Nicolas Chamberlain, the Bishop of Grantham has become the first Church of England bishop to publicly declare that he is gay and in a relationship. The Bishop who said his sexuality has not been a secret was forced to go public after a newspaper threatened to reveal his orientation.
Speaking with the Guardian in an exclusive interview he said: “People know I’m gay, but it’s not the first thing I’d say to anyone. Sexuality is part of who I am, but it’s my ministry that I want to focus on.”
He disclosed that his superiors including the archbishop of Canterbury who is the leader of the Anglican church worldwide knew of his sexuality. “I was myself. Those making the appointment knew about my sexual identity” he said.
Chamberlain said he adhered to church guidelines, under which gay clergy must be celibate and are not permitted to marry. In the appointments process, “We explored what it would mean for me as a bishop to be living within those guidelines,” he said.
In a statement, Welby said: “I am and have been fully aware of Bishop Nick’s long-term, committed relationship. His appointment as bishop of Grantham was made on the basis of his skills and calling to serve the church in the diocese of Lincoln. He lives within the bishops’ guidelines and his sexuality is completely irrelevant to his office.”
Christopher Lowson, the senior diocesan Bishop of Lincoln who appointed Chamberlain said in a letter to parishes in his diocese: “I am satisfied now, as I was at the time of his appointment, that Bishop Nicholas fully understands, and lives by, the House of Bishops’ guidance on issues in human sexuality. For me, and for those who assisted in his appointment, the fact that Bishop Nicholas is gay is not, and has never been, a determining factor.”
Chamberlain said he had been with his partner for many years. “It is faithful, loving, we are like-minded, we enjoy each other’s company and we share each other’s life,” he said.
Members of the C of E’s College of Bishops will meet this month to discuss the next stage of the church’s discussions about sexuality and all eyes will be on Chamberlain.
“I will speak [at the meeting], and this part of me will be known. I hope I’ll be able to be a standard-bearer for all people as a gay man. And I really hope that I’ll be able to help us move on beyond matters of sexuality,” he said. “It’s not to say this isn’t an important matter – I’m not brushing it aside,” he added. But the church needed to focus on issues such as deprivation, inequality and refugees, he said.
Asked whether other bishops might follow his lead in openly declaring their sexuality, he said: “I really can only speak for myself. If I’m an encouragement to others, that would be great.”
Chamberlain said the C of E was “still at the beginning of a process of learning” about issues of sexuality, describing it as a struggle. “I don’t think we’ve reached a position where the church is going to be marrying same-sex couples,” he said. He declined to express objections to the C of E’s celibacy rule for gay clergy. “My observation of human beings over the years has shown me how much variety there is in the way people express their relationships. Physical expression is not for everyone.”
He hoped to be “judged by my actions as a parish priest, a bishop – and by the Lord ultimately. My sexual identity is part of who I am, but it’s the ministry that matters.”
In a statement, the C of E said: “The church has said for some time that it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline.”
The church of England has been divided in recent years over it's stand on homosexuality, LGBT groups have pilloried the institution for its insistence that marriage as ordained by God is meant to be between a man and a woman. This week, a group of C of E conservative evangelical parishes held a meeting to discuss their response to what they claimed to be the watering-down of the authority of the Bible on the issue of sexuality, in what was billed as potentially the first step towards a breakaway from the Anglican church.