My Life Story
Early YearsI was borne an only child in 1958 in Stoke-on-Trent, the son of a pottery worker. My early education was at two Church of England schools. My mother was a devout Methodist, my father was of no particular religious persuasion. I attended Methodist Sunday School from a young age. My parents were most concerned that I should do well at school and gave me much encouragement in my studies. I always liked reading, and enjoyed my time at school.
My family life was very happy: my parents rather spoiled me. I knew that they regretted not being younger, for my sake: I was born when my Mother was well into her forties. I suppose I was something of an unexpected afterthought. I was well loved, though whether because of or in spite of this, I cannot say. We were a very close family, but I was closer to my mother than my father. Some of my fondest memories being of the two of us strolling on a Summer's evening, after the Chapel service which I would occasionally attend with her.
High School YearsI had quite a hostile view of the Anglican Church in my youth. I was very conscious of my Methodist identity even when I was ten or so. I disapproved of primary school friends of mine agreeing to act as altar servers at the weekly School Eucharists that were held in the adjoining anglican Church! When I moved on to High School I began to mix with people who clearly took their Anglicanism seriously, and one friend in particular (David Bickerton) brought me to realize that High Church Anglicanism (the only variety which I had experience of) wasn't so bad after all!
|My mother died of a stroke when I was about fourteen. It was not unexpected, as she had had a couple of heart attacks previously. My father had just got back from the pub and the three of us were sitting down with cups of tea in front of the ten o'clock TV news. I noticed that my mother was having difficulties lifting her cup and soon my father and I realised that something was seriously wrong. We called the doctor out. When he came - after a long delay - he said that she'd had a minor stroke. He didn't bother to call an ambulance! Anyhow, her condition got worse and worse. Eventually, very late at night, I went to my room to try and get some sleep, while my father kept watch over my mother who was slowly dying before our eyes. When I got to bed, I lay awake and prayed: "If I'm worth anything to you at all, God: please don't let Mum die!"|
|Almost immediately, I had a sense that a voice had spoken
to me inside my head, or as if a thought had been inserted in my consciousness.
This was "Whatever happens, Stephen, I will always be with you." That was
all. It did not answer my prayer in the terms that I had wanted, but it
stood out from my general flow of consciouness like a sore thumb. I have
never experienced anything positive like this ever again. Somehow, I don't
need to. The promise was so absolute and uncompromising that it has always
been enough for me to fall back on in all my later troubles.
Later that night my mother was taken - much too late for
it to be any good at all - into hospital with a massive untreated stroke.
A day or so later, she was dead. Her funeral was an incredible affair.
She was so well respected and loved in the neighbourhood that the Methodist
Chappel was packed to the doors with friends and neighbours as well as
the normal congregation. I found it surprisingly easy to accept my mum's
death, as I never doubted but that she was in God's good hands. The only
real sorrow I felt, was as a result of my own untimely loss. Although I
had always taken Christianity fairly seriously, it was the jolt of my Mother's
death that elicited a personal response from me.
My mother's death brought my Father and I closer together. It was now more or less the two of us against the world, and we either had to pull together or sink.
At about this time, I came into the possession of a strange little book called "The Testament of Light". This is described by its compiler as "an anthology of the religious spirit". More accurately, I have come to realize, it is an anthology of thinly camouflaged NeoPlatonism. It is from this anthology that many of the quotes distributed through my Web-Site have been abstracted. When I first acquired this book, I did not realize the influence that it would have on me. While it was having that influence, I did not recognize it. I do not agree with all the sentiments expressed in it, and certainly not with the self description it contains "Religion without God". Nevertheless, in the last few years have I realized that many of my attitudes can be traced back to my first reading of this little book. It was my first meeting with Plato, Whichcote, Glanville, Mill, Blake, Chesterton, Julian of Norwich, Marcus Aurelius, Nietzche and The Cloud of Unknowing.
It was about this time that I first came into contact with Catholicism - though of a suspect variety - in the writings of Teillard de Chardin. I read his two books: the Hymn and Prayer of the Universe, and though I found them obscure, I was impressed with their spirituality. I particular the emphasis on the transcendent in his Cosmology and Eucharistic devotion. As a Methodist, I had received no instruction whatsoever as to the nature of "The Lord's Supper": it was something that one simply went through the motions of doing, without comment!
