An Anglican lay minister has been temporarily banned from preaching at a church in the U.K. after a service in which he advocated for the traditional definition of marriage upset some of those in attendance.
Peter Gowlland, a retired science teacher, apparently encouraged worshippers to sign a petition against the government's plan to introduce same-sex weddings. The preacher asked of church-goers to be "bold like the apostles" in their vote in support of the traditional definition of marriage. The Telegraph reported that what followed was a "brief and polite" disagreement with two other lay readers in front of the congregation and a retired bishop.
Church of England readers are lay licensed ministers with theological training who preach, teach, lead worship and assist in pastoral, evangelistic and liturgical work.
Gowlland shared that he was told "we don't do that here" by one of the other lay leaders in regards to his promotion of the petition. The Right Rev. David Atkinson, the retired Bishop of Thetford, reportedly explained to Gowlland that the service "was not the correct time and place" to raise such a debate, which has largely divided the Anglican community in the U.K.
Although the Church of England stands firm in its support of traditional marriage, the All Saints Church in Sanderstead, Surrey, where Gowlland was preaching, told him to step down from the pulpit at least for two months.
Gowlland revealed that a week later he went to a meeting with the Rev. Canon Dr. Barry Goodwin, the acting Archdeacon of Croydon, who explained that his license would not be renewed, at least for two months. The Archdeacon told him that his comments had led to a public show of disunity and he had brought up such a sensitive topic without consulting the other lay preachers and wardens.
"I have been a reader for almost 50 years and I have never heard of anything like this. People get suspended for the usual vicar and choirboy sort of thing but I've never heard of anyone being suspended because people don't like what you said or the way that you said it," Gowlland explained.
"That's the point of being a preacher, you preach what you think God wants you to say, the congregation don't have to agree with you. This has been one of the strengths of the Church of England, that it will accept and tolerate people with different opinions. It is disappointing that some people are so narrow-minded," he added.
The church, however, has defended its decision and clarified that it has not suspended or revoked Gowlland's preacher's license, just told him to stay away for two months to "settle the dust." It also claimed that it was not his defense of traditional marriage that created the issue, but the way he raised the debate at church.
"Some members of the congregation had raised some pastoral concerns with the Archdeacon and he discussed these with the reader. During the meeting it became clear that there are disagreements within the parish concerning how some matters are handled," said a spokesperson for the Diocese of Southwark.
"The Archdeacon asked the reader to refrain from ministry in the particular parish for two months in order for there to be time for these pastoral matters to be resolved. The issue is not about the traditional view of marriage but related to matters of church order and authority during an interregnum," the spokesman clarified.
The debate on same-sex marriage in the U.K. was muddied further after a group of influential Church of England leaders recently published a letter opposing the Anglican Communion's official stance on gay marriage and expressing a desire to have practicing homosexual couples accepted by the church.