LGCM comments on Bishop of Grantham

The LGBTI Mission will publish its own statement shortly, but meanwhile Tracey Byrne of LGCM wrote this last night:

In an interview with the Guardian which you can read here, Nick Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham, has spoken of his long term, committed, celibate gay relationship, which was known to those who appointed him as a suffragan bishop in Lincoln diocese last year.  He says that he has made the announcement because another newspaper was planning to publish the news anyway on Sunday.  He becomes the first bishop in the Church of England to be openly in a gay relationship.

First and foremost in our thoughts are Bishop Nick, his partner, friends, colleagues and those close to him.  He will need our love and prayers right now, and he should be assured of them.  Few of us can anticipate what challenges will face him over the coming weeks, and the past few days must have been almost unbearably difficult.  It is to be hoped that the short term media circus and blogosphere frenzy give way to a greater peace in time, permitting a good and highly-regarded man to continue to exercise the ministry to which he has been called – perhaps with a renewed sense of freedom to be fully himself.

Whilst the debates will no doubt continue about the rights and wrongs of ‘outing’ – as some will see this – it is important to acknowledge that others bear some responsibility for the pressures which have led to today’s news.  It should be noted that Bishop Nick is not in a civil partnership, and so it is perhaps unwise to draw a direct parallel with a married opposite-sex couple.  However, his relationship is clearly an important and significant one, in which he has flourished and within the context of which he has been supported in his ministry as a fine priest and pastor, and now bishop.

Those who made the appointment were aware of Bishop Nick’s relationship and were satisfied that he is living within the discipline of the church.  Whilst that space for accommodating priests in celibate gay relationships is an unsatisfactory one for many of us, and a costly one for those who have made that choice, it is nevertheless a valid choice to make, both for the individual concerned, and for those making the appointment.  It is a choice which should be respected, and those relationships and individuals should be honoured.

It is regrettable that Bishop Nick’s relationship, about which he speaks in such touching terms in the interview, was not acknowledged at the time of his appointment.  We need to see LGBT people in leadership roles in the church, and LGBT people can only flourish when they are able to be fully and openly themselves.  We would not dream of expecting a straight person to keep a long-term relationship ‘private’ – indeed, details of the marital status, hobbies and offspring of appointees to senior posts have become a staple of Downing Street press releases.  One can only imagine the pressure under which Bishop Nick and his partner – and for all we know, others – have been placed by this ongoing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach.  That pressure is now, for Bishop Nick at least, released.  It is to be hoped that those who bear some responsibility for what he has endured, and for what lies ahead, will be faithful and steadfast in their love and support for him.

Today marks a new beginning for the Church of England as it continues to wrestle with the issue of human sexuality – or as we prefer to call it, real life.  It’s a small step – albeit one at significant cost to the individuals involved – towards a more grown-up and honest understanding, and away from secrecy and invisibility.  For that, Bishop Nick is to be thanked for his courage, dignity and grace.

So tonight, please pray…

…for Bishop Nick and those he loves, for the people of Lincoln diocese, those with whom and amongst whom he leads and serves…

…for those who have an opportunity, now, to stand alongside him…

….for those holding secrets and those trying to let them go…

…for others who may be feeling fearful of their ‘secrets’, especially the young and those whose safety is at risk…

…for Jeffrey John and for Gene Robinson, who have trodden some parts of this path before…

…for all those shining light into places of secrecy, that they might be granted wisdom and compassion…

…for the presence of the Spirit within and between and amongst us, leading us into all truth, and to the truth that sets us free.

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