Last Sunday Father Andrew announced that he was retiring as priest of St. Mary’s with All Souls, Kilburn and St. James, West Hampstead. The story was picked up by the Sunday Times, Independent and Guardian.
You can even hear it in his own words on Radio 4’s Sunday programme (skip to 7:23).
As Stephen, Father Andrew’s husband tweeted, although they gave fair accounts of the situation, they didn’t quite capture the exact reason.
Father Andrew arrived at St. James nearly 20 years ago in November 2017, became priest in charge in April 1998 and was appointed vicar in 2001. For any of us this quite a long time to be one place. At around this time he first met his partner, Stephen.
Since his arrival in NW6 the law relating to same sex partnerships has changed with, first civil partnerships in December 2005, and same-sex marriage in Mar 2014. He married Stephen in June 2014.
Last year, post-Brexit, Stephen lost his job but luckily found a new one as head of digital for the Co-op, however, based in Manchester. For any couple juggling two careers living apart for a short period is manageable, but not sustainable long term. Time had come to make a decision.
“In the normal course of things I would look for a job in the (Manchester) area,” Father Andew said. “But I am on a blacklist. I can’t carry on being a priest because the institutional homophobia of the church makes it impossible”.
In a letter to parishioners, he explained: “When we married I was told that if I left here then an active ministry officially in the Church of England would be over, and that is likely to be the case.” He said the current leadership, “whilst willing to allow me to continue here, is unwilling to license me to a ministry elsewhere”.
For most of us in West Hampstead Father Andrew is best known for his work converting St. James Church into the Sheriff Centre. This encompasses the Post office, Hullabaloo soft play for kids and the Sanctuary Cafe (which was again listed on TimeOut’s list of top coffee shops in North London). And it is still a Church on Sundays. Little known fact; as well as being vicar he is also the official postmaster.
Although he will leave as priest in July, it could take from six months to a year to appoint a new vicar. So Father Andrew will continue to be involved with centre, which is set up independent from the church, at least until the new vicar is settled in.
Father Andrew said that he will miss living in West Hampstead, which has been his home for such a long time, plus he will miss it being a couple of degrees warmer here down South. Being a priest informs every aspect of his job and life so leaving West Hampstead will meaning carving out a whole new role for himself in a new community. But he is looking forward to getting his weekends back, being able to enjoy a good brunch and having a lie-in on Sundays.