Bishop refuses to licence Canon Jeremy Pemberton as health service chaplain following marriage

Laurence Cunnington, Jeremy’s husband, has issued the following request:

Please take the time to read this post in full and consider taking the action I suggest.

You will all, no doubt, be aware from recent press and internet coverage that Jeremy Pemberton has had his ‘Permission to Officiate’ (PTO) in Southwell & Nottingham Diocese removed by the acting Bishop, following consultation with the Archbishop of York. Distressing as this was, there has now been a further significant and much more serious development.


Jeremy currently works as a Chaplain in an NHS Trust in Lincolnshire and retains his general licence from the Bishop of Lincoln. Jeremy received a written rebuke from this Bishop for contracting his marriage with me but this had no impact on his employment.

However, he has recently been successful in his application for a promotion within the NHS to become the Head of Chaplaincy & Bereavement Services in a large hospital closer to home. This hospital is located within the geographical area covered by the Church’s Southwell & Nottingham Diocese. For those of you who are unaware, NHS chaplains are funded in full by the NHS and not by the Church of England.

Present position

The NHS has requested the acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham to issue Jeremy with a licence in order that he may take up his new job. This is standard procedure. The Bishop has refused to issue any form of licence to Jeremy as, by his marriage to me, and for no other reason, he does not, according to the Bishop ‘model the Church’s teaching’ in his life. Leaving aside the insulting nature of this phrase, the effect of this refusal is that Jeremy will be denied the opportunity to take up his new position and develop his ministry further. There was no disciplinary process, no hearing and there is no right of appeal against this decision.

I realise that, as Jeremy’s husband, I am far from impartial but those of you who know him well will recognise my description of him as a fine man of integrity and exceptional abilities and whose ministry in this Diocese would be a tremendous asset to those he serves. I am appalled, to put it mildly, that he is to be denied this opportunity solely because of his marital status. It is worth pointing out that Paul Butler (now Bishop of Durham) and the current Bishop of Lincoln issued Jeremy with his PTO and licence respectively in the past in the full knowledge that he is gay and living in a relationship with me. All that has changed is that we have got married. Nearly 100 of you were there on that day and will recall the commitment we made to each other with our vows. For this to result in the ruining of Jeremy’s employment prospects is outrageous and is, in my opinion, homophobic bullying.

What I am asking

Some of you may think what Jeremy has done is wrong and that he is paying the penalty for that. You are entitled to your opinion and I ask you to do nothing. Those of you who agree with me, I would ask that you consider doing one or more of the following in order to show support and perhaps result in the acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham changing his mind and issuing Jeremy with some form of a licence. When writing, it may carry more weight if you mention that you are a Christian/member of the Church of England if you are.

You could write, expressing your views to:

The Right Revd Richard Inwood
Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham
Jubilee House
NG25 0JH


I am not clear whether this latest decision was as a result of consultation with the Archbishop of York but, in any event, I would ask that you copy your correspondence to him at:

The Most Revd & Right Hon Dr John Sentamu
Archbishop of York
Bishopthorpe Palace
YO23 2GE


The Acting Dean of Southwell Minster, Nigel Coates, is extremely supportive, for which Jeremy and I are most grateful. You may also wish to contact him to express your support at:

The Revd Canon Nigel Coates
Acting Dean of Southwell Minster
Minster Centre
Church Street
NG25 0HD


The Archbishop of York and the acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham will be attending the grand re-opening of the Archbishop’s Palace and Great Hall complex at Southwell Minster on 7th October. You might wish to consider attending this event and taking the opportunity to bring your opinion of their treatment of Jeremy to their attention.

I have tried to write this in as dispassionate language as possible. By doing this, I hope I haven’t failed to convey the strength of feeling I have about the Church’s unfair treatment of Jeremy. These are all my own words with no input from Jeremy, lawyers or anyone else.

Many thanks, in advance, for your help.


  1. says

    This is a good, but sad, example of what happens when a church loses sight of its primary ministry and mission, and allows secondary (or tertiary or even more remote “concerns”) to deflect the implementation of ministry.

