A report in today’s Mail on Sunday by Jonathan Petre says that Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who married Laurence Cunnington in April, is to have his rights to operate as a priest revoked. Jeremy was the first clergy person, so far as Changing Attitude knows, to marry following the extension of marriage to same-sex couples.
Jonathan Petre’s report says Bishop Richard Inwood removed Jeremy’s ‘Permission to Officiate’. The diocesan See is vacant at the moment and Richard Inwood, an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the diocese, is acting for the diocesan. Richard Inwood wrote and asked Jeremy to return his licence (in effect asking him to resign) shortly after interviewing him and after consulting John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, whose instructions Richard Inwood has followed.
Jeremy also holds a licence in the Diocese of Lincoln where he is at present a hospital chaplain and this has not been revoked. Following an interview with the Bishop of Lincoln Jeremy was given a slap on the wrist for getting married, a note being put on his file and his name sent to Lambeth Palace.
The House of Bishops’ guidelines released in February said that clergy should not enter into such unions because they undermined the traditional Church teaching that marriage is reserved for a man and a woman. The Archbishop of York has required this action to be taken against Jeremy despite the message that has gone out from Lambeth Palace – bishops, let be, take no action. The Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, has been asked to keep a watching brief on developments. I’d be very interested to know how he is reacting to this news.
The Diocese of Southwell said it was a private matter. This is not a private matter. The action taken by Richard Inwood and John Sentamu has huge implications for lesbian and gay clergy in the Church of England, for any lesbian or gay person exploring a vocation and for every lesbian and gay ordinand. It has implications for the friends and families of these people and those whom they are already serving in parishes and chaplaincies or seek to serve in the future.
The action taken by the bishop and archbishop has implications for the place of the Church of England in English society and for the teaching of the Church about marriage, intimacy and same-sex relationships.
The majority of members of the House of Bishops (including some who would be indentified as conservative evangelicals) are quietly or actively supportive of those lesbian and gay clergy who are partnered and open to their bishop. There are of course many lesbian and gay partnered clergy who are not open for fear of the repercussions that might ensue. Bishops actively support lesbian and gay clergy living together either as a co-habiting couple or in a civil partnership. The Archbishop of York and Richard Inwood take action against a priest who legalizes his relational status and marries.
As Father Andrew Cain, who married his partner yesterday, told Jonathan Petre: ‘Making a lifetime commitment to another person is what we preach. Simon Sarmiento, speaking for Inclusive Church, said: ‘If the bishops continue to take disciplinary action against clergy getting married they must expect a backlash.’
It’s very difficult to be 100% accurate in reporting events in the Church of England. There are several inaccuracies in Joanthan’s report and there may be inaccuracies in this report, and I’d welcome corrections if there are.
The Bishop’s action against Jeremy is intolerable. Jeremy and Laurence have married because they love each other and are totally committed to each other. Jeremy has a vocation to the priesthood and a particular vocation to hospital chaplaincy. The Church examined Jeremy and recognized his vocation. Now that Jeremy identifies as gay and is in same-sex relationship which has been legally formalized, the Church reneges on its original evaluation of Jeremy’s vocation and demands that he resign.
This is about the most fundamental of Christian qualities – love and fidelity. The Gospel we proclaim is of the grace of God pouring into creation, exemplified in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as he lived on earth God’s gracious, infinite, unconditional love and fidelity in creation.
I’m not sure what Changing Attitude will do in response to the action and any further action against lesbian and gay clergy who marry. We will stand with our sister organizations in the LGBTI Anglican Coalition in supporting those who are angered by what has happened and who may be fearful for their own future in the Church. We will engage with bishops and archbishops in whatever ways we can to persuade them to change the teaching of the House of Bishops guidelines. And we will encourage people to follow their hearts and open themselves in love to the intimacy of a faithful relationship, and will challenge those who want to impose a legalistic, unloving version of the Gospel on LGBTI people whom God has always been creating and calling into faithful personal relationships and loving service for the Kingdom of God.
The Reverend Colin Coward MBE
Director of Changing Attitude England