When I moved on to Sixth Form College, I became very interested in the Ecumenical Movement. I persisted in maintaining an involvement with the Evangelical "Christian Society" that existed there, even though the doctrine of the "Substitutionary Atonement" was offensive to my sense of justice. At this time my theological outlook could definitely be characterized as "liberal". I continued to develop my involvement with High Church Anglicanism. The local Anglocatholic parish was on good terms with the Methodist Chapel that I was then attending, and I enjoyed attending Midnight Mass and the annual Corpus Christi service. I also got into the habit of attending their eight o'clock Communion service.
It was about this time that my Father re-married. It was not a successful venture. I suppose that I resented it to a degree: certainly my step-mother misled my Father over a number of matters and begrudged any sign of affection that he bestowed on me. These were very unhappy years for me at home.
Cambridge UniversityI was fortunate to be accepted to read Physics at Trinity College Cambridge in 1976. Apart from academic matters, my first year was spent getting to know some of the people who would remain my friends for the next quarter of a century and "getting over" my first unrequited (and not then properly recognized) love affair, with my then best friend, Adrian Shingler. The picture below shows Adrian (looking typically embarrassed!) with his mother and their pet poodle.
From early days, I knew and benefited from the perspective of evangelical christians. While at Trinity, I played a full part in the College "Christian Union" and also CICCU: the "Cambridge Intercollegiate Christian Union". I still remember my friends David Nussbaum and Anthony Jacombe-Hood with particular affection. However, it became increasingly obvious to me that the core of their belief system (Lutheranism and/or Calvinism) was misguided. In effect, with the best possible of intentions I am sure, it made God into a vindictive and arbitrary tyrant. I had been convinced that God was in fact loving, kind, compassionate, just and reasonable from my earliest memories, so I was entirely unable to empathize with this point of view.
was at Cambridge that I met my best friend, John (grinning, with a beard);
who has been a main-stay of my life ever since.
My main involvement with other Christians while at Cambridge was via the Methodist inspired "Ecumenical Fellowship Group" movement. I took part in three E.F.G. based missions, to Winterbourne (near Bristol), Warrington (near Liverpool) and Theydon Bois (near London). I was further exposed to Anglo Catholicism in the person of the esoteric Allison Legge, who I briefly encountered. It was at Cambridge that I first encountered the beautiful Russian Orthodox liturgy. I also met the controversial Dr John A.T. Robinson, who was Dean of Trinity College Chapel and heard him preach on a number of occasions. He always struck me as a good and kind man, and pretty sensible in his views, if only one paid attention to what he actually said rather than what others represented him as saying.
I discovered J.H. Cardinal Newman, and the Apostolic Fathers (Ignatious of Antioch, Clement of Rome) and then the Fathers of the Fourth Century, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Leo, Cyril and Basil, and was received into the Catholic Church by the Chaplain at Cambridge University: Maurice Couve de Murville, who later became Archbishop of Birmingham. I got somewhat involved with the "charismatic movement" through Nick Lloyd. The picture on the right shows me (the one without the beard) with three Catholic friends at the Trinity College May Ball. My first encounter with the Tridentine Mass took place at Cambridge, when Mgr Gilbey (a previous chaplain) celebrated it in the Chaplaincy Day Chapel.
From my first days as a Catholic , I have always adopted a more "traditional " theology , liturgy and ecclesiology than is currently fashionable. It has always been centrally important to me, as a Christian who is also a Scientist , to focus on what is TRUE, rather than approved or popular or convenient. As Jesus said: "For this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth."
On returning from a holiday in Rome, where I'd gone with some University friends, I found that my father had died and that my "mad Aunt Nancy" (my Father's sister) had set light to the front bedroom of my home! I coped, as always. My step mother did not attend the funeral: she had just filed divorce papers!
