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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

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