A retired solicitor is planning to set up a new support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Colin Flinn, a former Presbyterian, explained his aim was not to challenge the doctrine of the Church, but to see it provide welcome, safety and inclusion to LGBT people which, he believes, is currently lacking.
And he added he would like to emulate the success of existing groups such as Changing Attitude Ireland and Accepting Sexuality, which have been operating within the Church of Ireland and the Irish Methodist Church respectively.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Flinn (70) — who is a board member of Cara-Friend and a long-serving volunteer with its LGBT switchboard service — said he aimed to establish a network with the help of like-minded people.
“Of all the Churches, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has failed to support its LGBT members by obstructing any opportunity for dialogue,” he claimed.
“The purpose of my initiative is to find a way through this for LGBT Presbyterians, and to support them in their spiritual lives by seeing that the three pillars of welcome, safety and inclusion are implanted in the Church.
“These issues are complicated. Churches find the matter toxic and are, just like political parties, afraid of splits. Other Churches here have networks supporting LGBT members and these have been successful to the degree that these Churches are no longer talking ‘into themselves’, but tentatively finding ways to dialogue with LGBT members.”
Mr Flinn, who is a member of both the Equality Consultative Forum of Belfast City Council and Queerspace Collective, said he only realised he was gay in his mid-50s and spent two years ‘coming out’ after extricating himself from a 30-year marriage.
The father-of-four and former Sunday School teacher said he was born into and brought up by a liberal Presbyterian family “with my late dad as clerk of session in our local congregation”.
A former member of the Down Presbytery Youth Movement, he said it will be up to the people who get together following his clarion call to decide what shape the network takes.
“I’m merely facilitating the process as I have training in the areas required,” he added.