This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. The Guardian newspaper has been running a feature inviting readers to tell their stories about the significance of this moment. I'm republishing my responses here.

What are your memories of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act?

I was 15 at the time, and attending a progressive/liberal boarding school. I knew my sexuality was 'different' and had been experimenting sexually with other boys for the previous three years. The Act didn't really register with me at the time - other than that some increased discussion of homosexuality in and around my school only served to heighten my fear of being exposed. The risk of being 'caught', of ridicule and of bullying was very much alive. Whilst I wanted to find other boys who felt similarly, the risk of telling anyone else about my sexual attractions were far too frightening. Beyond a small group of other boys, everything was very secret.

How did the Act make a difference to your life?

At the time, it didn't. I continued through school and then through university in the early 70's. University perhaps could/should have been an opportunity for freedom and liberation. I was entirely celibate. Fear, shame, self-protection all ruled. I didn't know other gay men. I recall sneaking a look at posters for the university Gay-Soc and thinking there was no way I could go there. I moved into teaching and youth-social work and this caused me to keep my sexuality even more secret - the fear of being thought a paedophile, and the fear of being ridiculed by the young people I was working with. It took several more years before I made the first move to phone London Gay Switchboard (anonymously!), and then to take the first tentative steps into a local gay social group.

At what point did you feel that equality had achieved – or are LGBT people yet to get there?

For the past twenty years, I've come to regard my sexuality as a fundamentally important aspect of who-I-am. It has shaped my life experience; it has presented challenges and opportunities; these experiences are core to my values of social justice. The person I am yesterday, today and tomorrow is inextricably bound up with my sexual identity. It has contributed to my path towards ordination as a minister in recent years. It continues to lead me into work with men, with gay men, and with youths about their sexual and spiritual lives and self-development.

From that point onwards, life became considerably easier - first adult relationships, coming out to family, coming out at work to colleagues, and then ever-increasing involvement with various gay networks and communities. I don't feel equality has yet been achieved. The process of 'coming out' is still a significant challenge for most gay men and women - a statement that you have to make and then can't withdraw. It's something that heterosexual men and women never have to go through.

Do you have anything to add?

One thing I am particularly pleased about. Same-sex marriages were legalised in England and Wales from March 2014. In May 2014, I married my same-sex partner in what is almost certainly the first sacred same-sex marriage in the UK - that is, a marriage solemnised in a formal place of worship and within a religious context (as opposed to the civil marriages conducted by civil registrars). The fact that I married a Non-EU citizen in that ceremony - and also needed to jump through all the hoops of UK immigration - made the barrier-breaking nature of the ceremony even more rewarding.

Through regular mentoring and supervision, I find myself quite often asking the question: how does my ministry show up today? Perhaps ministry is not quite the right work. It feels more relevant to talk about 'conscious presence and service'. So where do I currently seek to offer 'conscious presence and service'? Here are a few pointers:

  • Through regular service to the Male Journey movement - serving as an elder at events such as the Men's Rites of Passage, an event leader, a designer of new programmes such as Return to Source, a mentor to other men on a one-to-one basis, and a trustee engaged in the governance of the movement.
  • As an aspiring volunteers within the Circles of Accountability movement working to support sex offenders within the community through their reintegration and self-management.
  • Providing spiritual direction and supervision to a range of students from the Interfaith Seminary, as well as to other men and women in search of deeper spiritual accompaniment. 
And throughout, I am sustained by a developing spiritual practice centred around silence and stillness, contemplation, journalling, retreat days in nature, and reflective study.

30 December 2016

Dear Home Secretary, 

I have written to you previously in November (no acknowledgement received) regarding your continuing failure to adequately address the claims of numerous child refugees and asylum seekers. At the time of my last letter, the majority were resident in the Calais camps; now they have been widely dispersed. 

I read reports of a few hundred who have been "processed" and of some who have gained entry to reception centres in the UK. However, it is clear from numerous independent, investigative reports that very many more remain stuck in limbo or have been refused without representation or receiving written grounds. This is entirely contrary to the "tolerant, fair and welcoming" country that you are responsible for governing.  [I invite you to read the opening pages of your own 'Life in the UK' handbook which immigrants are expected to familiarise themselves with as espousing British values.] 

The continuing delay, obfuscation and avoidance seems no more that a continuation of the policy of creating a "hostile environment" for all immigrants.  Your policies and actions fall well short of your much vaunted 'British values'.

In Peace, (Rev) Tim Pickles

 

 

Rt Hon Teresa May MP,
10 Downing Street,
Westminster,
London
WC1A 2AA

30 October 2016

Dear Prime Minister,

Your actions - and those of your ministers, officials, and Immigration Directorate staff -towards the young refugee people in and around Calais are deplorable and seemingly without any regard to human compassion and integrity.

You have been aware of the developing situation faced by these young and vulnerable people for many months. There have been multiple warnings by the aid agencies on the ground. Throughout this year, your government has sought to deliberately and consciously delay, push away, frustrate, obfuscate, and bureaucratise any response. I remind you that these young people are still legally children. Many have witnessed the horrors of war including terror attacks, bombing, killings and mutilations. Many are separated from, or have lost, their families. They have no income. They have risked perilous journeys to reach a strange country – because the alternative of staying in their own country was worse. They face the constant risk of bullying, sexual exploitation, slavery and trafficking – all things that you claim you want to eradicate.

Many of the same points can be made about the boat refugees who have landed, by accident, on the British sovereign military territories on Cyprus, and whom you also fail to process expeditiously.

