Ian Corbett

Ian was born in Birmingham, ordained in the Church of England in 1969, and served in parishes in Bolton and Manchester before travelling to Lesotho to run a theological college during the apartheid era.  He subsequently worked in Zimbabwe and Botswana, before becoming Dean of Tuam in Ireland,  In retirement, he lived in Worcestershire.

“We had a fair amount of gay clergy in Manchester, as of course is true of most large dioceses, but all of us usually known to each other but often not able to feel we could act publically or come out.  The thing I suppose that annoyed me most of all was there were also clergy who were gay but – and this happens in all walks of life – were rather against any form of liberation.  I think partly because it threatened their own security as being anonymous, and also they preferred things, as arguably many bishops have done, to remain a sort of rather curtained off area, that was just there but it was simpler not to face up to it.   I think they felt secure being hidden, as it were, whereas people couldn’t face what might be required of them if they actually came out.  As clergy it might put you in a position of difficulties, as we’ve seen recently in the press it still can, put you in a position (in relation to) your job, your employment.  Also the fear of the reaction from your parishioners, and people who were quite close to you and a feeling of rejection.  And I think  we all felt that to some extent.  It was a question of whether you had the courage to say, well, this is a situation which really can’t go on.”

“(The day Mandela was released) was electric.  It was one of the proudest days of my life.  When he was released, political gatherings were still forbidden in Lesotho, this was the military government bowing to South African pressure, and the trade union congress in Lesotho organised a demonstration to celebrate Mandela’s release.  To test the government’s resolve in Lesotho.  And the seminary were asked to lead the procession.  I cynically thought this was perhaps because if they saw a clergyman and ordinands in cassocks, the police or the army would be less likely to open fire or be very violent.

Anyway, we had this enormous honour of leading the procession through the streets, which began very timidly, people watching from a distance, and then gradually people would join in, and people were crying, and there was a huge – thousands of people in the end gathered to hear Chris Hani speak in the stadium in Maseru.  He of course became a minister in the South African government and was shot by apartheid supporters soon afterwards.  That was a very special moment, to be chosen to be part of that demonstration of freedom in Lesotho.  And of course the government didn’t intervene at all.

It was good for me to see the connection between liberation movements of different sorts.  And to be part of it.”

“What has been proved true to me is something I read in a novel that now no-one remembers, by a Romanian author called Petru Dumitriu, called Incognito, which came out in the 60’s.  At the height of the Cold War.  It spoke of Christians in countries like Romania.  It was dangerous to be Christian in those times, certainly to try and attend church.  And he saw isolated Christians, little Christian cells like little lights, shining in the darkness like stars in the sky, and being signs of hope.  I suppose my experience is that as things began to develop in Manchester,  and finding people having the courage to be themselves in Africa, and even in places like Zimbabwe, it gives you the confidence to think, that this image is a very real one.  That if you think of the lights as being little fires really, they’ll gradually catch light from each other and the conflagration will grow and that liberty will come.  And that although you experience lots of reversals and people’s lives being shattered, in the end I do feel a genuine hope that things will get better in the end.

People of faith, not least in Africa, have played a large part in this.  And although the church, particularly the Church of England in recent times has been a disaster in this area, it’s worth remembering that the people I worked with in Manchester who were founder members of CHE, church members individually, often rank and file church members who nobody will remember in the annals of history, have been key catalysts for change and have been brave enough to carry on”.

You can hear Ian’s story here.