    There are few ministerial commands with the weight of dominical force; but among them is the commandment to minister to the sick. There is no dominical command either to marry or to refrain from marriage, though Jesus clearly held that there are requirements placed on those who do marry.

    So in this case, the Church of England is not only confecting a discipline, but perverting the course of ministry by applying it.

    Prayers for you both continue. I am not a member of the C of E (for which I give thanks, else my own ministry would be offered up on the altar of prejudice.)

  2. John-Francis Friendship says

    Here is the text of the email I sent as suggested. Could have said more:

    Dear Father,

    I have learnt of your refusal to license Jeremy Pemberton as Head of Chaplaincy & Bereavement Services with great sadness. Apart from questions concerning the legality of this refusal based on the matter at hand, I fear it does absolutely no credit to Christ or His Church and can only appease extremists in the Church of England. Once again it sends out a message that lesbian and gay people are not to be accorded the same rights as others which, consciously or sub-consciously, assists those who would discriminate and supports the beliefs of those who would take action against lesbian and gay people. If we are to ever rid this country of violence (physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual) against lesbian and gay then the Church must face the fact that it is actively supporting the position of those who are prejudiced against us.

    Yours in Christ,

    Fr. John-Francis Friendship

  3. Phil Moore aka Cheeky Churchwarden says

    o The Right Rev’d Richard Inwood

    I am a churchwarden in a benefice of six rural parishes in Norfolk. Life for us is hard…in my church our elderly congregation rarely numbers more than sixteen each week. We can barely put together a flower rota….yet our Parish Share for next year has been hiked 15% and we desperately need an EH/Lottery grant for a crumbling east window and an even more crumbling bell tower in our 14th century church. Despite everything we successfully run cafe’s, Messy Church and a weekly Youth Club but this does not translate into “bums on seats”… we struggle week in week out and at times its disheartening….and it will be felt even more in a few weeks time when we go into an interregnum.

    So the current argument over Gay marriage and the clergy seems an unnecessary distraction to the real problems many of us face daily in the modern church. I realise that you have the power to do what you have done but to me it seems unnecessarily harsh to refuse to license Jeremy Pemberton and deny him a job it appears he is most qualified to do.

    I have no theological argument to support my request but for Church unity in Christ, irrespective of our differences, may I ask you to reconsider your decision on this matter.


    Philip Moore

  4. Br Graham-Michoel says

    Laurence – you need to know that there are many prayers ascending, for you both – ascending to a God who does not acknowledge the ridiculous boundaries that are placed in Jeremy’s way. Be strong, have faith – God, He will do it – ultimately, God Wins.
    Prayers and blessings,
    Br Graham-Michoel SH, Obl.OSB.Cam

  5. david says

    I would have thought writing to Jeremy Hunt, the Health Minister, and Stonewall/Changing Attitudes asking for a review of chaplaincy terms would be achieve more. The refusal to issue a license on grounds of the clergyman being married is clearly an injustice and cannot be allowed as a bar to employment.

    It probably means that the employee requirements of chaplains might have to be reviewed. ie a license must be held or, if refused, with the support of the clergyperson, an evaluation process would be undertaken by HR, the clergyperson being married would not be a bar to such employment and the need for a license would not be required, just a simple reference from previous employers – as with any other role.

    Now that really would make a difference.

    Let us hope the more liberal bishops bread the consistency rules, however i suspect the archbishop will be threatening them with legal action (CDM) to keep them in order.

    It is sad that when homophobia takes root in an institution, its members have to appeal to the reasonableness of secular law for God’s justice.

  6. Pippa Webb says

    I work as a midwife at Lincoln hospital and have worked alongside Jeremy. He’s a fantastic Chaplin and very well liked by staff and the families he comes into contact with. He’s always very caring and shows great empathy. I think this decision is very sad and him being unable to take up the job will be a great loss to the people of Notts. I’ve emailed the Bishop to tell him this.

