Amongst the sea of people celebrating Didsbury Pride last month was a man proudly wearing a brilliantly bright rainbow shirt.
Unmistakable at the event, the man in question is Augustine Tanner-Ihm - the new vicar curate at St James and Emmanuel.
Openly gay, Augustine started his new position at the Didsbury church in April this year and has already made a lasting impression on the local community.
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But it’s been a long journey for Augustine, 31, to get to this point in his life.
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Augustine says that being an queer African-American Christian has come with plenty of struggles.
“I grew up quite poor,” Augustine, who now lives in Burnage, tells the M.E.N.
“I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness and I spent most of my early life living in and out of council estates and homeless shelters.
“Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs outlines the basic human needs that people need for survival, such as food and shelter, and there were times when I never had those things.
“It was a daily struggle for me, my mother and two siblings. We were always wondering if we would be able to eat at tea time or if we’d be made to move out of where we were staying. It caused a lot of problems.”
As a child, Augustine and his family moved all around Chicago before settling in a nearby suburban area - “it sounds more affluent than it was,” he stresses - and trying to establish some form of education.
He even went to school at the same time as Chance the Rapper.
At the age of 14, Augustine attended an Assemblies of God summer camp and discovered Christianity.
“The church did play a big part in my life from then on really,” he explains.
“Because of the church, I decided to go to university, I became quite ambitious and I felt like this gospel, this Jesus, wanted better for me rather than poverty.
“I think that was a huge realisation for me.”
In 2012, following the passing of his younger brother, Augustine decided to come out as gay.
It was something he had been going through internally and coming to terms with for years.
He credits watching shows like MTV’s Real World at a low volume as a teen with helping him realise he was not alone in his feelings.
In 2013, Augustine decided to move to the UK following an ‘overwhelming sense from the spirit of God’ that his calling was to priesthood in the Church of England.
After initially finding great difficulty in finding a church, he was eventually accepted into a church in the UK that would sponsor his visa.
Having recently come out, Augustine said he was open with the church about his sexuality.
As part of his requirements, the church made him attend Friday night classes. The classes turned out to be ran by people practicing conversion therapy.
“It was a horrible, absolutely terrible, experience,” Augustine says.
“It was very much of the mindset that being gay was bad but that it could be cured.
“The church was very adamant that I had to go to these classes.
“When I tell people about this, some will say ‘well, you were a consenting adult’, but I was in a really vulnerable position at the time.
“I was 4,000 miles from home and they were holding onto my visa.
“It was a scary, terrible experience.”
Having attended the classes for a year, Augustine’s visa - perhaps to his relief - expired and he had to go back home to America.
“I started reading widely and started praying and I realised that being gay is actually really fun,” he now laughs.
“I learnt that God cares about how we treat each other and not our sexual orientation.”
But he still felt called to the UK. After eight months in America, he moved to East London where he spent a year before moving to Dorset and then Durham for university.
During his time in Durham, Augustine again found himself struggling to find a church to take him onboard.
One church even rejected him via email for a job after admitting - in their own words - that their parishioners were 'monochrome white working class' and it would perhaps not be a good fit.
“That email was so hard for me to read,” Augustine says.
“One of the hardest things about that was that I showed it to a couple of my closest friends and they thought I was overreacting about it.
“It really upset me that the church never really fully apologised for that. They said they were sorry I had taken it that way, which isn’t really an apology at all in my mind.”
However, not long after Augustine was approached by St James and Emmanuel church in Didsbury who were interested in taking him on.
In April, he became an ordained minister for the church and was granted a UK visa.
“The church is amazing,” He says of his Didsbury workplace.
“We’re growing, we’re multicultural, we’re interracial and it’s a vibrant, truly welcoming church.
“We really want to welcome people in - whether they’re a believer or not, HIV positive or negative, conservative or liberal - and serve the community.”
One of the things St James and Emmanuel church has been part of is Didsbury Pride, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community.
For some, the choice of hosting a Pride event at a church may be a little confusing and Augustine says he can understand where they are coming from.
“People are often surprised that it’s held at a church,” he laughs.
“I think people are quite dubious at first and maybe think we’re part of a really weird cult.
“But it’s a really family-friendly event, it’s a lot of fun, it’s really great. Everyone has such a good time.”
Augustine says he hopes events like Didsbury Pride and the church embracing him as a vicar will help change perceptions of Christianity and the LGBTQ+ community.
He also works as a Trustee for the Open Table Network (OTN), which helps create ‘safe’ spaces for LGBTQ+ people within mainstream churches.
In Manchester, Augustine says he has found his calling and has been able to fully embrace who he is as a person.
He’s a member of the Manchester Village Spartans RUFC, an inclusive and gay rugby club, which he credits with giving him confidence and a support network.
“When I first came out, I was super excited to be part of such an inclusive community but I soon realised that it actually wasn’t as inclusive as I first thought,” he explains.
“I experienced racism on dating apps and I felt like I didn’t fit into the many different tribes of gay men.
“Being part of the Spartans has given me gay friends that have been really amazing for my own journey.
“It’s been really amazing for me to be part of that community and to be openly queer in Manchester.
“People ask me if it was harder coming out gay to the Christian community or coming out Christian to the gay community, and it’s actually really hard.
“I think intersectionality is really important.
“I’ve realised that me being queer, Black, Christian and American are all important parts of my identity.
“They make up who I am."
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