The Hirst Research CentreFor about ten years I worked in the electronics industry, working in Wembley North-West London at the G.E.C. "Hirst Research Centre", at first on "Charge Coupled Devices" and then "Semiconductor Device Physics". During this period I served on the national committee of the Latin Mass Society. I also considered the Apostolic Ministry, both as an Oratorian and a secular priest, but was rejected as "unsuitable". The late Cardinal Hulme told me that I had a personality such that no-one would be able to "live with" or "get on" with me. The absurdity of this judgement is revealed by the facts that I had been sharing a flat with one friend, Peter Polkinghorne (an Anglican), for about four years at that time and have now been living with a partner (a Catholic) for over ten years. What the Cardinal meant was that I wasn't sufficiently malleable of thought for his purposes.
A few years later Aunt Nancy died, and I was left without any family to speak of except for my Mother's elder sister, my Aunt May, of whom I was very fond. She had in effect, become my mother substitute and had provided a very necessary refuge from a home that was often little better than a war zone. The next picture shows me with my Aunt, at the door to her home in Fenton.
I founded and played a leading part in running an inter-denominational Christian Fellowship, "H.C.F." at my place of work and made many friends there. It was a wonderful experience to be able to discuss the varied view-points of those who came along, to share our mutual faith in Jesus and to cooperate in witnessing to the Gospel in the place where we worked.
I still have fond memories of Stephen Shepherd (secret squirrel), Graham Townsend, Keith Verhayden, Katherine, Angella, Les Cooper, Fuschia, Paul Doree and Derek Abbott. Many of the attitudes I now have were forged at this time. In particular, I owe Derek a great deal. He never gave up, trying to open my eyes to a wider vista than my innate conservatism and puritanism was wont to allow. I wonder if my attempts to impress on him the importance of truth and tradition were anywhere nearly so successful.
For a time, I was somewhat involved with Opus Dei, a secretive Catholic organization much in favour at the Vatican. I found one or two of their priests very impressive in terms of their wisdom, orthodoxy, piety and sensitivity. I went on pilgrimage to Rome with Opus Dei twice (via a "front organization" UNIV). On the second occasion I suppose that I almost lost my faith. This is because I heard one of the Opus Dei priests almost gleefully proclaiming at length to a little group of fans that those folk who haven't had the chance to hear the gospel can't possibly "be saved". When I challenged him that the Church teaches that everyone receives sufficient grace from God to be saved, he replied along the lines that it all depends what you mean by "sufficient". I was scandalized and suffered a three day depression, wandering about Rome by myself in abject misery. It seemed to me that I was a better, kinder person than the "god" that this priest, whom I respected, believed in. If he'd been just any old Catholic priest, I'd have dismissed his words as typical nonsense, but because I respected him as a member of an orthodox organization, his words hit at the heart of my image of God as Love. Eventually, I got over this and moreover he apologized for speaking out of turn and ill advisedly; but that was the end of my involvement with Opus Dei.
I've also been involved with the "Faith" movement, a strange group: quite orthodox (but eccentric in their theology); rather obsessed with their founder's ill conceived attempt at reconciling Catholic Theology with Science; and fixated on a narrow minded application of the Church's official teaching on sexual morality. As someone who generally prefers to stand on the sidelines, rather than conforming too closely to the norms of any group, I eventually drifted away from this group. Its obsessions were not mine, and in any case they were deeply suspicious of the Traditional Liturgy.
It was at this time that I met Paul May (in the white "Presto" RUSH tee-shirt), Simon Robinson, Daniel Doll-Steinburg, Joel Crisp and Paul Miller, through playing "Dungeons and Dragons". It was at this time that my alter ego Pharsea was first conceived: as a Lawful Good Cleric to compliment Paul Miller's Chaotic Good Bard.
Bristol UniversityThen my Aunt May died, and I was made redundant. I moved to live in Leigh-on-Sea, Southend so that I could work in Basildon with STC, as it then was. After a year or so, I got fed up with the job and decided to return to academic studies for a while. I resigned, and with the encouragement of Paul May, went to Bristol University, where I did a Ph.D. in relativistic quantum mechanics and computational condensed matter physics. I thought this would make me unemployable, but in fact it helped me to get my next job!
