Next Sunday, ‘Low Sunday’, the Revd Richard Coles retires from being Vicar of Finedon, a parish in Peterborough Diocese.
To mark his retirement Richard has written a moving, thoughtful article for The Times in which he reflects on his life as parish priest in Finedon, his hopes for his future life and ministry, and his hopes and fears for the Church of England. You can read it at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-rev-richard-coles-on-retirement-and-what-comes-next-vxhf92fxz. It’s well worth reading and pondering.
As everyone who reads this will know, Richard is gay and was married to his partner, the Revd David Coles, who died in 2019. Legally they were in a civil partnership, because Church of England clergy are not allowed to marry someone of the same sex and are severely penalized if they do. But Richard always described David as his husband and they had no doubt they had truly married each other before God, even if not in law.
Richard and David, like many other clergy in same-sex relationships, were prepared to tolerate the C of E’s regulations so they could continue the ministry to which God had called them. But, as Richard makes clear in his Times article, he regards the current discrimination against same-sex couples as not merely unjust but sinful – as he says at the end of this extract (emphasis ours):
“Such churches [conservative ones] protest that all are welcome, asserted on their websites and noticeboards, but that welcome would be on their terms, shaped by a conservative reading of Scripture, and require me and others not only to renounce the intimate life we were made for but also to accept second-class citizenship in the household of God. I mind this, not only because who wouldn’t, but because I simply do not, and cannot, believe that relationships that are open to grace and holiness and healing can possibly be contrary to the will of God. Same-sex relationships are all those things and more, just like everyone else’s, a fact so obvious it cannot be denied, and therefore the sin lies in accepting anything less than equal inclusion.“
Equal inclusion means full acceptance, inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQIA+ people, lay and ordained. Instead, all too often, the C of E rejects, excludes and penalizes us, or at best offers us ‘second-class citizenship’, as Richard Coles says. This is against the judgement of God, and the Equal Marriage Campaign calls on the Church to repent of it, to change its mind, its heart and its practice – to love as God in Jesus loves, widely and generously.
An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that Richard and David Coles were legally married; we apologize for this error.