Bishops start quizzing their clergy
by Madeleine Davies – ‘Church Times’ – Posted: 21 Mar 2014 @ 12:25
GAY clergy have this week been describing the ramifications of the pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage, issued by the House of Bishops last month. Bishops have begun meeting gay clergy, at least five of whom are reported to be planning to marry.
The Vicar of St Mary with All Souls’, Kilburn, and St James’s, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Cain, said on Tuesday that speaking publicly about his plans to marry his partner of 14 years ( News, 21 February) had resulted in an “uncomfortable” meeting with his bishop, the Rt Revd Peter Wheatley, on Wednesday last week.
“It was very uncomfortable for both of us,” he said. “He was with HR, and I was with a union rep. That would not be normal for a meeting between a bishop and a priest. I could not honestly say it was particularly pastoral. It was awkward.”
During the meeting, Bishop Wheatley had “expressed discomfort that I was being so public in my opposition to the bishops, and I made it clear this is something I feel very strongly about. He suggested that perhaps I would consider having a civil partnership, and I said my partner and I had deliberately not done that because we believe in marriage, and now it is possible for us to marry, we will marry.”
When asked about the consequences of the marriage, and the potential for disciplinary action to be taken, the Bishop had said that the Church was in “unchartered territory”. It had been made “very clear” to Mr Cain “that they would prefer it if the marriage was as private as possible”.
Mr Cain said that he and his partner, Stephen, were planning “a very small celebration with a few of our closest friends” this year. He knew of at least five other gay clergy planning to marry, and said that his wedding would not be the first “by any means”.
He was not seeking a fight with the House of Bishops: “We are loyal Anglican, we are faithful priests, and we believe in marriage,” he said. “This [publicity] makes me deeply uncomfortable, and I’m not enjoying it at all. But this is also about justice and I feel very passionate about that. We don’t want to fight, we just want to get married.”
On Monday, the Chaplain at Portsmouth University, the Revd Andy Marshall, confirmed that he plans to marry his partner of six years, despite the House of Bishops’ statement.
“Because I don’t believe this guidance to be good or godly, when the law allows, my partner and I will convert our civil partnership to a marriage, and we’ll deal with the consequences at the time.”
Since the publication of the guidance, he has had conversations with people who have been told by their diocesan director of ordinands to sign a document stating that they are single or celibate.
They had asked him “whether I feel they should end a relationship of several years, in order to sign the document and pursue ordination.
“What was intended as a discussion document was used to oppress and bully people.”
THE Revd Andy Marshall, Chaplain at the University of Portsmouth, grew up in South Africa, where he came to faith aged 17, before entering full-time ministry as a pioneer youth worker and missionary in disadvantaged rural communities, and then as a youth pastor in his home diocese.
“I was struggling with my own sexual identity, but was aware of the wretched Issues in Human Sexuality document, and so remained celibate and desperately lonely, and even subjected myself to three years of reparative therapy and support groups aimed at making me straight.
“They were the three single most miserable years of my life, where I began to believe that I either didn’t have enough faith to change who I was, or didn’t matter enough to God to be granted a change.
“I lost contact with my family – the group and counsellor’s advice was that I was gay by nurture, and that I needed to distance myself from those that had caused me to have this “broken identity” – and I remember sharing with a friend that the only reason I did not commit suicide was because I believed the hell I found myself in was somehow better than the hell I would go to for being gay.”
Ordained in South Africa, he came to the UK 11 years ago. “When I began ministering in the UK, I decided that I would no longer hide who I was, and that I would no longer place my future happiness on hold while the Church figured out its response to the LGBT community.”
He has been in a civil partnership with his partner of six years for two years, and says that it “hurt deeply” that the partnership could not be blessed.
“We should celebrate the LGBT community, bless their gifts and use them for God’s Kingdom, not tolerate them, or make them feel unworthy,” he said.
This story, re Portsmouth University Chaplain Andy Marshall, demonstrates the attitude of many Gay clergy in the Church of England who want to avail themselves of the right to marry their Same-Sex partner, in accordance with the new government legislation granted to English and Welsh citizens.
At issue, of course, is the Church’s current attitude towards its Gay clergy, who are not encouraged to either become Civil-Partnered or Married under the Equal Marriage legislation granted by the British Government in England and Wales.
The current embargo is somewhat compromised, however, by the fact that there is already Church legislation that permits a Same-Sex clergy-person’s partner to receive pension rights on the death of the clergy-person. This already speaks of a double-entendre situation – where Civil Partners are not allowed an official Blessing of their relationship in the Church of England, even though the House of bishops recently suggests the civil-partnered couple could have a ‘prayer said over them’. This latter seemed to be the best the Bishops could do to combat the pressure to allow its Gay clergy the right to marry.
It remains to be seen how the Church will actually cope with clergy who have expressed their intention to go ahead with a Same-Sex Marriage, as soon as that becomes a fact of life. One wonders what would be the legal implication of any Bishop making a decision to dismiss such a clergy-person from active ministry, when, by the law of the land, such persons may actually be allowed to marry. And then, there is the matter of what the public at large may think of a Church that protests its acceptance of LGBTI people, and yet denies them the possibility of contracting into a monogamous, faithful, life-time relationship.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand