Day 51: Cambridge to Luton
The ancient market town of St Albans is more important than you think. Particularly if you’re a Christian. Or gay. Or British. Or American. As Verulamium, it was the second largest Roman settlement after Londinium.
The town’s modern name comes from the first Christian to be martyred on British soil, in AD308 (a good two hundred years before the more well-known St Augustine rolled up in Canterbury). It’s been suggested, not without reason, that St Alban would make a more fitting patron saint for England than that Turkish bloke with the dragon.
Legend has it that the Roman authorities were looking for a Christian priest whom Alban, a Romano-Brit, helped escape. Miffed, the Romans arrested Alban and beheaded him, whereupon his severed head rolled down the hill from the execution site and into a well at the bottom of Holywell Hill. The executioner, however, didn’t get to see this because his eyes dropped out when he beheaded Alban, a detail which has delighted local schoolchildren ever since.
St Albans Abbey was, at one time, the principal abbey in England. The first draft of Magna Carta, the ground-breaking document that curbed the power of kings and later influenced the US Constitution, was drawn up there in 1215.
And St Albans Abbey has, as its Dean, the Very Revd Jeffrey John, probably the most prominent gay clergyman in Britain. He and his partner, another clergyman, have been together since 1976, and civil partners since 2006. Despite publically avowing that their relationship is celibate, controversy has dogged John’s career. He was appointed Bishop of Reading in 2003, but forced to step down after prominent Church of England figures in other countries threatened to cause a schism. More recently, in 2010, a storm over a leaked report that he was a candidate for Bishop of Southwark resulted in his nomination being withdrawn.
So how does the Anglican Church view homosexuality? Well, it’s complicated. The Church in Britain, for example, is generally speaking much more liberal than Anglican churches elsewhere in the world, such as Africa. But Anglican authorities have a holy horror of offending people. The official view is that celibate same sex relationships are not to be condemned—but in practice, many do condemn. (My personal view, FWIW, is that a committed relationship is a committed relationship, and it’s nobody’s business but the partners what happens in the bedroom.)
Jeffrey John has to be applauded for sticking to his guns. Many LGBTQ clergy have been made to feel unwelcome in the church hierarchy of curates, parish priests, deans and bishops, and have sought to carry out their vocation elsewhere. For example, a recent study of male clergy in hospital chaplaincies (Are They Refugees?) found that 21% were in same sex relationships. In that environment, their sexuality ceases to be an issue.
It seems a shame that can’t also be said of the wider church.
I’ve set several stories in St Albans. Here are three of them:
Batteries Not Included is a light-hearted Christmas paranormal.
How would you react if you woke up one morning to find you were in bed with your favorite pop star? More to the point: how would the pop star react? Sam’s celebrity crush, Cain Shepney, isn’t so pleased to wake up with a stranger, but that’s far from the worst shock the day has in store for them both! Sam’s used to his mother messing with his love life, but this time, Lilith may really have gone too far…
Only half the man he used to be—but maybe that’s enough
The Taliban may have taken both Chris’s legs, but he came back from Afghanistan with his sense of humour and his lust for life firmly intact. The one thing that can shake his confidence is meeting Josh, the one-night stand from before his tour of duty he hasn’t been able to forget.
It turns out Josh hasn’t forgotten Chris, either. But with Chris such a changed man, can they still have a future?
Some secrets are better left hidden.
To most of the world, Tom Paretski is just a plumber with a cheeky attitude and a dodgy hip, souvenir of a schoolboy accident. The local police keep his number on file for a different reason—his sixth sense for finding hidden things.
When he’s called in to help locate the body of a missing woman up on Nomansland Common, he unexpectedly encounters someone who resurrects a host of complicated emotions. Phil Morrison, Tom’s old school crush, now a private investigator working the same case. And the former bully partly responsible for Tom’s injury.
The shocks keep coming. Phil is now openly gay, and shows unmistakable signs of interest. Tom’s attraction to the big, blond investigator hasn’t changed—in fact, he’s even more desirable all grown up. But is Phil’s interest genuine, or does he only want to use Tom’s talent?
As the pile of complicated evidence surrounding the woman’s murder grows higher, so does the heat between Tom and Phil. But opening himself to this degree exposes Tom’s heart in a way he’s not sure he’s ready for…while the murderer’s trigger finger is getting increasingly twitchy.
Warning: Contains a flirtatious plumber with hidden talents, a cashmere-clad private investigator with hidden depths, and an English village chock full of colourful characters with plenty to hide.
Due out in ebook from Samhain Publishing 18th September 2012.