Tuesday 8 December 2009

Betrayed by the Church’s stance on gays

Ruth Gledhill, the Religion Correspondent of The Times, phoned me late yesterday afternoon and interviewed me at some length. The result is an article in today’s paper which pretty accurately reports what I said.

In the interests of total accuracy, ‘a close friend of the Archbishop’ is pushing it a bit, and I was in parish ministry for 17, not 15 years, 3 as a curate at St George’s Camberwell (where Geoffrey Beaumont and Canon Eric James had previously been incumbents) and 14 years at St Faith’s Wandsworth. I didn’t actually tell Ruth that Bishop Mervyn Stockwood knew I was gay. Lowly curates like me didn’t share that kind of information with Mervyn.

I grew up in Southwark Diocese and at the age of 22 became involved with the cathedral and diocesan networks. Southwark obviously had many gay priests then and still does, despite Bishop Tom Butler’s initial reign of terror, a period now thankfully in the past.

When I returned to Southwark from Cambridge to serve my title, two of the bishops were known to be gay and my post ordination training group (in my memory) was between one third to a half gay. The gay sub-set was divided in two – the camp, closeted, Anglo-catholics who sat clad in black in the back row, giggling, and ‘my’ set, those who were less ashamed of being gay and seemed more mature. There was a good support network in the diocese for those gay priests who wanted to engage with each other, reinforced by the twice-yearly meetings of the Clergy Consultation for gay priests convened by Malcolm Johnson.

I have to confess astonishment that at least one of the gay men I remember sitting in the back row is now married and a bishop in the Church of England, but that’s another story. Well, perhaps it isn’t another story but in truth, THE story. The story of what has happened in England in the 40 plus years since I first became involved with the wider diocese in Southwark.

Then to be gay was to be closeted. It was a widely known semi-open secret to those in the clergy networks, the deanery, POT, the bishops. Let’s list those who were my area bishops in the time I was there – Michael Marshall, Keith Sutton, Peter Selby and Martin Wharton. The diocesans were Mervyn Stockwood, Ronnie Bowlby, Roy Williamson and Tom Butler. I was out to all of them. Bishop Roy was hugely supportive at the time Changing Attitude was being formed. The others were all pastorally affirming.

And now? There are still affirming and supporting bishops, but they are in the closet. Some actively encourage their clergy to contract a Civil Partnership knowing that it is healthier and holier to be in a faithful, loving, committed relationship rather than footloose and cottage-or-sleezy-night-club free. There were and are many clergy in the Anglo-catholic black-cassocked, ‘Father knows best’, misogynistic sets in London and Southwark, Forward in Faith to the core, who lived deeply dishonest and unhealthy lives. And there are gay (or ex-gay) bishops, married, acceptable to the hierarchy and those who compile the potential bishop list.

I feel more angry this week than I have for a long time. Mature, intelligent, totally committed LGBT lay people and priests in the Church of England are totally fed up with the context in which they have to minister. They allow themselves to be compromised by church attitudes driven by conservatives, knowing that they could be more Christian, more true to God and themselves, more integrated and emotionally healthy, were they to give up parochial ministry. Sadly, many are doing just that and the church is achieving by a slow process of erosion a reduction in the percentage of LGBT clergy in ministry.

What would the Church of England be like without her LGBT clergy? She might lose at least 10% of those currently in post. She would lose many of her most dedicated, spiritual, reflective, pastoral clergy - and she would be left in the hands of the spineless or the tyrannical, the dishonest, the closeted, the unhealthy.


  1. Who are you calling "the spineless or the tyrannical, the dishonest, the closeted, the unhealthy."?

  2. 10%? Surely a far higher figure in Greater London and the M4 and M11 corridors.

  3. This is a very accurate analysis. The heart of the problem has been the hypocrisy of those who have turned a blind eye and then not followed through on the logic of their decisions. Whatever else they have done, most evangelicals have at least been consistent.

  4. Anonymous, I am calling spineless, those who anonymously support wholeheartedly the presence of LGBT priests and laity in the church, tyrannical those bishops and leaders who act with cruelty against us, dishonest those who in private encourage their LGBT clergy and disagree with Lambeth 1.10 but fail to speak out publicly, closeted and unhealthy those members of Forward in Faith who are gay and often sexually active, but attack the presence of gay priests while living in denial of their own sexuality - and I add to the unhealthy category, all those who are duplicitous in their reading of scripture and think that homosexuality is the big taboo for God.

