The Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, has become the first Church of England Bishop to publicly announce that he is gay and in a relationship.
Chamberlain made the decision to go public after a Sunday newspaper threatened to reveal his sexuality. But he says he would rather be known for his ministry than for having a male partner.
“It was not my decision to make a big thing about coming out,” he told the Guardian. “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.”
Chamberlain said he and his partner are celibate and have no plans to wed, in keeping with church guidelines for homosexual clergy, and he has insisted that he does not want his sexuality to overshadow his ministry.
Of his relationship, he said: “It is faithful, loving, we are like-minded, we enjoy each other’s company and we share each other’s life.” But he declined to criticise the church’s official position on homosexual relationships, saying: “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.”
However, the announcement comes in the same week as a number of parishes in the South East have joined together to uphold traditional teaching on matters including sexuality, discussing the setting up of a ‘shadow synod’ structure which could be used to split the Church of England if it liberalises further.
It also comes as a number of gay married clergy are preparing a letter for the Archbishop of Canterbury, insisting on their right to continue serving within the church in open defiance of the official position.
Chamberlain has insisted that he does not want to become known as “the gay bishop,” but as bishops meet this month to discuss issues of sexuality, Chamberlain may come under pressure to speak on behalf of the LGBT community.
“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, saying that the church needed to focus on alternate issues, such as deprivation, inequality and refugees.
On whether other Bishops might follow his lead in declaring their sexuality, he said: “I really can only speak for myself. If I’m an encouragement to others, that would be great.”
Chamberlain was consecrated last November. His appointment was made by the diocesan (senior) bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, and endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, both of whom knew of Chamberlain’s sexuality and his celibate relationship.
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.”
In a letter to parishes in his diocese, Lowson said: “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.”
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.”