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Grenfell vicar takes over at West Hampstead church

Father Robert Thompson backs predecessor's view on gay marriage

20 July, 2018 — By Tom Foot

Father Robert Thompson

A CAMPAIGNING vicar from a parish next to Grenfell Tower is taking over two churches in West Hampstead and has vowed to keep up the pressure on the Church of England to change its gay marriage policy.

Reverend Robert Thompson will be inducted as the new priest of St James’s and St Mary’s churches on Saturday by the Bishop of Edmonton. He is replacing Father Andrew Foreshew-Cain who quit last year in a storm of protest against the Church of England’s views on same-sex marriage.

But Father Thompson told the New Journal: “I share all of Andrew’s views on this and it is something I am going to continue to fight for inside the church. I am gay myself, I have a partner – but I’m not married.”

Father Foreshew-Cain had been a consistent campaigner for same-sex unions over more than 20 years at St James’s. When he left last year, the Church of England refused to licence him at a new parish because he had got married to his long-term partner.

“I actually have known Andrew for 20 years as I was at Oxford with him training to be a priest,” said Father Thompson. “I think he ran a ministry here that was completely advocating inclusion and diversity – and I want to continue that.”

He is making the move from St Clement Church, two minutes from Grenfell Tower. Days after the disaster, he delivered a sermon for the community in front of an army of news cameras and high-profile politicians. “St Clement was a major initial relief centre for the fire,” he said. “ It has also a charity that we made sure had an impact on people’s lives. It has helped people from all backgrounds get work, and also to change those who maybe do not aspire to go to university.”

Father Thompson also sits as a Labour councillor in Conservative-controlled Kensington and Chelsea. He was first elected in 2014 and is the chairman of the Grenfell Recovery Scrutiny Committee.

He said: “I’m going to resign in the late autumn. I want to make this a complete move. It’s a new parish. I’m in a new borough. I had decided to do so before the fire, but when it happened I stopped looking for a new job. It is the right time to move now but it will be a wrench. The community there has been deeply affected by what happened.”

Father Andrew Foreshew-Cain (right) with his husband Stephen

Father Thompson added: “It is a different borough here, different in that it is Labour-controlled. It feels like north Kensington in terms of the massive diversity, and the social housing in the parish is similar. What is discernible here is the middle income bracket – perhaps the middle classes have not been squeezed out quite as much yet.”

He said he was looking forward to seeing how the work of the Sherriff Centre – a post office, children’s play centre and cafe set up in St James’s – related to the parish. “There has been wonderful entrepreneurial work here,” he said. “I think it really put the church back at the centre of the community. At first for me it is going to be about solidifying that.”

Father Thompson said he had “no plans at present” to stand for the council in Camden, adding: “But I guess that sounds like a politician’s answer, doesn’t it?”

A special licensing service is taking place on Saturday from 5pm at St Mary’s with All Souls’, Kilburn, and there will be a procession up to St James’s. The Bishop of Edmonton, Rob Wickham, and the Archdeacon, Father John Hawkins, will lead the service.

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