LONDONERS AT HOME: The Way We Live Now
Married gay clergy -
Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain &
Stephen Foreshew-Cain (with cat, Freddie)
Date of photography: 26th March 2017
Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain defied the guidance of the Church of England’s House of Bishops by marrying his long-term partner, Stephen; and from his place in the Synod, he continued to challenge the illiberal orthodoxies of the Church of England. Subsequently, Andrew moved to the North, for family reasons, with the result that his ministry was terminated, and his seat on the Synod forfeited - one step forward, two steps back? Father Andrew remarks: “One sometimes forgets how powerful and entrenched are the traditional forces within the Church. I have watched my church turning more conservative, more reactionary and less accepting precisely at a time when society is in general becoming more liberal and more accepting. My previous congregation was very diverse, as you might expect in inner-city London, and they had no problem whatsoever in embracing diversity - they simply accepted one another’s humanity and were thus perfectly comfortable with each other.”
It is a beautiful, sunny, Sunday afternoon when I arrive to meet Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain and his husband, Stephen Foreshew-Cain, at the Vicarage of St Mary with All Souls, in Kilburn. He meets me still dressed in black, complete with his 'dog collar', having only, a few minutes before, completed his third service of the day. His Sunday afternoon rest with Stephen might have begun now, except for my disrupting it with an interview and photo-shoot.
While he changes into informal, more comfortable clothing, I admire the beautiful, sun-lit vicarage garden, nestling between the vicarage itself and the church next door. I was later to learn that Father Andrew is a keen gardener himself - he studied Botany at the University of Aberdeen - and the handsome garden is a truly delightful backdrop to family photographs of the many weddings he conducts in his Kilburn church. Indeed, Father Andrew's own controversial wedding to Stephen, three years before, was celebrated with his parishioners in this very garden. I am sorry for intruding into what will be a long working day and to my apologetic, "You must be quite tired having had to conduct three full services already," he responds with: "Not really, I love doing it. Yes, it is about God but above all, it is about people and the lives we live; I never tire of it."
For 19 years, Father Andrew has been vicar of St Mary with All Souls, Kilburn and of St James, West Hampstead. He has never made a secret of the fact that he was gay and most of his parishioners were well aware of it. Father Andrew adds: "I never lived in the closet and I will not get into that closet for anybody."
As soon you meet him, you realise that he connects to people with extraordinary ease, accepting them as they are; it is therefore perhaps not surprising that his congregation were willing to accept him for what and who he is. "My second date with Stephen was a Church ‘Foods of the World Party' in the Hall.” And he adds with a smile, "The ladies of the parish gave him a good looking over, just to make sure that he was suitable and that his intentions were honourable, and we have been together ever since; that was 17 years ago now. We lived together for over 10 years and, as soon it became legally possible, we got married; that was in June 2014."
The legislation to allow same-sex marriage in England and Wales came into force on 13 March 2013 and in February 2014, the Synod's House of Bishops issued pastoral guidance on same sex marriage in a letter to all the clergy. The letter was painfully unambiguous:
As members of the Body of Christ we are aware that there will be a range of responses across the Church of England to the introduction of same sex marriage. As bishops we have reflected and prayed together about these developments. As our statement of 27th January indicated, we are not all in agreement about every aspect of the Church's response. However we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.
Despite this unyielding episcopal missive, Father Andrew became the second priest, the first vicar, and therefore the first direct Church employee, to marry a same-sex partner, thereby defying the official line spelt out by the House of Bishops earlier in 2014. Of course, in the circumstances, this was never going to be any ordinary sort of wedding. Father Andrew is a little plaintive: "I really wish it could have been, but it is important at this particular moment to stand up and be counted."
In an interview with the BBC, Father Andrew observed: "The Church of England has developed a problem with sexuality, though the Church cannot actually tell people what to do, that is not our role as a church. The C of E has always in the past provided a safe place for people of different positions, and it should be a mark of our love for each other to stay together and to work together, not to shut down debate and drive people out. My sexuality and my calling have never clashed with each other, and I had a strong sense that God wanted me to serve him as a priest and it was a sense of calling which was not going to go away; I remember the day when I gave in to that calling and said 'yes' to God."
Though Father Andrew has been "informally rebuked" by his diocese, no further public action has been taken against him. However, other priests in his situation have been stripped of permission to officiate; some have been deprived of their licences; and, despite the Bishops saying that lay people were free to marry should they decide to do so, several lay ministers serving the Church in other ways have also been punished for taking advantage of their legal right to marriage.