During my first two years at Bristol, I supervised a student residence: 121 Redland Rd. which is featured in my next picture.
|Out of the Closet
Eventually, this position became utterly impossible to support. This was because I fell deeply in love with a young man, Paul J Hammond, see next picture: he's wearing a red tee-shirt. I met PJH while working, as a mature student, for my Ph.D. in theoretical solid-state physics at Bristol University in 1990. We had met as Committee members of the newly formed Heavy Metal and Rock Music Student Society, and I had been privileged to have a role in drawing him towards a faith in Jesus and His Church. He wrote to me a tearful letter so full respect for my poor self (after I'd given him an stern "ticking off" about a very minor lapse of personal integrity), that my heart was quite overcome.
For another six months I successfully fought against telling him of my feelings, comforting myself that "Jesus must become greater for him, and I must become less". In the end, I found that I simply could not continue the pretence with any personal integrity, and I told him. He was very good about the matter, and though he told me that he had no romantic or sexual feelings toward me he was more than willing to remain close friends and to continue learning about God and Jesus. The next few years were very difficult for me. I was "held together" by a number of friends. In particular, John Sackett and Paul Miller (see next picture, he's wearing red shorts and grappling with a punt pole.)
I was being instructed at Cambridge by Fr Maurice Coeve de Murville, I
remember blithely agreeing with him in passing that homosexuality was some
kind of unfortunate malaise. At the time, I had a protestant girl-friend
(who I'd got to know during the E.F.G. mission to Warrington, near Liverpool)
and was somewhat in love with her. Over the years it became more and more
forcefully apparent to me, that I was myself "not exactly heterosexual"
and that I had been pressured by society into playing out an external role
or "script" that had no truth in it, but was a lie about myself. Still,
as a traditionally minded Catholic, I soldiered on; somehow finding it
possible to maintain a conviction that the Church's official teachings
on love, marriage, procreation and sexuality were coherent. For years I
was a vociferous advocate of these matters in my social circle of mostly
protestant or non-believing friends.
One thing that helped me through my own "coming to terms" with the truth about myself and the Church's attitude to gay and lesbian people was the fact that I had already experienced condemnation and rejection by the hierarchy by virtue of my commitment to unfashionable traditional theology and forms of worship. Thank God, the first things that I found myself condemned for were things that I chose to believe and adopt, for reasons that I could easily defend intellectually, and for which there was an enormous weight of evidence on my side! The issue of sexuality is so much more difficult, because it calls into question not what one thinks or does, but who one is. It seems to me that it is difficult to judge which group Rome detests and condemns the more: homosexuals or adherents of the Old Latin Mass. As yet, no-one has been excommunicated for being gay. For my sins, I am both!
had decided that contemporary church authorities were not generally to
be trusted years before I found myself directly and personally in the firing
line. Even so, for a few days I seriously played with the argument: if
I am intrinsically evil, and if all that God created is good, then I must
be a child of Satan, so I should worship the devil! Thank God that some
good Christian friends renewed within me the certainty of God's love for
ALL that He made, and that he made ALL things, visible and invisible, and
that ALL that he made is good. I lost many friends at this time, mostly
because they couldn't deal with the emotional anguish that I was going
through. Some because they rejected my homosexuality. Some because they
thought associating with me would be bad for their children. I was helped
a lot during this period by friends made through involvement with the Bristol
branch of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, LGCM.
Then followed about four years of blood, sweat and tears. Paul Hammond could be a stubborn fellow. Most of my Christian friends, even Paul Miller, thought I was wasting my time and energies and that he'd never have the "bottle" to commit himself to Jesus. I never believed this, though I always recognized his flaws. From our first meetings, I had detected a core of gentleness and decency in his heart that I believed would, given the waterings of God's grace, flower into charity and justice. We both behaved very badly towards each other in various ways on various occasions. We both forgave each other our failings. We also had some wonderfully happy times. I think that often PJH found me quite frightening, because I was able to challenge his comfortable certainties with the radical wisdom of the Gospel. He once said that I could argue such that anything I wanted to convince him of could be made to seem to be right. Of course, this wasn't true!
