The Clergy Project:Father Daniel Brereton bares his faith and his sexuality
by Drew Rowsome
Daniel Brereton is a priest in the Anglican church and he is is also a gay man. And now he's a performer in The Clergy Project where he shares his story alongside a minister and a rabbi. "People have all kinds of assumptions about clergy," he says. "I hope that The Clergy Project helps people see the human side. To see that we are motivated by faith, by something larger than ourselves. I wouldn't do this if it was just a job."
The Clergy Project is presented by Soulo Theatre who create one-person (in this case three) shows that delve into personal history through the intimate connection that only theatrical artifice can create. Past shows have included The Drag Project that helped participants free their inner queen. There are similarities. "I think you're born with your sexual orientation so for me that came first," says Brereton, who came out to his congregation the week after marrying his husband. "I talk about this in the show, my coming out as a gay person and my coming to grips with my vocation kind of happened at the same time. I really started coming out when I went to the seminary. My first boyfriend was a priest. The journey of claiming my identity as a gay man ran parallel to being comfortable with my vocation. I remember being in seminary and it felt like a double closet."
Only a few of the people at the seminary knew Brereton was gay and when he was out in the gay world of bars and events, when people asked what he did, "I would say I was 'in school.' When they asked what I was studying, half the time I made something up. I just assumed and imagined that the two worlds were hostile to each other. But there's lots of people in both communities. The world of spirituality is a reality for many in the gay community."
Even though out and secure in his faith, Brereton still believes that many experience a disconnect. He describes how the Anglican church is composed of an international network of dioceses who may have wildly differeing interpretations of how to handle issues, especially gay, "I've always been fortunate since being ordained," he says, "in having supportive bishops. But they are bishops for all the people, so even if personally supportive, they have to reach out to everyone." And he notes that not all members of a congregation are going to be comfortable with gay.
He remembers finding himself in the awkward situation of having a bishop inquire as to how Brereton's husband was, while at the same time publicly waffling on the subject of same-sex marriage. "I fit in there messily," Breretons says. "I remind them that they can't bury their heads in the sand. Different clergy deal with it differently. Some are still closeted and they often advance further because they don't talk about it. Some make LGBT the entire focus of their ministry. But there are other issues and our job encompasses more than just that."
Brereton is concerned about the homophobia of many fundamentalist churches and says that, "Mainstream churches have not been vocal enough. They've abdicated the airwaves, including on the topic of sexuality. My sexuality and my spirituality are part of who I am. I thought my vocation was to build bridges but I came to realize that I actually am the bridge. That my role is simply to be myself which is a composite of all these different things and that allows people to be themselves. But bridges get walked on, as I say in the show. It hasn't been an easy journey but the two paths are very parallel."
Brereton has worked consistently for LGBT inclusion in the church, and for spirituality to be part of LGBT life. The Clergy Project is an unplanned but wlecome continuation of this work. "My husband James knew SoulO Theatre director Tracey Erin Smith's ex-husband, they used to work together," he says. "I hadn't talked to her in a couple of years and then out of the blue she called. I got together with her and she asked me if I'd be interested in being one of the people in this project she's bee working on for years and I said 'Sure.'"
He doesn't regret his decision and the first performance, despite nerves, reinforced that. "One of Tracey's concern for the first performance was that we were specific about who we invited. I was open to whoever, but the other two had some concerns about whether they were ready to invite members of their present congregation. There's some revealing things in the show and that was the first time we were doing it."
The first version of The Clergy Project was a success - artistically, spiritually and as entertainment - and called out for revisit. "This time we've opened it up and we're more intentional about inviting our own congregations as well as the general public. Tracey said that if there's anything we need to change or adapt because our congregation will be there . . . but I don't get the sense that any of us need to change anything. There may be some tweaking but the stories we told in May will form the bulk of the show this time as well." Because once a bridge has revealed itself, there is no point in going back in a closet.