The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has spoken of ‘frustration’ at those Christians whose feelings of ‘embarrassment, shame and disgust’ over equal marriage rights for gay couples send out ‘unwelcome’ messages.

The leader of the Anglican Communion, who will step down in December, was speaking at a teenage Christian discussion day in Lambeth entitled ‘My Friends Think I’m Mad’, the Telegraph reports.

The Archbishop directly addressed the issue of marriage rights for gay couples as one of a “lot of tangles” between traditionalists and progressive thinkers in the Church.

He said of equal marriage rights for gay couples that “where once more we’re used to being alongside people who are gay; many of our friends may be – indeed we may be – wrestling with that issue ourselves, and the Church is scratching its head and trying to work out where it is on all that, and what to think about it.

“What’s frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience.

“So whatever we think about it, we need, as a Church, to be tackling what we feel about it.”

He told the teenagers: “As somebody who doesn’t spend all his time with other Christians, I’m quite conscious too of the fact that people think that I’m weird and we’re weird.”

Trying to form a consensus within the Church of England was, he said, “like one of those terrible games you get in Christmas crackers sometimes where you have to get the little silver balls into holes – you always get two of them but then the other one goes off somewhere else”.

The Church of England recently published its formal response to the government’s consultation on how to introduce equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples.

The response, which said gay marriages would “dilute” the institution and could threaten the church’s role as state religion by making canon and state marriage laws incompatible, has divided opinion within the faith.

Thousands have signed a petition to distance themselves from it and the Bishop of Buckingham spoke recently of a “sea change” of opinion within the Church on the subject.

The National Secular Society said yesterday the Church was using “manifestly false” legal arguments and that its argument against equal marriage on the basis that canon and state laws would become incompatible was threatening to “obstruct democracy”.