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Lesbian needed years of counselling after being forced out of Church of England for being openly gay

Patrick Kelleher February 7, 2021
Picture of a bible with a cross lying on it

(Envato Elements)

A lesbian was left needing counselling after she was pushed out of the Church of England for daring to be openly gay.

Rachel Gillingham, a primary school teacher, said she was pushed out of St Luke’s Church in Oseney Crescent, London, after she came out to reverend Jon March in 2019.

Gillingham had been heavily involved with the church, even leading Bible study groups, but she told the Camden New Journal that March tried to forbid her from having sex with women after she told him that she was a lesbian.

The furore sparked an investigation from an advisor to Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London. A recently finalised report found that March had effectively excluded Gillingham from her position within the church through his comments.

Speaking to the Camden New Journal, Gillingham said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following her exclusion from the Church of England.

“I’m attending church services and I am shaking and I am having nightmares the night before, and bursting into tears in the middle of the service,” she said.

“I have had to stop attending church… because my body is like: ‘Get the hell out of here, what are you doing?'”

Gillingham said the church had been “a huge part” of her life, and that she lost “a huge sense of belonging and community” as a result of her treatment.

According to the recently published report examining the controversy, Reverend March initially told Gillingham that she could continue to participate in church activities after she came out as a lesbian.

However, he later implemented strict behaviour rules for church leaders, claiming he wanted to ensure that they would be “beyond reproach”.

Lesbian Church of England member was forbidden from supporting same-sex marriage

The new rules forbade church leaders from supporting same-sex marriage and from living with a partner while unmarried. They also urged members to avoid posting on social media after drinking alcohol. Reverend March later told the investigation that “sex outside of marriage, if it is not acknowledged as sin and repented, is equally a bar to lay leadership for those who identify as straight as to those who identify as LGBTQIA.”

Gillingham said: “Someone making a choice to have a few drinks on a Saturday night is not the same as you denying my choice of marriage in your church. They are not the same thing.”

After implementing the new rules, Gillingham was summoned to a meeting with March and other church leaders where he told her that he did not expect her to be “so visible and open as a gay person”. He also said he was “unhappy” that she had refused to discuss the situation, and insisted that she was “accountable” to him.

He went on to tell her that he hoped she would “change her mind” about dating another woman if they discussed her sexuality.

At that meeting, Gillingham asked March directly if her sexuality meant that she would no longer be able to lead groups in the church. He did not answer the question.

She told the investigation that she left the meeting in a distressed state, and did not hear from any member of the church for weeks.

The investigation into March’s conduct cleared him of abuse of power, but agreed that there had been pastoral failings in his handling of the situation.

 

More: Church of England, London, Rachel Gillingham, St Luke's

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