  7. Glenn Lambley says

    It is time to STOP all taxpayer money being used to hire priest and religious people to work for the NHS. NHS money can be better spent on patient care. Religious institutions cannot behave like decent human beings as shown here with the case of Jeremy Pemberton.

    Taxpayer money should NEVER be spent on bigotry and discrimination ! STOP wasting tax money hiring hateful, bigoted religious people to work for the NHS ! How can they provide care to ALL NHS patients if they hate gay people ?

    Time to start a petition !

  8. Geopff Heaviside says

    The Right Revd Richard Inwood
    Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham
    Jubilee House
    NG25 0JH

    Dear Father,

    I have just learned via the divine tool of the Internet of your refusal to license Jeremy Pemberton as Head of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services. I have also noted that the salary for such a position for which he was highly commended is not a charge on the Church of England so I am led to understand that your decision was personal and made because of a personal belief. With respect I am asserting from Australia and from the desperate African community where I do significant suicide prevention counselling that this decision is purely and simply a tool in the weaponry of PREJUDICE.

    For centuries sexual attitudes, sexual taboos and sexual practices have been used by dominant groups in society to keep others subordinate.
    Those who possess power define those who are powerless and then impose their own definition on the ones defined. Just look for a moment at global foreign policy.
    The guiding principle is to ensure the comfort, the convenience, the happiness, and the well-being of the dominant ones
    Behind prejudice there is also fear. We reject that which we cannot manage. We condemn what we do not understand. We set up a means of control to render powerless those dynamic realities we know to be powerful.
    No aspect of our humanity is invested with more anxieties, yearnings, emotions, and needs than is our sexual nature. So, sex is a major arena in which the prejudice of human beings finds expression.
    This fact accounts for the anger and even the violence that erupts when sexual control mechanisms are publicly challenged. Those who organise their lives differently, who adopt values that violate the prevailing sexual taboos, are subject to hate, threat, even attack, and sometimes murder.
    The Bible or Koran is a major source feeding the ethical decision making of Christian and Islamic people, and their messages must be taken with the utmost seriousness. But these religious books are not free of contradictions, of expressions of prejudice, and of attitudes that have long been abandoned.
    The same could be said about the ongoing traditions of the various churches. An honest understanding of Church history also reveals sin, prejudice, and misleading appeals to long abandoned practices.
    Therefore arguments that issue from the authority of sacred traditions must state what part is being upheld and on what basis that part is retained while other parts are abandoned.
    Most of these claims remain alive only through the insecurity of the various religious leaders who are more concerned with maintaining ecclesiastical power and authority than they are with discerning the truth of the God.
    The church needs to recognise that in addition to these frightened critics, there is another constituency that is also watching. It is made up of those who believe themselves to be rejected by the church such as the one gay Christian boy in Uganda who recently told me that his Pastor says he has the mark of the beast 666 and is an agent of Satan.
    They are the victims of prejudice, those who have been told in word and deed by the official voices that they do not measure up, do not count, or do not belong, such as Paddy, a presumed homosexual who was penetrated anally in a police station in Jinja Uganda with an iron baton only to have his colon ruptured and who died in the Police Infirmary because the Authorities were too frightened to take him to a hospital where his life may have been saved or the cause of death could be identified. At the time of writing his elderly mother who depended on him to support her is still waiting for his body to be found and released for burial.

    What we need now is an unbiased redefining of sexual ethics and a new story that calls on the churches of all persuasions to build a community for all people.
    Since God’s people are diverse in colour, size, gender, race, language, age, sexual orientation and even value systems, an inclusive community is no simple task to develop or sustain. It is far easier to draw circles and to proclaim that only those who are inside our particular circle will be the recipients of our love and concern, leaving all others potential victims of our prejudice.
    Most religious groups have an injunction to seek and serve the divine in all persons, loving ones neighbours as we love ourselves. Included are forms of worship where we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being, but it is not difficult when we look around the world at present to see that inclusive community invariably collides with human prejudice, rooted in the human impulse to be secure, to be right, to claim God’s will for human behaviour and to justify the ways by which we diminish others. So it has been right back to the era of 500 BC and the Babylonian captivity.

