Saturday 15 May 2010

Lesbian couple in Salisbury Diocese meet prejudice in a Dorset congregation

The Daily Mail reported that a lesbian couple have been forced to leave their church for holding hands during a service.

Kersten Pegden who is 38 had been a member of the church for many years. She separated from her husband last September and is now going through a divorce. Her daughter Emily aged 12 has left the church choir and her son Elliot, 14, is no longer a server. In a letter to the vicar telling her why she was leaving the church which she has attended for four years she said that she has spent years hiding and does not wish to continue hiding now.

Her partner Nina Lawrence who is 31 said: 'I have been out for 13 years and I've never had this reaction.' The couple began their relationship in November last year.

Their church is (or rather was) St Nicholas in Corfe Mullen, Dorset, in my own diocese of Salisbury where the vicar is the Rev Pamela Walker. She apparently wanted to know the details of Kersten’s divorce, asked how long it was going to take, and why it had dragged on for so long.

How the congregation reacted to them and what kind of conversations took place can only be deduced from the comments made by Kersten Pegden. She said that their relationship had split the congregation of mainly elderly people. Some members of the congregation thought their behaviour was 'overtly sexual' and during hymns they were dishonouring God because they were singing the hymns to each other and were overtly sexual with each other. They were told that even the way they looked at each other was not acceptable.

Because other couples within the congregation held hands she felt it was their sexuality that had influenced the complaints. All they do is hold hands and she pointed out that an elderly couple hold hand during the service. Holding hands is no more sexual when the couple are gay rather than straight.

A spokesman for the church said: 'St Nicholas welcomes people from a variety of backgrounds and gives private pastoral care to those in need. Issues have arisen with members of the congregation which are being addressed compassionately.’

The church says that it accepts gay people as long as they are not practicing. The couple were told they must not associate with each other while they were at church. They were presented with an impossible choice, refused to accept the condition and now attend another church.

Kersten and Nina have the courage to be open and honest about themselves and their love for each other and as a result, have been confronted by a congregation which has a narrow view of what is permissible for Christians. The church adopts the line that we gay people are fine as long as we are not practicing. Practicing in this case seems to include holding hands and looking appreciatively at each other. Would the congregation have been happier if the couple sat apart from each other in church, even though they were sharing intimately at home? Their stance is hypocritical.

Kersten and Nina have dealt with the prejudice they encountered at the church where, until they became involved as a lesbian couple, had been perfectly happy to welcome them, by moving to another church (which is presumably more open and accepting). This is not ultimately an acceptable solution for the Church of England. Stories like this will continue to appear from parishes which take a conservative line on homosexuality. They give the Church of England a bad name, showing that sections of our church are prejudiced and dishonest – hide your sexuality and play the game and we’ll welcome you.

Colin Coward


  1. Sad. It is more acceptable to show two men killing each other on television, but not two men kissing. It shows how far from God we really are.

  2. There must be more to it than that for all lgbt groups to get so worked up about it, surely?
    What's wrong with a vicar asking about the divorce procedures of a couple in her congregation? Especially if it is known that they want to enter into a civil partnership?

    And if 10 or so people from that small church were wiling to attend the couple's civil partnership it's hardly a dyed in the wool homophobic church. Maybe just one where older people find it difficult to cope with anyone displaying a lot of public affection. And where some people are trying to be accepting but are struggling. And where one or two really don't like it.
    Straight teenagers get told off about this sort of thing all the time.

    Unless there's a lot more than this story tells, it's just as likely that these two are rather quick at feeling victimised.

  3. Congratulations for having researched the original news story, Erika, which throws something of a different light on it and from which the Daily Mail story must have been edited down.

    It is a rather more typical CofE congregation with a split between those who are more open and those of a conservative persuasion, who are perhaps also the type who agree with whatever the vicar says.

    I'm curious to know which other LGBT groups have become worked up about it - has it become a cause celebre?

    Where the boundaries should be drawn over degress of affection in church I'm not sure. I know I'm affected by excessive displays of intimate affection in public by straight couples, and that's partly because of my residual internalised homophobia - my fear of the reaction were I to engage in such a public display.

  4. I could see how some folks might feel that they have jumped the gun if Kersten's divorce from her husband has not been final. Perhaps that is part of the Rector's reason for asking questions. She is still legally in one relationship, but very publicly in another.

    It is sad that they feel driven away. As for the spokesman's statement, if these two plus two the children feel that they had to go somewhere else, then it would be questionable as to how compassionately it has been addressed.

    Another source says that they are now attending a Metropolitan Community Church in the area.

  5. Colin,
    No, I didn't research the story. I reacted to this article and similar ones on other pro-lgbt blogs.

    It may be perfectly correct that these two women have been discriminated against because of their sexuality.
    All I'm saying is that the treatment they seem to have received is no different to that which many straight couples receive, and that the story as it stands is therefore not sufficient to determine whether this is a case of prejudice or not.

    I agree with David, they have not been treated with sensitivity.
    But maybe they haven't been entirely sensitive either? A lot of elderly people don't like public displays of affection, regardless of the sexuality of the couple displaying it.

    I think what I'm really saying is that we (and I include myself here) have this tendency to be quick to believe that every negative public response is down to our sexuality and to prejudice against it.
    It's a little like some black people who cannot accept genuine and just criticism but see it as unjustified racism every time.

    Sometimes it's not 'coz I is gay.