Book review: Jay Hulme -The Backwater Sermons

I first discovered Jay Hulme’s writing through his Twitter threads detailing his love of church architecture. He would tell the story of his visit to a church, using beautiful language and beautiful photography – small churches, large churches, obscure ones, world-famous ones. He pointed out tiny details and explored some areas that are normally not accessible to the public. He is a professional poet, and that shone through.

When he started his exploration of church buildings, he was an atheist. More than that, as a young trans man he didn’t feel that there was a place for him in a church as a member rather than engaging with a love affair with the building. That changed one day. He realised that somewhere along the way he had started believing, and that there were churches and ministers and congregations that did not think he was too queer, too poor, too odd, for a place with them.

I followed his Twitter feed for the church porn. The queer Christian poetry that started appearing some months later was an unexpected joy. Having found faith, he started exploring it – a few months before Covid changed the world. The result was queer Christian poetry that spoke of believing in the time of plague, in a time when churches were closed for the safety of all. But God isn’t confined to stone and brick. Jay’s poetry is a stunningly beautiful reminder of that.

Now the poems have been collected into a book. I’m straight and cis and still it speaks to me about God, so intensely that I cannot manage more than three or four poems at a time without weeping. There are poems about God being everywhere you need to find Them, from garden to nightclub to a late-night taxi. There are love letters to cathedrals, including my own dearest love, Durham. There is sadness and joy. There is affirmation that God loves all that She has made, not just those people who came out of the mould He picks up most often. There is a joke that had me laughing out loud. There are questions and occasional answers about “God, why?”
I don’t understand all of these poems. I may never understand some. But I feel all of them, every single one.

I love this book.

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