    That is where the problem started and despite the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, that is where it continues.

    “Uganda has made a clear stand for God and no other nation in the world had such a plan (though some are trying to copy) and Uganda is going to be blessed” says Rev Paul Shinners, a minister in a church in the UK, and the Peer Educators that I trained in Kampala are being butchered in the streets, cut in half cross ways or long ways depending on the weapons available and left to bleed out in the street or being encased in rubber car tyres and burned alive. Hardly a blessing Father!

    Whether it is the present emphasis on gender genocide in Uganda, Nigeria, or Russia or the religion based civil wars in the Middle East or the security fears of asylum seekers, the one common denominator is PREJUDICE and it needs to be identified and called for what it is.

    I couldn’t help but feel for those who are to be denied the obvious gifts that Canon Pemberton was chosen to provide, and who may well be totally satisfied by his modelling of the Church’s teaching and I feel sure that as might be necessary the international community would probably by and large agree if we were to run an international test Petition to the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Whilst I would not wish to challenge your personal views about same sex marriage I consider that they may well have clouded your judgement of what is in the wider interests of the Anglican Church which has suffered in other ways of late and respectfully request that you put the interests of the patients and staff of the hospital over against your personal views so that the ripple on the pond of Church Statesmanship remains just a ripple. I am a gay man who argued with God about why he hadn’t cured my abominable homosexuality until I was 34 years old and his answer came back that He is my Shepherd and He knows I am gay. I am now 70 years of age and still single though I did wreck a woman’s life when I took my Doctor’s advice and just find a good woman and marry her and all will be well. We successfully raised a family together, losing one to the scourge of breast cancer, but now we are both living single lives, still friends, but not living under the same roof. I am not sure what your personal family life is like apart from it playing second fiddle to the role of an Acting Bishop.
    Jeremy and Laurence appear to have a wonderful and gifted life of service in the Church and your decision can either make it or break it so please sit down and make a nice cup of tea and issue Jeremy with a licence because the last thing I want to do is add another Human Rights initiative to my work load because I have just been invited to join with a Changing Attitudes committee advising several Bishops in Kenya to look at the question of inclusivity of same sex attracted Christian members since they have just calculated that there are over 500,000 of them hovering outside the Church.

    Yours in the service of the Kingdom

    Geoff Heaviside

    11th July 2014

  9. John-Francis Friendship says

    This is a copy of the (standard?) response I have just received from the Archbishop of York:

    Dear John-Francis

    Thank you for your email in response to the Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham’s decision to revoke the Permission to Officiate of the Revd Jeremy Pemberton, following his civil marriage to his same sex partner.

    The Bishop’s action, and more recently his decision to withhold of a licence in relation to an NHS Chaplaincy post in the Diocese, is consistent with the Pastoral Guidance issued by the House of Bishops earlier this year. The relevant sections are Sections 25-28, below.

    25. The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity. That is why Church of England clergy are able to argue for a change in its teaching on marriage and human sexuality, while at the same time being required to fashion their lives consistently with that teaching.
    26. Getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England. The declarations made by clergy and the canonical requirements as to their manner of life do have real significance and need to be honoured as a matter of integrity.
    27. The House is not, therefore, willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry. In addition it considers that it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.
    28. The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast changing context. Nevertheless at ordination clergy undertake to ‘accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it.’ We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking.

    It is clear, above, that whilst clergy are able to argue for a change in the Church’s teaching, they are expected to fashion their lives according to it. Bishop Inwood has acted entirely in accordance with the House of Bishops guidelines.

    With every blessing,
    +Sentamu Ebor:

  10. Roger Goodrum says

    I agree with the Rev Inwood. I too am a practicing Christian, and Anglican. I could not accept pastoral care from the Canon, as I believe that he is breaking Church Law. There is, however, room for pardon; annul the marriage, repent and be saved.

