A homosexual Church of England priest has announced plans to "marry" his Nigerian male model boyfriend, who is 40 years his junior.
The pair are due to marry on Oct 9 at the register office in Devizes before holding a service at St John the Baptist Church Photo: SWNS
The Rev Colin Coward, 64, a priest at St John the Baptist church in Devizes, Wilts, is to enter into a civil partnership with his boyfriend Bobby Egbele, 25.
The union has caused a stir among Christians because the couple plan a carefully-worded "blessing" service in church after the ceremony.
Mr Coward has also declined to confirm that he will remain celibate following the union, which is a requirement the Church of England asks of its ordained homosexual clergy. Mr Coward, who lives with his boyfriend in Marston, near Devizes, said he hoped his union would set a “visible example” to other homosexuals within the church. He said: “My goal is for everyone within the church to feel comfortable with the situation because at the moment the majorityof gay Christians marry secretly.
“It is a taboo subject but the church is now under huge pressure to change its stance and that pressure will only increase in the future.
“Clearly the blessing is going to be quite a sensitive issue. I know that many people will see it and view it with horror.
“But we are both deeply committed Christians so it would be unthinkable for me not to do it in church and not to do it with the congregation and with all of our friends.
“I hope my wedding will inspire others and set a visible example to the church that we are not afraid.”
Mr Coward discovered he was homosexual when a teenager and he was ordained as a priest in 1978 after giving up his job as an architect.
He openly declared his homosexuality in 1991 before setting up the international gay and lesbian campaign group Changing Attitudes in 1995.
Mr Coward met his boyfriend in 2007 at a Christian conference in Togo, West Africa, and the pair were engaged last year.
Mr Egbele, a fashion designer, whose full name is Bobby Ikekhuame Egbele, grew up in Nigeria and runs an online clothing shop Bobafrique, where he models the clothes.
The pair are due to have a civil partnership ceremony on Oct 9 at the register office in Devizes before holding a service at St John the Baptist Church. However, the service will be a communion Eucharist rather then a blessing, which is forbidden for homosexual couples.
Mr Coward said: ''Churches are not supposed to bless civil partnerships. It can bless almost anything else; animals, bombs, battleships, armies going to war but gay couples? No. “So our church blessing has to be carefully-worded in so far as it does not use the word blessing in the context of the two of us in relationship.''
The Bishop of Ramsbury, Rt Rev Stephen David Conway, could ask Mr Coward to remain celibate, a request he plans to refuse.
Under Church of England laws sex is only permitted for married couples and same-sex civil partnerships are not officially regarded as marriage. Mr Coward said: ''I have big doubts whether he will ask me that because it's a very intrusive question. It's a ridiculous situation and a real mess. “What we're allowed to do, as a gay couple, is what this all about and certainly those in ordained ministry are not supposed to be sexually active. “But in practice, some bishops absolutely will give their approval knowing that a couple is in a civil partnership and that they are sharing the same bed, and will encourage them to do that.''
Mr Coward said Mr Egbele was on a two year visitor visa until July next year. The couple have applied to the UK Border Agency for permission to have a civil partnership. That gives Mr Egbele rights of residency. In four years time, Mr Coward said Mr Egbele would be entitled to apply for British Citizenship. A spokesman for the Diocese of Salisbury confirmed it has permitted allowed the service but described it as ''separate'' from the civil ceremony. He said: ''A Eucharistic service celebrating friendship is what has been sanctioned in this case. This is entirely separate from any civil partnership ceremony.”