Dazzling Darkness

Dazzling Darkness

Launch of ‘Dazzling Darkness’ by Rachel Mann. Manchester Cathedral. 06/11/2012

‘Only three copies left!’

Dazzling Darkness
Dazzling Darkness

As the bookseller shouted this twenty minutes into the launch, I realized it was going to be a surprising and extraordinary night. For in truth, I’d expected this event to attract two or three dozen people at most. I’d feared that there might even be one or two protestors outside the Cathedral claiming I was unfit to be a priest. Instead, Manchester Cathedral was humming with over one hundred folk. And, to my surprise, they all seemed to be there to take a closer look at Dazzling Darkness.

The vain part of me was thrilled, of course. Authors, inevitably, like to sell some books and welcome a crowd. However, this evening was remarkable for me in deeper ways. I am conscious that Dazzling Darkness, as spiritual autobiography, tells an unusual story. There are, after all, relatively few lesbian-identified, transsexual, disabled priests active in the Church of England or elsewhere! However, having survived prejudice and fear from both within and without the church I had never imagined that there might be an occasion like this – a celebratory launch in a cathedral attended by so many well-wishers and friends.

Since I embarked on the sometimes bewildering process of changing sex twenty odd years ago, the world has, of course, changed. Nonetheless, in making my story public in the pages of a book, I’ve expected a lot of negativity. That negativity may yet come, but for one night there was grace. Friends like Nicola Slee, a Wild Goose author herself, spoke movingly about the creative ‘wound’ which runs through the story of Dazzling Darkness. Others suggested it was the kind of book that might have something challenging and powerful to say to people of all hues of faith and none. I enjoyed the opportunity to share some of the more humorous sections of the book – for, as I suggest in the book’s introduction, it aspires ‘to be a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress with all the juicy bits left in’ – as well as to read some of the poems and talk about the devastating, but revelatory effects of illness. The Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch, closed proceedings by speaking wittily and generously about having someone like me serving as a vicar in his diocese.

I am – as the author of this book – not in a position to think especially objectively about the evening or, indeed, the book. I am aware that given the story it tells and the unflinching way to tells it, it is a very risky book. Because of the things it says I may yet be invited to leave the church. However, the launch itself was a night for laughter and tears. I was humbled and stunned by strangers saying to me how moving and powerful they’d found the book and it was wonderful to be able to share this evening with family and friends. I want to say a massive thanks to everyone who came. At a time when the church seems divided about so many things, there was a remarkable sense of unity in the Cathedral. As one friend later said of the evening on Twitter, ‘I loved it. Honestly felt like I’d been to church too but had enjoyed it!’

Rachel Mann

buy your copy from www.ionabooks.com

A great review for Rachel from Simon Marsh. Have a read.


4 thoughts on “Dazzling Darkness

  1. Ian Stubbs says:

    I was at Rachel’s book launch and it was brilliant, just like the book, on so many different levels. As well as gender, sexuality and illness it’s a book about God. It’s a book about ‘coming out, not about withdrawal which is traditional Christian spirituality. In the late 60s when I did my training for priesthood with a religious community you found yourself by retreating with God. ‘He who cannot keep silence is not at peace with God’ was a community strapline. But Rachel and her book are about coming out, making something of yourself, making something of your life. And I pose the question – because we are outsideless, this is all we have?

  2. john hobson says:

    This was the second event that I have been at in the Cathedral in recent weeks that drew confidently from the deep wells of Orthodox spirituality whilst making the space – right there in the central space of the Cathedral – for many of us who for far, far too long – and for all manner of reasons – have felt that we can only operate on the margins of the church, if indeed we hadn’t turned away altogether, often in fear and sorrowful spiritual loneliness.

    I was stunned, thrilled – really really taken by surprise – to see us being welcomed in, so readily and generously. True liberation – I kind of sense and as taught to many of us long ago – may well lie somewhere other than in the passing attractions of our increasingly atomised society.

    And I was also humbled – the struggle of illness and disability is not something that I have yet had to deal with. But I look forward to being challenged to think about that too.

  3. Andrea Jones says:

    The launch was a wonderful evening. Not just because we at last got our hands on copies of Rachel’s book but because it was a fine example of why Manchester Cathedral is now at the heart of life in this city… other events include the Manchester Sermons and performances by Elbow and Alicia Keyes.
    Having spent the last couple of days reading Dazzling Darkness – Rachel’s story is absolutely compelling but it is also a book which spoke to me (and I am sure does to all its readers) about my own brokenness and (in my case) periods of chronic pain… cant recommend it enough..

  4. Lin Patterson says:

    I attended the book launch with my partner Fidge, a friend of Rachel’s. I didn’t know what to expect! I am unashamedly sorry that I had only once delved into Rachels online presence and was a tad apprehensive of this online persona ( although always admiring of her quick wit and insight ) I went to the book launch and it was everything I could have hoped for and more! Rachel’s reading from her book was filled with genuine sincerity and emotion and as always her words although moving were strengthened by her insightful humour. I listened to her friends; bishop, flatmate and teachers alike, talk of her journey and heard them read further from her book. In short I was filled with admiration and awe at her talent, faith and endurance. I also feel ashamed at my brief initial reluctance to engage with her story. I hope I will meet Rachel in due course and from my heart wish her success. Her story should be read and be told by folks in the priesthood and beyond. We could all learn from her words. Thank you for sharing your story with us all.

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