For the past four years the team at 56 Dean Street have been teaming up with St Anne’s Church in Soho for a series of workshops exploring the subject of sexuality and faith. Dave Cross spoke to Remziye Kunelaki, lead Psychosexual Therapist at 56 Dean Street about this fascinating subject and about their upcoming open evening.
Hi Remziye, in basic terms what’s the concept for your workshops?
The basic concept of the workshops is the collaboration of sexual health with the church for gay men who experience a conflict between their sexuality and religion. For some gay religious men, this is not an issue, however for others; this can cause some deep conflict and as a result, have psychological and even health implications.
Spirituality and sexuality are not subjects that are often discussed together, how did this come about?
A few years ago I noticed that, amongst my patients at 56 Dean Street, some religious gay men regardless of their presentation were struggling to accept their sexuality. When you are trying to help a patient with their sex life – ultimately what you are helping them is to reach and live according to their authentic self. The conflict between sexuality and religion can push some men further away from their ‘real self’ and contribute to some destructive behaviour. As I was thinking of ways I could help men further, I got in touch with Reverend Simon Buckley at St Anne’s church – who was very welcoming to the idea of collaboration and the very first workshop was delivered in October 2014.
Can you talk us through what actually happens at a workshop?
Initially, there is an introduction from a Christian/spiritual and psychological/sexual perspective to the whole concept. Participants will have a chance to identify the issues they would like us to raise. The topics will then be grouped, and each workshop will focus on a theme, a framework will be offered in a religious/psychological approach. Small and big group discussions will be facilitated. The workshops will end with feedback and prayer/meditation.
What are some of the most popular topics for discussion?
In the past series of workshops the most popular topics were: unity and wholeness, vulnerability, sexual interactions and practice in the gay world, sexual shame and guilt.
Can you give us any examples of what some people have gained from the workshops?
“God loves me”. Feeling deeply accepted has been the most consistent feedback so far. If you think about it objectively, it is a big deal to attend workshops in a church and to speak openly about your sexual experience in front of a priest and a sex therapist. In many ways, I think that this has been the most healing quality of the workshops as well as offering peer support beyond the sessions. What became clear from the beginning is how safe these workshops felt for men who attended.
St Anne’s is a Christian church, but are people of all faiths welcome?
This is a welcoming space for any religious gay man. There are lots of parallels between religions, and one can still benefit even if the references will be mainly drawn from the Christian perspective.
And, if someone wants to come and just listen and observe rather than speak is that OK?
Yes, that would be absolutely fine – as long as they find the workshops helpful for them and they can identify with the concept.
What can we expect at the open evening on Friday 26 January?
This is the first time that we are delivering an open evening – as we suspect that there are men who would benefit from these workshops but may be harder to reach. Simon and I will introduce the workshops from Christian and psychological perspectives. We will offer a space for participants to tell us which topics matter to them in relation to their sexuality and spirituality. This will also be an opportunity to consider if any men would like to volunteer towards the study of this collaboration. Information about the research will be available on the night. It would be great if one decides to volunteer to the study, but if not, that is also fine; they could still attend the workshops.
How often are the actual workshops?
The total number of six workshops is planned monthly for two hours. The detailed schedule will be provided on the open evening.