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.