tramp.
Archbishop Richard Holloway comes out with one of his typically risqué phrases during an HIV/AIDS awareness session: who at the end of the day said that his vocabulary had been widened -- 'until now I thought that rimming and frottage were West Country solicitors.'
David Hope comes across as the nice person I always thought he was and, as other commentators have said, he didn't deserve the Peter Tatchell treatment (though the other bishops almost certainly did.)
The person who comes out worse in this book is the odious George Cassidy, now a retired bishop in this diocese. One of my friends tells me that he is a `lovely bloke' but I have seen no evidence that he has ever changed his inability or unwillingness to listen to anyone with a point of view different from his own.
I don't think this is right: Professor of the History of the Church at the University of Oxford since 1997, and Fellow (formerly Senior Tutor) of St Cross College, Oxford (since 1995). Though ordained as a deacon in the Church of England, he declined ordination to the priesthood for political reasons. (My understanding is that Bishop Rogerson refused to ordain him priest because he wouldn't toe the line post Higton.
The author is a freemason. I need to learn some tolerance too as I don't give these folk the time of day with their silly rituals.
I had to Google `Leander Pink' (`Cerise..... a deep, vivid pinkish-red" and therefore a colour in its own right.')