  5. Paul, I agree, in Greater London the number is almost certainly higher than 10%.

  6. Sorry Colin, but that's not good enough. You need to name for us the "anonymous" spineless, tyrannical, dishonest, cleseted and unhealthy. Unless you name them, why should we believe they actually exist?

  7. Colin -

    And there are some of us - clergy and lay - who _do_ support, and not anonymously, the presence of LGBT priests and laity. We have to do it in the context of our other ministry - it can't, and shouldn't, be the only issue we address - but it is part of our ministry, and our lives, and our beliefs and, yes, our prayers.

    And who support those LGBT clergy we know. Publicly (where appropriate) and in private (when not).

    I hope that we're not the spineless.


    (The Rev. Mike Bursell, Curate, St Andrew's, Halstead)

  8. Anonymous, why are you so interested in having groups and individuals named? Your comment shows that you don't believe they exist or don't know which groups I have in mind. I am writing for those people who know perfectly well the spineless, tyrannical, dishonest, closeted and unhealthy in our church.

  9. Mike, I agree, there are many, many people who very openly support the presence of LGBT priests and laity, there are many in my own congregation. It certainly isn't people like you that I would ever think of as spineless, but those who put their status or preferment or image ahead of their commitment to justice for women, ethnic minorities or LGBT people in the church. Changing Attitude has been forced into the defence of LGBT people by those who made this the issue on which they would stand and fight. It wasn't like this when CA was founded in 1995.

  10. Hmm, my previous comment seems to have vanished.

    I just want to say that there is support 'out there' for clergy and laity from many of us who do pray for all those who find themselves discriminated against and marginalised for all sorts of reasons.

    I look forward to the day that people don't feel they have to remain silent about who they really are - in ministry or in the ocngregations.

    The Revd. Helen Gardner - Curate, St Michael and All Angels, Berkhamsted and St John's, Bourne End.

  11. I think it may be the time to start naming these people.

    They should be forced to defend their hypocrisy

  12. Anonymous said : "Unless you name them, why should we believe they actually exist?"

    Anonymous - unless you name yourself, why should I believe that you exist?

    Laurence C.

  13. As a Methodist Minister I read this with interest, Changing Attitude is mirrored in Methodism by a relatively new group under the name of Outcome. I personally know a number of LGBT Methodist clergy and lay folk, and they have my full support. Sadly as with the Anglican Church there are those who remain closeted, and those who deny their sexuality.

    More positively there is an ongoing conversation at Connexional level, with a number of very supportive and influential voices.

    I hope and pray that the Church of England is never without her LGBT clergy, and that support for them grows. I trained on an ecumenical course, and two of my friends (Helen and Mike) from that course have commented here! There is hope...

    The Revd. Sally Coleman
    Circuit Minister Snaith and Selby

  14. Colin

    Thanks so much for your honesty. I share your anger.

    I am a formerly fundamentalist (Plymouth Brethren); ---

    post-Evangelical (St. John's. Nottingham 1972-76)[Where Bishop Colin B, formerly Suffragan in Birmingham and Southwark was wonderful "pastoraly" and naive"theologicaly" regarding gay Ordinands]


    Now: I am a liberal, evangelical, and queer Priest who, following ordination in Bristol Cathedral, served for 30 years
    in Massachusetts.

    George Leonard Carey was one of my teachers at St. John;'s, where he was known to be a good scholar, but a lousy Pastor. It was his ineptitude at Lambeth 1998 which precipitated this mess. (His appointment as ABC is yet one more reason to weep at the results of Margaret Thatcher's Premiership.

    I had hoped for better things from Rowan Williams (His father-in-law Geoffrey Paul was my first D.D.O in Bristol.) Geoffrey moved from Bristol to Lee Abbey, then the superb Peter Coleman [later Bishop of Crediton] became my D.D.O.

    But that strange man Rowan Williams seems to be far more concerned to take care of the institution than to witness to G-d's reign.

    I cannot entirely share your anger since my Bishop is the fabulous Tom Shaw of Massachusetts.

    But I respect and affirm your anger - it is entirely congruent with the prophetic word.

    J. Michael Povey.

    (P.S wouldn't it be wonderful if Edna Hope camde out!)

  15. LGBT clergy in the C of E should seriously consider coming to the US and serving in The Episcopal Church, especially in supportive dioceses like mine (New York), Los Angeles and San Francisco. There are many churches looking for rectors and vicars...and will welcome you!