Just 24 hours after an Anglican bishop became the first to publicly reveal that he is in a same-sex relationship, 14 members of the clergy who are in same-sex marriages have written an open letter to the Church of England hierarchy calling for the "full inclusion" of LGBTI people within the church.
In an extraordinary move, the letter was signed not only by priests and canons who have already been open about their same-sex marriage, but also by some who are revealing their marriage for the first time. The 14 clergy behind the letter include eight revealing their identity and six concealing it but wishing to signify their support. Another eight married LGBT lay members of the church have also put their name to the letter.
Guidelines from the College of Bishops – also known as the House of Bishops, which, as part of the General Synod, sets rules within the church – currently forbid same-sex marriages among clergy and only allow same-sex relationships if they are sexless. When Nicholas Chamberlain, the bishop of Grantham, revealed on Friday that he is in a relationship with a man – in part to prevent a newspaper from "outing" him – Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said the nature of relationship did not contravene Church of England rules.
The letter appears in the Sunday Times and was sent to the College of Bishops in advance of its three-day meeting about LGBTI issues on 12 September. It calls on the bishops to "move forward", "be bold", and "respect that diversity of theology within the Church now exists and that there is more than one understanding of what a faithful Christian may believe".
"As you meet to discuss we seek from you a clear lead that offers a way forward to greater inclusion," the clergy continue, in order that "parishes that wish to do so [can] celebrate the love that we have found in our wives and husbands" and "those who wish to do so [can] publicly celebrate where we see God at work in the lives of our congregations without fear".
The letter ends: "We will always want to see the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church, and we will continue to work towards it. We look forward to welcoming a first step in that process and a move away from the harm and hurt that has so often been done in the name of the Church."
Fr Andrew Foreshew-Cain, who became the first working vicar to marry another man in 2014 and who organised the letter, told BuzzFeed News: "This doesn't represent the totality of married clergy in the Church of England – there are many more people I know of – it just represents those who feel able to either be public about it and the others who support it but aren't being public about it because they're protecting themselves and/or their bishops."
He said the letter, which makes quite broad demands, specifically calls for one thing in the short term: "I would like the bishops at their meeting to come up with a proposal that will allow individual parishes and communities that wish to do so to hold services of prayer and thanksgiving – and even blessings – for gay and lesbian couples who have got married or had a civil partnership and to do so publicly and openly with the knowledge of their bishops and with no consequences to the clergy who take the services or to the parishes in which they take place."
He added: "This is what we are looking for now – this is step one. It's not what we [ultimately] want, which is marriage in church and gay clergy being allowed to be married to their partners. The majority of Anglicans welcome gay and lesbian relationships and we want to be able to celebrate them in our churches without our bishops getting their knickers in a twist about it."
Achieving equality and acceptance within the Church of England is only a matter of time, said Foreshew-Cain: "The direction of travel is clear – we are moving towards being a more inclusive church. The archbishop himself has acknowledged it. It's going to happen, they [the bishops] just need to get out the way and let it happen."
In the meantime, those who have publicly signed the letter have done so with the full understanding of the effect it will have on their future career.
"Those of us who are married have no career," said Foreshew-Cain. "The bishops have made it clear that if any of us leave the posts we're in at the moment we'll never be allowed another post in the Church of England so we all know the consequences of marrying."
For Foreshew-Cain, the real story about Chamberlain, the bishop of Grantham, is "not that we have a gay bishop, it's that when he was appointed everyone [in the church hierarchy] knew he was in a committed relationship with another man and they were all too scared to acknowledge it openly". This, he said, meant that the Sunday newspaper that was threatening to expose his relationship would not have been able to do so had the church been fully accepting all along.
"That's the real shame on the Church of England," he said. "That's the issue, and that's the responsibility of the Church of England."
A Church of England spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.
The letter, in full, reads as follows:
We are writing to you as married lesbian and gay members of the Church of England. Some of us are clergy; some of us are members of the laity. We are just a few of the many gay and lesbian people in this country who have in the past two years been able to celebrate with families, friends, and in our cases often our local Church community, the enriching and life enhancing love we have found in our wives and husbands.
We would like you to know that we will be praying for you as you meet in September as a College of Bishops.
Now that the Shared Conversations are at an end it is time for the Church of England to move forward and make clear the commitment to ‘good disagreement’ that was at their heart. We fully appreciate that the time may not yet be right for a change in the Church’s official understanding of marriage. But many in our parishes have already made that move and it is time to respect that a diversity of theology within the Church now exists and that there is more than one understanding of what a faithful Christian may believe on these issues.
As you meet to discuss we seek from you a clear lead that offers a way forward to greater inclusion that will enable those parishes that wish to do so to celebrate the love that we have found in our wives and husbands. We hope for an outcome that will enable those who wish to do so to publicly celebrate where we see God at work in the lives of our congregations without fear and in openness.
We encourage you to be bold, and to be honest about what many of you already believe from your own experience, and to what you know to be increasingly the direction of travel, not just in our Church but in many Churches in this country.
We will always want to see the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church, and we will continue to work towards it. We look forward to welcoming a first step in that process and a move away from the harm and hurt that has so often been done in the name of the Church.
Yours in Christ
1. The Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain and Stephen Foreshew-Cain
2. The Revd Richard Harris and Ricardo Goncalves.
3. The Revd Garry Lawson and Timothy H. Wane
4. The Revd Clive Larson and John Markham
5. The Revd Paul Collier and Mr Collier
6. The Revd Canon Jeremy Davis and Simon McEnery
7. The Revd Geoffrey Thompson and Tony Steeles
8. The Revd Prof Mark Cobb and Keith Arrowsmith
9. Jeremy Timm & Mike Brown
10. Ruth Wilde & Ellie Wilde
11. Jack Semple and Ross Griffiths
12. Paul Jellings and Andrew Carter
13. Erica Baker and Susan Strong
14. Karen and Samantha Bregazzi-Jones
15. Keith Barber and Tim Mills
16. Simon Dawson and David Mooney
In addition a further seven clergy couples and Readers have indicated their support for this letter whilst wishing to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves, and often their Bishops, from attack.