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Married, gay vicar from Camden urges Church of England to ‘stop pretending gay clergy don’t exist’

PUBLISHED: 19:00 07 September 2016

Father Andrew Cain with fiance Stephen Foreshew

Father Andrew Cain with fiance Stephen Foreshew

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A West Hampstead vicar, who became the first openly gay Anglican clergyman to marry his same-sex partner, has co-ordinated a letter urging the Church of England to adopt a more inclusive approach to gay people.

Father Andrew Cain has put up 'Keep clam and support equal marriage' posters after condemning the Anglican Church for its stance on gay marriage. Picture: Polly HancockFather Andrew Cain has put up 'Keep clam and support equal marriage' posters after condemning the Anglican Church for its stance on gay marriage. Picture: Polly Hancock

A West Hampstead vicar, who became the first openly gay Anglican clergyman to marry his same-sex partner, has co-ordinated a letter urging the Church of England to adopt a more inclusive approach to gay people.

Andrew Foreshew-Cain, of St Mary and All Soul’s in West Hampstead organised the letter, published in the Sunday Times at the weekend, because he said gay members of the clergy are still facing “persecution” from the Church.

He told the Ham&High: “People like us, who hold a different point of view from the Church’s official position, are constantly penalised and discriminated against. All we’re asking for is the recognition that there’s more than one way of being a faithful Christian, and for the Church to stop pretending that gay clergy don’t exist.”

“A recent survey of Anglicans found a majority now support marriage equality for gay and lesbian people, but that isn’t recognised in the official way the Church is behaving.”

The Anglican Church officially forbids clergy from marrying same-sex partners, although some bishops have chosen to issue reprimands rather than de-frock priests – as in the case of Father Foreshew-Cain.

He trained to be a priest in 1987, and said: “The whole of society was fairly conservative then, and there was a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ mentality. In a sense, the burden on gay people in the Church has got heavier, because in the past, it was in every area of our lives, and now it’s only around the expression of our faith and from our employers.

“When the outside world has moved on, it becomes much harder to be in an institution which is so negative and discriminatory.”

The letter, signed by 14 gay members of the clergy and their partners, said: : “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.”

It was written just as the Bishop of Grantham became the first bishop in the church’s history to come out as gay, following pressure from a tabloid newspaper.

Father Foreshew-Cain said: “Everybody knew he was gay, they’ve known for a long time. The Archbishop knew...there was a lot of conversation about it.

“One of the issues for the Church is why he always felt the need to be hesitant in talking about his relationship. It’s very sad that he didn’t feel able to honour and mention it, while the Church chose purposefully to conceal his significant relationship.”

He said it was “inevitably true” that it is easier for him to be a married, gay vicar in an area like Camden than for those living in more socially conservative parts of the country, but added: “It’s also easier for me because I don’t have any ambitions for high office in the Church, so I’ve never felt the need to hide my sexuality, or indeed my partner.”

He added that his husband, who he describes as “a devout atheist” has been “very supportive” over the letter, and that the public response to it has been “almost universally positive”.

“Maybe it’s a sign that things are changing faster than I realise, because when I was elected to the Synod, there were some really horrible comments.

“This time I’ve only had two negative responses, both from young, gay Christian men who have taken a more conservative line than me and shut the door on a major part of their humanity, and must find it quite hard to see people like me going, ‘Well, I’m not going to do that,’ and being the whole person that God made me.”

He said his approach to Twitter trolling seems to be working: “The ones who really don’t like me, I’ve either blocked or they’ve completely given up.”

Although he believes there is some way for the Church still to go, Father Foreshew Cain is hopeful that things will be better for the next generation of clergy.

“It is partly a generational thing, because young people under 40 - and certainly under 30 - don’t care about sexuality. The trouble (now) is the single group that is most against homosexuality is white men over 55 - and guess who runs the Church?”

His own congregation is “lovely - very supportive and kind”, although he added: “There are people in my congregation who are hesitant and uncomfortable with it, but that’s good, because we are a church that welcomes everybody, including those who struggle with these things.

“They come because they like coming to church. They don’t come for me, they come for God.”

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