At the start of this same period, I met and settled down with my long term partner David. The picture shows him in a red polo shirt at the top of the Avon Gorge, near Bristol. The centre of our life together is not sex, but abiding friendship, practical commitment and personal loyalty in times of trouble based on our shared adherence to Catholic Christianity. Our relationship has survived me being made redundant three times, and David's contracting lymphatic cancer. "By their fruits shall ye know them". David and I made a number of wonderful friends while in Bristol, the next two photos shows some of them playing "silly games" at a birthday party I hosted.
When I graduated with a Ph.D. from Bristol (I hope you like my wonderful doctoral robes), David and I moved back to Leigh-on-Sea. Tthe next picture shows some Bristol friends visiting us there.
|I managed to get a job with Nortel in Harlow, and David started a long and varied career with what was then Midland Bank: it subsequently became HSBC and is now IPSL. We got quite involved in the local Catholic church. I was on the parish council for a couple of years. The priest was quite a dynamic and theologically orthodox man, and I was keen to help him with some of his plans. Unfortunately, he "went native" after a while and seemed to shelve all his "new" ideas in favour of maintaining the status quo. We (and other folk, including the Chairman of the parish council) were quite disillusioned by this. David and I got involved with the local Essex group of LGCM, and so met George and Carol Hopper. Their simple human kindness, sincere love of God and natural practice of hospitality has helped to rekindle in me some hope for humanity. "Ubi Caritas et Amor: Deus ibi est".|
|Eventually, after much prayer, cajoling, and some emotional
bullying on my part, Paul Hammond eventually got his act together and decided
to be received into the Catholic Church in London. A few days before his
reception, I visited Paul at his flat in London. We were on very good terms
at this time, though that would change within the month. I had brought
him a box full of books of spirituality and theology which were surplus
to my requirements. I said to him: "Paul, I want you to have these, in
case anything happens to me." My meaning was that if at some point in the
future he didn't have me to ask questions of or advice from, at least he'd
have a few half-trustworthy books to turn to. At that moment, a great shudder
passed through my body: as if someone had walked over my grave. I told
Paul what I had felt and then our conversation continued; for I had no
idea at the time what - if anything - this had meant.
Acting as Paul's sponsor a few day's later, and offering him the physical embrace of spiritual communion with the Catholic Church was one of the high points of my life. I remember his father thanking me for all that I'd done for Paul and expressing the wish that I would continue to guide him.
Sadly, I knew the meaning of the "strange turn" I had experinced shortly afterwards. We had a row over the 'phone, only a day or so after he became a Catholic. For years, I had felt that he had systematically treated me badly, and whereas I had felt it was right to "bear the burden" before he became a Christian, once he had done so I determined that he should be made to realize that "you don't mess people about in that way, and certainly not a Christian brother". I mis-judged this.
I made many attempts to patch up the relationship, but from then until now I have never seen him or spoken with him again. It was unacceptable to me that we should remain at odds. This was for me a matter of serious sin. I was willing to do anything within my power. Paul was as dear to me as the son that I shall never have.
He was my friend.
Paul got involved with various groups of "Conservative Catholics", went to Medugorje, "had a vision there" and came to the conclusion that homosexuality was evil, and that while he might "love the sinner", he must "hate the sin" and so have no association with me, but treat me as a tax collector!
It broke my heart that it was his membership of the Catholic Church (which I had battled the world, the flesh and the devil to achieve) that became the excuse for his repudiation of our friendship. It was only my apostolic commitment, in friendship, towards Paul, that forced me to admit the truth about myself. It was only that non-negotiable commitment that I had towards him, as a result of my love for him that brought him to faith in Jesus. No one else would have persevered with him, or put in the effort. They wouldn't have seen the point! I think that one reason the Good Lord put me in this world was to witness to that young man and win his heart for Heaven.
Without my homosexual orientation, none of this would have been. Yet the Catholic Church condemns me as intrinsically disordered, worthy of no civic rights and a danger to the young. I do not think that Church leaders begin to imagine the pain, desperation and anger that is evoked in the heart of the gay and lesbian members of their flocks who look to them for bread and receive only a stone; for fish and receive a scorpion.
