I became a Christian when I was a teenager. At the time I was in the Scouts and we used to attend a monthly church parade. One of the Scout leaders and one of the other Scouts lived a few doors from me and went to the church and so after a couple of months going to parade I started going along to church every week with them.
Over the next few years my faith grew stronger. I became friends with a lot of the youngsters who went to the church, some of whom were in the same year as me at school.
I got involved with different things at church, joined the choir; helped serve during the communion services; went along to the weekly youth club and when I was 16 I got confirmed.
Everything was going really well and then it all changed.
A scandal erupted involving one of the local cemetaries. A number of irregularities were found with some of the graves and burials and so a series of exhumations were ordered. In the course of the investigation bodies were found to have been buried in the wrong places, jewellery had been removed from bodies, and coffins had been smashed in order that extra coffins could be gotten into plots that had already been used for other burials.This was the case with my grandparents grave.
My family expected support from the vicar at church but sadly that wasn't as forthcoming as it could have been, especially as he took the position of defending the local council. Unsurprising as he was a local councillor himself.
His siding with the council eventually led to us no longer attending the church.
Around this time I started at Polytechnic and within 3 years moved away from home to start working in Portsmouth. Although I could have easily found a church to attend in Portsmouth I didn't bother. I didn't see a reason to, and other than weddings and funerals I didn't set foot in a church for a long time; it was over 10 years after stopping attending church at home before I once more started attending a church regularly.
When Rhys was first diagnosed with Leukaemia we decided that we wanted to give everybody something to look forward to, and so we began planning to get him Christened. At the time we weren't going to any churches and so started looking around for one.
At the second church we visited we found our new spiritual home and began to attend as regularly as we could while still dealing with Rhys' treatment.
Over time we settled in to the church. The people there were wonderfully supportive and it ended up being somewhere that Rhys would grow up in. I have a lot of happy memories of him at church, watching him with other people, seeing him helping out with the Junior Church when I was involved with it, and even after I was no longer involved.
When he died the church was packed full for his funeral. He was very much loved by everyone there.
Since Rhys died, the church hasn't felt like home anymore. I've been to several services, some Sunday morning ones, and, at the end, Wednesday lunchtime services. I've bumped into people from church in the street and supermarket and we've spoken, but apart from one person, nobody has checked in with me to see how I was doing.
I know if I was still going to the church it would be easy for people to ask how I'm doing but that's the thing, it would be easy. Checking in on me when I'm not going is a lot harder and only one person has made any effort to do that.
Just after Rhys died I read that people have a tendency to be there for someone who is bereaved for the first couple of weeks after someone dies but then their lives move on and that support dries up. Whereas for the bereaved life doesn't move on. That does seem to be the case.
When I returned to church after Rhys died it was a few months and it was to a service at the local community centre. Some people spoke to me but the majority didn't. It felt like, although I was there, I wasn't a part of it anymore. I stood around for about 5 minutes after people had spoken to me and then quietly left.
The same has happened when I've been to the church on a Sunday. Rather than going in to the church room after the service I've spoken briefly to people and then left straight away.
It's disappointing, I expected more from people I've known for almost two decades, from a place which, at times, I've been heavily involved with. I feel abandoned.
Part of that I think is that they've never had to deal with someone who is transgender, part is that they've not really had to deal with someone who has lost a child in the way that we lost Rhys. Supporting us throughout his illness was easy but supporting us after his death was something they weren't prepared for. And they were bad at it.
In the space of several years I've lost both my parents and my son. I have questions. I need answers, but nobody is able to give me the answers I need because the questions I have are tough ones.
Last year I did the Lent course put on by the church. It was all about spiritual health and figuring out your gifts. During the session on gifts we did a questionnaire that was intended to help you determine your gifts. One of mine was healing. I had to laugh at that because if that was the case then it hadn't worked when it came to Rhys. Finding out that one of my spiritual gifts was healing was adding insult to injury when he had barely been dead 6 months.
At the end of the course we were encouraged to meet up with someone to talk about what we'd learned during the preceding weeks. I arranged to meet with the vicar and we planned to figure out a date and time. That didn't happen, not because I wasn't open to meeting but because the vicar didn't come back with any dates and times. Weeks after he asked me if I still wanted to meet up. I was happy to but again nothing came of it.
Sadly, for me, that has been my experience ever since I came out as a trans person. People assume that I have a lot of support, and I do have when it comes to friends that I truly value. None of whom go to the church. They can't help me when it comes to spiritual support and the questions I have. That takes someone from within the church.
Shortly after I came out as trans, the cell group that I was part of decided that they could only support either my wife or I. As it was decided that I had enough support they chose her, and it was suggested I move to another cell group. No suggestions as to which one were offered and so I ended up not going to any. Support for my spiritual needs was therefore taken away with nothing to replace it.
I actually felt liked I'd been stabbed in the back by people I counted as friends. They're actions actually backfired because my wife eventually stopped going to the cell group. She'd only really been going because I went along as well. As soon as I wasn't going she no longer had the motivation to go and was happy to stay at home.
So how things have panned out with the church doesn't surprise me. It hurts that I've been abandoned after so many years. It hurts that people I counted as friends could treat me the way they did, because I'd come out as a trans person and decided to transition. It hurts to think that the only reason that people wanted anything to do with me was because of Rhys, and now that he's no longer here; only the niceties of social interaction result in people talking to me when they see me.
At one point I would have been angry about it but I'm beyond that now. I'm more resigned to the fact that people from church don't want to have anything to do with me.
Since Rhys died, in fact since I transitioned my relationship with God hasn't been the best. I'll talk to Her but I have also explored other spiritualities; coming back to God afterwards. My faith is still with God, I pray as often as I can, I talk to Jesus when I can. I still have a relationship but I don't have anyone to work through things like my belief that Rhys is dead because of me, because I transitioned. My belief that Rhys died because I transitioned and Rhys' fate was a punishment for my decision and actions.
Talking to God and praying doesn't give me answers to my questions, and doesn't make me change my belief that Rhys died because of me. Being left without a way to explore that is the hardest part of not having anyone supporting me spiritually because without that support it would be very easy to reach a point where I take action with fatal results.