Sexuality row hits home for St. John’s priest

By on November 1, 2003

Bickering over sexuality prompted Rev. Robin Barrett to come out of the closet.

Mount Pearl , Nfld.
Amid the global row over same-sex marriage and homosexuality that threatens to break up the Anglican Communion, Rev. Robin Barrett came out.

Mr. Barrett, 44, who has been a priest for 21 years and is still married to a woman – they have three children – told his congregation at Good Shepherd church in this suburb of St. John’s last month he is gay and asked them to continue to accept him as their pastor.

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Their responses so far have been mixed. Some parishioners were so outraged to hear that their priest of four years was gay that they left the parish in protest. Others are doubly angry that Mr. Barrett recently left his marriage in the process of deciding to publicly live the rest of his life as a gay man.

First he came out to his bishop, Donald Harvey of the diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador , a known conservative. His vestry was next. Then he sent letters to every parishioner explaining his decision. Mr. Barrett says it was the bickering over the legitimacy of homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Communion that was the final push.

“After 25 years it came to a point where I had to either admit to myself that this is who I was, or keep on hiding it,” said Mr. Barrett in an interview. “I felt I couldn’t do that any longer. But being gay is only a part of who I am – I’m hoping the congregation will see that.”

“I explained in the letter it’s been the struggle of my lifetime. I guess I was in university when I first struggled with my homosexuality, but coming from rural Newfoundland and knowing that you’re going into a ministry there are certain things that you’re told and believe – that it’s a passing phase or something that you must suppress and overcome.”

Mr. Barrett says he has not abandoned his two teenagers, a boy and a girl, and his nine-year-old son, and they and his estranged wife are coping with the situation. “It’s a very difficult situation,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt them.”

In his letter to parishioners, he also invited them to take part in a six-week educational worship at the church on homosexuality called Hearing Diverse Voices, Seeking Common Ground. The workshop, which looks at homosexuality from biblical, psychological and sociological perspectives, resulted from a study by the Anglican Church of Canada in the early 1990s when the church was trying to gauge the opinions of its faithful on the issue.

“I hope it helps people to understand how I can be gay and a priest at the same time … there’s no going back,” Mr. Barrett said.

The priest says he has no plans to abandon his calling to the priesthood and would like to stay on at Good Shepherd. He also intends to abide by the Canadian bishops’ guidelines which only permit celibate gays and lesbians to serve as clergy.

As Mr. Barrett was being interviewed, the primates (senior bishops) of the Anglican Communion were preparing to meet in England to determine how to remain in communion with each other despite deep divisions over the homosexuality issue.

“Unfortunately the homosexuality issue is being held up as the one that can break the Anglican church but it’s part of the process of dialogue and discernment that the church must go through, as we’ve gone through many other issues throughout the past 2,000 years,” said Mr. Barrett. “It took time for the church to discern that slavery was wrong. The same with the ordination of women and divorce. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and shed light all things. But you can only go so far with each step.”

Will Hilliard is a writer in St. John’s.

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