Bristol again, then BasingstokeThen in 1997 I was made redundant again. The next picture shows David and I together at about this time. After a difficult job search, I accepted employment back in Bristol, and David and I moved back to our old haunts and friends there. David easily got a transfer to an HSBC Service Delivery Unit there. Then the next bomb-shell hit, he was diagnosed with advanced lymphatic cancer! Then I was made redundant again!
We muddled on. David responded well to the chemotherapy, and didn't have too many side effects. We went on pilgrimage to Lourdes. Paul Hammond wrote to me, claiming to have received the charism of a healing ministry: but refused to come and pray for David to be healed when I begged him to do so. Eventually, I got another job as a research Physicist, and we moved to Basingstoke, Hampshire. David seems to be fully cured, but only time will tell. He worked for a time in Camberley for HSBC and then IPSL. The next picture shows our house in Basingstoke.
|Paul Hammond wrote to me about this time. He wrote to me asking how someone as "wise" as me could "believe" what I do. I immediately started to write the four articles that form the core of "Faithful to the Truth". I sent these to both him and one of his new "friends", Peter Hamilton: a Physics teacher at a Catholic school. I have no reason to believe that either of these ever read a word of my essays. After promising to do so, Mr Hamilton in fact said that he "couldn't be arsed" to do so!|
More Recent HistoryCarol Hopper died after protracted treatment for ovarian Cancer in the Summer of 2002. David and I were privileged to attend her funeral in Basildon, Essex.
Paul Miller is now married, and lives in the U.S.A. with his wife Candice. They feature in my next picture. I'm glad to say Paul still owns and wears the red shorts! He is now researching in the field of neuroscience.
After a traumatic time training to be an FE teacher at my local Sixth Form College, I took up employment as an Electronics lecturer.
I resigned from my lecturing job in June 2006 and published my first book "New Skins for Old Wine".
Our first six months in Cheltenham went very well. We have made new friends and have made significant improvements to the garden here. Our household had a third member; as Henry, young man with mental health issues joined us as a lodger. I had met Henry on a MySpace philosophy group a couple of years earlier. We became close friends and I was able to help him a lot with his philosophical. psychological and spiritual development.
Unfortunately, everything went horribly wrong just after Christmas and Henry left us. I don't know what happened exactly, as he stopped talking to me while whatever was going on inside him took shape. I felt that I was going through a somewhat reduced version of the PJH experience all over again. David was very understanding and supportive throughout the process.
Click on the photo to visit the FaceBook page for our house.
|Update [November 2015]
Over the last few years, we have had a number of friends lodge with us: Luke, Paul, Matthew, Ben and now David.
I am somewhat involved in the poetry scene in Cheltenham; though I find it very cliquy and full of pretension. Although almost all of the people involved are left-of-cenre in their politics they tend to be only concerned with self-promotion and are uninterested in cooperating to help others to promote work.
David and I regularly attend the Traditional Latin Liturgy at Prinknash Abbey and at St Gregory the Great in Cheltenham.
Until Easter 2013 David and I regularly attended the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Gloucester and I went so far as to transfer my juresdiction and become a full member of the Ukrainian Eparchy. Hence I ceased to be a Roman Catholic, while remaining in full communion with the See of Rome. A tragic series of events then occurred. Our bilingual parish priest was recalled to London and replaced with another man who spoke hardly any English. When this happened a small group of forceful women took over the running of the parish and made it quite clear that I was not welcome in the parish, not being of Ukrainian blood.
At this time, I had also gotten involved in the founding of an English speaking UGCC parish in Cardiff, working closely with Rev priest James Seimens, and had been enrolled on a Diaconate programme. Sadly, the RC archbishop of Cardiff took a dislike to me - mostly, I believe, because of my public postion on homosexuality - and put pressure on Rev Seimens to remove me from all positions of leadership in the parish. [This all started, however, with a dispute regarding waste-bins!]
David and I now normally attend Sunday High Mass at the Birmingham Oratory. As I am a devotee of John Henry Newman, I very much like being able to pray regularly in his shrine there; and to attend Divine Worship in the place where he celebrated Mass and preached during most of his life as a Catholic.
|That brings you up to date with my "history". I am interested
in lots of things. Here's a list: