Howard's Story

I wish to introduce myself. My name is Howard Lawrenson and I am 27 years old. I am originally from Warrington but now live in Manchester with my partner Paul. In the following account of my life I have tried to express some of the joys, some of the difficult times and what were often very emotional times in my life.

It is a personal story, and so I would ask that you respect my views and opinions and keep them confidential to yourself, and if anyone wishes to speak to me further then I will be very willing to answer any questions or welcome any feedback or comments directed through the Manchester Parents Group.

As I stated I was brought up in Warrington and lived there until August 1998. Throughout my childhood I was part of a very loving and close family. I have two younger brothers, Stuart and Robert; my father is a Head Chef and my mother works for Argos. My family brought me up in a Christian way and I was a member of Warrington Parish Church. I became an altar person from being confirmed at the age of 11, and worked very hard in my early teenage years within the church and within the church youth club. As I began to think more about my life, it was evident to me that I felt a very strong vocation to the ministry. From about 14 years of age I felt called to be ordained within the Church of England. I became even more active within the life of the church and was appointed junior member of the Parochial Church Council, Sacristan and junior youth club leader. I loved my work within the church and made many friends, some of whom were elderly of which gave me the opportunity to visit them in their homes and become a sort of pastoral lay assistant. Things progressed and my vocation became more evident to me. I began to talk to clergy about it and eventually went to a vocations conference in Oxford at the age of 15.

Whilst all this was going on I was completing my GCSE’s and preparing to do A’ levels at college. I continued to work hard within the church and the community and get involved in more and more things. At the same time I began to think about sex, and feel somewhat different I suppose than the rest of my peers. At primary school I was bullied and called names such as ‘queer’, ‘gay lord’ and so on. I just ignored them, but it all came to a head when I was 15/16 and I began to feel sexually attracted to men. I told no one and continued to deny it by having girlfriends at college etc. Eventually, I realised that I was gay, although I knew very little about what being gay was about.

I had completed my A’ levels and had decided not to go to university at this stage but to begin employment. I began working for the Department of Social Security as a benefits advisor on reception. It was a job I loved, as I was able to help people and sort to some degree their lives out. I became the bereavement officer for the district and saw many elderly people at the loss of their loved ones. Again all this confirmed that I had a strong calling to be ordained a priest.

My sexuality during this time began to develop and I began being sexually active with men. I kept this side of my life completely secret, of which it remained for many years.

I worked at the DSS for 4 years and in August 1998 I took the plunge to leave Warrington behind. This was a very difficult time, as I had to leave behind the church and all my friends, my job, my family and my whole life, as I was moving to Rotterdam in Holland to begin a new life working for the Missions to Seafarers as chaplain’s assistant in the Port of Rotterdam. I drove myself to Rotterdam travelling over on the ferry from Hull. I vividly remember leaving the street where I had been brought up with all my family and friends and members of the church and community groups that I had been involved stood outside my parents house waving me off. The vicar at the time gave me a blessing and blessed the car, as I was to leave everything behind. It was a very emotional time for me. However, I was soon to be settled in my new home in Rotterdam.

Rotterdam brought me a whole host of new experiences some life changing and challenging. I made many new friends both people in Holland and seafarers. The work was hard and challenging but one that I enjoyed after a settling in period. It was during my time in Holland that I began to experience and learn more about being gay, I began to be more sexually active and met and spoke to many gay people. I found the gay scene, and could maintain my secret life easily without too much lying. During my time in Rotterdam I was told that I had been selected first time to begin my training for ordination in the Church of England. I had been offered a place at Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxford and I was to start there in September 1999. My dreams had come true and I was so excited.

After completing my year in Rotterdam I moved to Oxford to begin my three-year course. This was a very hard and challenging time, being back in education and being in a close-knit community of people of which I had never met before. It was a bit like a monastery. Everything was ordered, meals were set, morning and evening prayers were compulsory etc. During my second year, I moved to Sheffield to live and work on the Sheffield Manor Housing Estate. This was where it all began to fit together and my life was to change. The problem was I did not know it at the time. During my time in Sheffield, I lived alone in a large 4 bed roomed house. I carried out my daily work and study, and then found the gay scene and put my study etc aside and began to make many new friends on the gay scene. It was a time when I began to let my hair down a bit and have some fun. It was a year that I found who I was and what I felt at that time I wanted to be and do with my life. I became a person that was comfortable with his sexuality, and was able to be himself in whatever context he found himself. It was also during this time that I began having some form of spiritual direction. It was with my spiritual director that I first came out as being ‘gay’, and then begun to explore how I felt at that time.

When I left Sheffield in September 2001 to return to Oxford for my final year, it was upon my return that I began to feel very enclosed and sort of depressed. I could no longer be myself anymore, and I found myself travelling each weekend to Sheffield to be with my first partner with whom I had been seeing in Sheffield. I felt very lost in the community in college, and yet was expected to perform even more so now as I was due to be ordained later that academic year in Liverpool Cathedral in June 2002. I had been given my parish in Warrington and had been introduced to them all.

However, everything came to a head when in the December of 2001 my Spiritual Director thought that it was best if I came out, as it was obvious that I could not be myself being in the closet. I was not comfortable anymore and would only be able to cope at best being an ‘out’ gay man. From this I decided that I would come out, and that I would do it over a period of three days. Day one would be my family, day two would be other family and close friends, and day three would be anyone else I felt should know at that time and the community at college.

The three days were horrifying me, and I was dreading the days arriving. I told my family and all was fine, they sort of knew, but whoever I was they would support me and love me as I was their son, brother, grandson, nephew etc. All of my close friends were absolutely brilliant and wanted to know why I had not told them before, and the Principal in college was ok, although warned me of the churches stance in respect of homosexuals. Eventually the Bishop of Liverpool had to be told. The response was not good, and after a horrible period in my life, was told that along with other reasons it was not right that I should be ordained at that time and that my ordination would be deferred for two years. This therefore means that my ordination may take place in June 2004. However that is another story. My faith, my life and everything that I stood for has been challenged so greatly that my life has taken a totally unexpected leap in a different direction, which has turned out for the good.

I still have my faith and still pray regularly, but instead of having a dog collar around my neck and ministering to a parish, I now minister to a large parish of the gay community in St Helens and Knowsley working for the St Helens and Knowsley Pride Project, which is part of Health Promotion NHS. It is a job that I thoroughly love and enjoy very much, as I feel that I can help people who perhaps are confused about their sexuality, who don’t know what it is like to be gay, or to come out to their family and friends, or indeed who are having relationship problems or whatever. I can offer them whatever help and support they need at that time in their lives.

As I began earlier in this story, I now live in Manchester with my partner Paul. We are both very happy together and love and support each other through the ups and downs of life. My parents regularly come from Warrington and visit us in our home, and Paul has been made part of my family as I have been made part of his family.

Love, support and stability are vital ingredients for a happy, trusting relationship, and I believe that Paul and I share that.

What will become of my ordination I do not know yet, but it is something that I have left in God’s hand and await the outcome.

Throughout my life I hope that I have had some impact on the lives of others, and that I can continue to do so in my daily work now. If I can educate society, the society in which I live and work, about diversity, sexuality, prejudices and stigma, then I feel that I am fulfilling part of my calling to the priesthood but in a slightly different way.

I do hope that I have put across in an easy to read way some of the difficulties and good things that have happened in my life. There is much more to tell, but too much to put pen to paper. If any of you feel you would like to hear more of my personal life story, then I would be very willing to come and talk to groups as appropriate.

Email Howard via Manchester Parents Group

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