  11. James B says

    While I do not agree with the rights of an individual being different based on gender, color or sexual orientation, I do question the position of a church leader being based on adhering to biblical principles and leading by example.

    I’m sure we can debate this until the cows come home, but the Bible is very clear on God’s views toward homosexuality in both the old and new testaments. Now don’t get me wrong here…God abhores the act, but he is forever married to the person !!

  12. Sara L says

    So what the church is saying here is that while Jeremy was an openly gay man living ‘in sin’ with his male partner he was eligible for a licence. Now as an honest decent legally married man he is not!
    Come on Church what are you thinking?
    Pastoral Guidance is only as it states Guidance. Law of the land wins!
    NHS do the decent thing. He doesn’t need a church to do his job.

  13. Fr Jeff Leach,CBV says

    Sent this AM:

    To: The Right Revd Richard Inwood (Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham)

    Your Grace,

    I realise that you will have had many different types of communication with regards Canon Pemberton and I also realise what a painful time this must be for you and the wider diocese. I therefore write this missive in the spirit of Christian love and truth.

    I write as an academic canon lawyer and a priest within the Church of England in the Lichfield Diocese. I understand fully that under canon law one can only officiate with the permission of the diocesan ordinary, or those appointed to act in his stead, and that said licence cannot create an ’employment’ style contract; though I am not fully convinced of the latter. Yet the arbitrariness of a system whereby someone’s livelihood can be so encroached upon seems to be at best unfair. I understand fully that the Canon Pemberton’s actions res ipsa loquitur, and yet in any other walk of life he would have had the opportunity before an employment panel to explain his actions, which would have allowed the panel an opportunity to test the current relationship of the clergy member to the church and also current law. Such actions as to remove a permission to officiate should, I would respectfully suggest, be done only at the recommendation of disciplinary tribunal convened under the Clergy Disciplinary Measure.

    I would therefore pray and urge Your Grace to reconsider your decision with regards Canon Pemberton’s new role at Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust, and then bring this to General Synod for them to debate the law going forwards. Having recently faced death, and having seen the wonderful work of medical staff in my local hospital I believe we are loosing sight of the true calling to serve Christ and represent Him to His people; this issue like many facing the church today, only serves to drive wedge between us and those in need.


    Archbishop of York

    Bishop of Wolverhampton (Area Bishop, Wolverhampton)

    Rev’d Pebendary Pat Hawkins (General Synod Representative)

    Yours in Christ through Mary

    Fr Jeff+

  14. says

    Dear Jeremy and Laurence,

    Firstly, many congratulations on your marriage. I pray that God will richly bless you and all those whom you love through it.
    I have written e-mails as you suggested and I will keep on writing until I get something other than a standard issue response. I have also done a piece on my blog, linked back to this page, which I hope may help in drumming up some more support.
    Be assured that you are very much in the thoughts and prayers of many, many people at the moment and that Good triumphs in the end.

    Every Best Wish,

    Tim x

  15. Paul W Hinson says

    The Right Revd Richard Inwood
    Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham

    Dear Bishop Inwood:

    I read recently of your decision to withhold licensure from Canon Jeremy Pemberton. The decision blocks his ability to accept a post as head of chaplaincy at a large hospital in the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham.

    I agree with many others that this action is likely to be received more as a political statement than anything else. It is a unnecessarily punitive. It’s extreme in its legalism and pettiness. Moreover such ill will is so transparent to so many, I suggest in all humility that you search your heart with regard to how this decision “models Christ’s teaching” with regard to your own relationship with Canon Pemberton.


    Paul W. Hinson

  16. says

    Having known Jeremy now for almost ten years, and knowing him for the goodly and Christian man he is, and bearing in mind the bigoted doctrine of the Church in whose service he has shone so brightly for so long, my immediate reaction to all this is why a man of his calibre is wasting his time working for an organisation which is so out of touch with present day thinking. There is little wonder that Churches continue to empty! Love and Best Wishes to you both. Rich.

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