Gay rights vicar bids for seat on the CofE Synod

Vicar who supported homophobia victim in church to stand for ruling body

Thursday, 23rd September 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Father Robert Thompson

Father Robert Thompson

A WEST Hampstead vicar is hoping to be elected to the Church of England’s governing body in a push to get more acceptance for LGBTQIA people, months after the New Journal reported that a woman had been forced to leave a Kentish Town church over alleged homophobia.

Father Robert Thompson, who is in charge of St James’ and St Mary’s churches in West Hampstead and Kilburn, is among more than 30 people hoping to be selected to sit on the 467-member General Synod for the London region.

His manifesto, sent to the 800 members of clergy eligible to vote in the election later this year, says that he supports LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersex and asexual) being accepted and being able to get married in church, and said churches should be more transparent about their positions on how they will be treated in parishes.

Fr Thompson, who is gay, added that safeguarding procedures should be improved and made more transparent.

He said that his candidacy was inspired by the case of Rachel Gillingham, a parishioner and leader at St Luke’s in Kentish Town, who said she was forced out of the church after she came out as a lesbian.

He said: “What happened to Rachel has really driven me to this. It was really shocking the way someone like Rachel was treated by the parish. It should not have been allowed to happen.

“One thing that Rachel was really passionate about is that churches have to be transparent about their position on LGBTQIA people in the church. It’s really important that this does not happen again.”

The 50-year-old, who has been at the parish in West Hampstead for three years, said he had faced a Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), for supporting Ms Gilling­ham, with an accusation that he had taken part in a campaign of “cyber bullying” against its vicar Jon March. He was cleared. No action was taken by the church.

“It was the same with the CDM process. I was shocked by the way it operated with a total lack transparency and a control, at the early stages, by single bishops making decisions with without wider consultation. This is in very stark contrast to my local authority experience which also had some independent oversight.

“Some in the church feel it shouldn’t be monitored by outside bodies and nobody should know about what goes on. My position is that if you continue without any independent oversight it will lead to more problems and reputational damage.”

He is also supporting a campaign to support parish churches in the face of centrally imposed “church plants” which see funds channelled to new churches potentially at the expense of existing ones.

St James’ is well known for housing the Sherriff Centre, a post office, children’s play area and a cafe. The church also provides debt advice.

He said: “We send a lot of money to the diocese for very little, whereas new church plants get a lot of central funding into what are effectively defunct churches – and there’s little transparency about that decision-making of where the plants go. It just seems to happen and is imposed by bishops.”

Before moving to West Hampstead he was a Labour councillor in Kensington and Chelsea for five years until 2019. He chaired the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee in the aftermath of the disaster in 2017, which looked at the work of the recovery programme.

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