AN NHS chaplain, Canon Jeremy Pemberton, who in April became the
first Church of England priest to marry a same-sex partner, is
unable to take up a new post because his bishop is refusing him a
Canon Pemberton is Deputy Senior Chaplain and Deputy Bereavement
and Voluntary Services Manager in the United Lincolnshire Hospitals
NHS Trust. He married Laurence Cunnington in April (News,
17 April), in defiance of House of Bishops pastoral guidance,
issued in February.
He received an informal rebuke from the Bishop of Lincoln, the
Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, but kept his general preacher's licence
in the diocese. His NHS post at the trust is also unaffected.
The Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, however, the
diocese in which Canon Pemberton lives, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood,
withdrew his permission to officiate (News, 27
On 10 June, Canon Pemberton was offered a new job as Head of
Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services in the Sherwood Forest
Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. This was conditional on the Bishop
of Southwell & Nottingham's issuing him with a licence. On
Monday this week, he learned that Bishop Inwood had refused.
On Wednesday, Bishop Inwood stated: "In light of the pastoral
guidance, and for reasons of consistency, I am unable to issue a
licence to Jeremy Pemberton for the post of Chaplaincy and
Bereavement Manager, in the Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS
Canon Pemberton said that he had mentioned his application for
the new job during his meeting with Bishop Inwood on 29 May, and
that he was "not surprised, but disappointed", to learn that the
Bishop had subsequently refused to issue a licence.
"The unequal positon that I find myself in is that I have a
licence now, and am working in a trust in Lincolnshire; so I am a
suitable person to work in the NHS; butif I attempt to move 30
miles away,I become unemployable, apparently."
He went on: "It needs to be considered that the NHS is bound by
the Equality Act 2010, and it does seem odd that, if this offer is
withdrawn, it is because the Church has obliged the NHS to act in
anunequal way. Is that proper or legal?
"My action has exposed a faultline here with an NHS that acts
strictly under the rules of equality according to the law, and a
Church that does not."
Chaplains are appointed by NHS trusts. The UK Board of
Healthcare Chaplaincy, with whom Canon Pemberton is registered,
states that: "It is usual for job descriptions and person
specifications for chaplaincy posts that include a religious
function to specify that a chaplain will have the endorsement of
their faith community, often referred to as 'being in good
It continues: "The situation may arise that the standing of a
chaplain in relation to her or his faith community or belief group
changes during the term of employment. Whilst this may affect the
official status of the chaplain as a 'minister of religion' or
'office holder' of a belief group, it may have no consequences in
relation to their terms of employment so long as they continue to
practise ethically and professionally."
NHS Employers was contacted but was unable to comment at the
time of going to press.
On Wednesday, the Revd Justin Gau, a barrister specialising in
both employment and ecclesiastical law, and Chancellor of the
diocese of Bristol, said that the removal of Canon Pemberton's
licence was, in his opinion, "unlawful, as there has been no breach
of canon law".
Question of the week: Is Bishop
Inwood right to withhold Canon Pemberton's licence?