I expect my government to show respect, compassion and care towards all people in such desperate situations. Your attitude towards these young people lacks justice, fairness, humanity, leadership and moral responsibility. All human beings on our shared planet are of equal worth, deserving of common respect and humanity. You are failing to give this.

I ask that you abandon the pernicious and labyrinthine “hostile environment towards immigrants” [of which my non-EU spouse and I also have personal experience] and quickly and gracefully grasp your responsibilities towards all these vulnerable refugees.

This is my Truth speaking to your power,

 

Rev Tim Pickles

After several months of development, the Male Journey has now launched the first extended Return to Source programme in the UK, to be known as Being a Generative Man. This programme for initiated men (only) will run alongside the powerful 5-day Men's Rites of Initiation.

Return to Source is for men who have: 

  • Been through the MROP and are an initiated man
  • Have a desire to deepen their spiritual journey by revisiting the messages of theirown initiation and deepening their soul journey
  • Want to be an active 'generative man" – a man who is fully present in the world and who invites and supports other men into their Journey of Illumination
  • Understands that they are not being initiated again
  • Understands that they are not a member of the MROP leadership team, whilst actively supporting the team
  • Can be present and be part of the container for the entire MROP event

It seems clear to me that our way of engaging in political debate and decision-making is bust. Watching the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, the general election in 2015, and the EU referendum in 2016, the same tired patterns and unhealthy behaviours are evident. I'm sure they have their roots much further back but the vitriol, crudeness and self-serving interests have come to dominate the debates.

Our politics is dominated by methods that are confrontational, oppositional, argumentative, and hostile. The campaigns that play out on our TV screens are based upon shouting, slogans, incomplete truths, insults, project fears, supporter gangs, lies, thinly-concealed hate-stirring, assertions instead of facts, spin, abuse of power, and constantly repeated mantras that do nothing to address the more complex factors that underlie almost all the most central issues being raised. There is a 'race to the bottom' to whip up what often looks like mob support. This is duality politics: two opposing forces lining up to attack each other. And all dualities are simplistic and reductionist. They are inescapably win/lose, right/wrong, left/right, in/out, yes/no. No other option is possible. One side will triumph. The other will be defeated, no matter how small the margin of 'victory'.

What does this remind you of? Warfare. This is the classic model of battles throughout history - whether that be massed armies facing each other across some open fields, or remote drones firing missiles at vehicle convoys, or insurgents engaged in street fighting with troops.

Our political 'democracy' has made very little progress in five thousand years if it still uses the tactics of battle. At best, this is warfare-with-rules. But even those rules are being ignored - politeness, respect, truth and dialogue are all being dispenses with.

And in the process, the things that most ordinary people care about are increasingly ignored. The questions that people ask simply don't get answered (What currency will be use? Where do you plan to make the cuts? What trading agreement will you seek to negotiate? How will my living standrd be affected?). People's range of individual concerns don't get heard - because there is no forum in which they can be listened to. Everything is cut-off, time-limited, reduced to a sound-bite or a slogan, balanced with an opposing view, or simply edited out as not being reflective of the Top 3 Topics.

We have become so used to the present ways of political campaigning that we think this is the norm - and that no other methods have ever, or could, exist. There have always been alternative ways of engaging in debate and decision-making.

I particularly favour The Way of Council. This is an ancient process, rooted in historical and tribal communities. At it's heart are several core intentions. The purpose of sitting in Council is to seek wisdom. We don't hear much about 'wisdom' today; it's drowned out by argument. Council is a way of seeking the collective wisdom that lies within the group instead of the depending on the claims and authority of single leaders. It relies upon listening to each other - actually hearing what's important to the other people in the Council, paying attention to it consciously, and taking it into your own consideration. In Council, only one person is permitted to speak at a time and the majority are engaged in active listening.

A Council looks different. Men and women are gathered in a circle. There are no 'sides'. It is communal and egalitarian. A talking stick or totem is passed around the circle. Only the person holding the totem is permitted to speak; everyone else listens to the concerns, feelings and questions of the speaker. Each contribution is acknowledged respectfully and usually followed by a short period of reflective silence for that contribution to settle. Points and questions are rarely answered directly; successive contributions are often widely divergent in nature; there is no to-and-fro of argument; one person's views are not denigrated; the conversation is expansive rather than reductionist; ideas are created and options identified. The dialogue in Council is inclusive and respectful; differences are aired; diverse experiences are welcome. Some participants may be older or more experienced and this may confer a degree of elder-hood on them, yet they too demonstrate a concern to listen and appreciate the views of the newest members of the Council.

Yes, this can take time. The token may pass around the group several times. Repetitious contributions are discouraged. The Council is seeking to delve beneath the surface issues to uncover what is truly important. This is a search for wisdom. A wisdom that lies in the collective understanding of the group, including it's history and their ancestors. Wisdom is far greater than the personal views of any one person.

Towards the end, a few Council members will endeavour to draw the threads together and state the wisdom arising from the Council. If there is no clarity, the matter may be deemed not ready for decision at this time. Everyone can depart knowing they have been heard and acknowledged.

Versions of Council can be found around the world in different communities and gatherings. We still use the word 'Council' to describe several corporate structures, and we sit their members in a circle, even when their debating methods have diverged far from the classic style. Tribal groups still use it as their 'parliament'. Several residential communities employ it very successfully. I'm involved with Radical Faeries and men's work movements where Council is the way of making decisions. The Society of Friends (Quakers) uses something similar to Council for all it's business meetings.

Our present political process is discredited and disfunctional. There are alternatives which hold out the possibility of re-engaging men and women in the decisions that affect all our lives.