Hard on the heels of this not inconsiderable furore came a rather unexpected and, for the traditionalists, even more vexatious development: in October 2015, Father Andrew Foreshew-Cain was voted on to the General Synod, the Church of England's National Assembly. In The Guardian, Father Andrew was reported as saying: "I wasn’t expecting to get on. I thought the clergy were too conservative to vote for a progressive like me. The next five years will be quite important as the Church of England continues to consider how it deals with gay marriage as the rest of the world moves on."
Father Andrew has since stated: "It is now becoming clear there will be a number of openly gay clergy on the Church's decision-making body. This is a significant change in the composition of the General Synod and they won't now be able to talk about gay people without us being in the room."
Not surprisingly, Father Andrew's election to the Synod has caused a considerable storm amongst the traditionalists. Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the group, Christian Concern, who served on the Synod herself for the last five years, has been vociferous and blunt: "Last year, Andrew Cain ignored biblical teaching and the clear instruction of the House of Bishops and entered into a same-sex 'marriage'. Andrew Cain's ongoing activism should no longer be tolerated. His actions are designed to undermine the Church and her teaching on marriage. His election to General Synod cannot be allowed to stand and he should be swiftly removed from Church leadership."
Father Andrew has replied: "That just speaks volumes about what they are actually like - this is a democratic process of electing people and they don't like the result so they want to throw their toys out of the pram.” The struggle of these opposing forces, the traditionalists versus the progressives, is likely to continue for many a long year. Only this week, a distinguished gay clergyman, the Dean of St Albans, was excluded from consideration as the next Bishop of Llandaff, in the Church of Wales - he has been blocked twice before for similar promotions to the episcopacy.
Towards the conclusion of this interview, Father Andrew remarks: "One sometimes forgets how powerful and entrenched are the traditional forces within the Church. I have watched my church turning more conservative, more reactionary and less accepting precisely at a time when society is in general becoming more liberal and more accepting. My congregation is very diverse, as you would expect in this part of London, and they have no problem in embracing diversity - they simply accept the humanity of each other and are comfortable with each other."
I pack up my lighting and camera equipment and I leave Father Andrew, Stephen, and their two delightful cats, Freddie and Leo, to enjoy the rest of the sunny afternoon in peace. It is always inspiring to meet people who have the strength to challenge orthodoxy, often at great personal risk, and to resist a continuous barrage of attacks from the opposition. Such journeys can often be lonely, but happily Father Andrew is not alone; in addition to his loving husband, he clearly enjoys the great respect and support of the majority of his local flock and, wider still, by an ever-increasing majority of faithful, church-attending members of the Church of England who wish to see their Church brought into the 21st century.
Text edited: 29th March 2017
UPDATE: July 2017
On marrying his partner, Stephen, in 2014, Father Andrew Foreshew-Cain was "informally rebuked" by his diocese but no further public action was taken against him at the time and he continued his successful ministry in the Kilburn and West Hampstead parishes he had served for nearly 20 years. However, in 2016, after the Brexit vote, Stephen lost his job in London and obtained a new position in Manchester. Over many months of travelling up and down the country to see each other every week, Andrew and Stephen have now decided to set up a marital home together in the north-west of England, where Stephen continues to work.
Having been a hardworking and successful vicar for 27 years, Father Andrew was intending to seek appointment to a new parish in the area he is moving to - it is well-known that there is a great shortage of Anglican clergy in rural areas, with many priests now being obliged to serve as pastor to several different congregations. However, to officiate in any parish requires a licence from the appropriate bishop and, despite his many years of sterling service and his evident enthusiasm to continue with his calling, it has been made clear to Father Andrew that, once he relinquishes his present parishes, he will not be granted another licence - he will no longer be allowed to practice as a priest in the Church of England because of his marriage to Stephen. And once he ceases to be a serving clergyman, he will be disqualified from his seat on the Synod, a seat to which he was elected by his peers and from where he has been a voice for tolerance and a liberal attitude towards homosexual clergy. In effect, because he ignored the advice from the House of Bishops, took advantage of the new legal provisions, and married his long-time partner, Father Andrew will be forced to stand down completely from office in a Church that he so clearly loves; the bishops will have rid themselves of another “troublesome priest”.
His marriage barely tolerated in the past because of the difficulty of removing him from his post, Father Andrew’s situation now mirrors that of most other priests who have dared to defy the bishops and who have been stripped of permission to officiate; some, like Father Andrew, have also been deprived of their licences. And, despite the bishops’ pronouncement that gay and lesbian lay people were free to marry should they so choose, several lay ministers serving the Church in other ways have also been punished for taking advantage of what is their statutory right to marry. In spite of such behaviour, the Church continues to deny the allegation that it is institutionally homophobic.
Page modified: 17th March 2019