Rev Andrew Hammond has been King's Chaplain since 2015LOUIS ASHWORTH

“I’m really sorry, I have terrible resting snob face”, the Reverend Andrew Hammond laughs as he poses for our photographer. This might not be something many people expect to hear from the Chaplain of King’s College, but Hammond is not one to be weighed down by people’s expectations.

This term, he has been putting Cambridge’s most recognisable building to new uses – hosting “radically inclusive” services in King’s Chapel in a departure from its usual fare of choral evensongs and televised carol broadcasts. “King’s is associated with such an amazingly dignified, formal, beautiful… kind of liturgy and worship”, he tells me, as we sit down for tea in his spacious flat in King’s, “and it has a very particular appeal, and students do come – but there wasn’t really anything else much on offer.”

This observation led to Critical Mass: three services held this term with the aim of creating “inclusive spaces” for LGBT+ christians to “encounter God”. Hammond describes them as “very different” to typical King’s services: the congregation sits on rugs on the Chapel’s under-heated floor, with “what you could naughtily call ‘spa music’ just doodling away in the background.”

“I wanted to do something that was very, very different, but still cohered with the general values of the place”, Hammond explains, “which very much are about welcome and inclusion and all the rest of it, but it’s very hard to articulate that in choral evensong”.

Did he feel as if there was an absence of explicit inclusivity in Cambridge Christianity? “I think that’s true actually, yeah.” Although he is “pretty sure” that most chaplains and deans here “would be pretty affirming”, he feels like now is the time for him to be “a little bit more vocal”.

How, then, does Hammond feel about the landscape of Christianity in Cambridge? “I’m slightly resistant to characterising it as liberal versus conservative”, he begins, before admitting that he does worry that “the sound that people hear of the Christian voice in this town or in this University” tends to be “rather puritanical”.

“I’ve been ordained for ten years, but I’ve spoken freely in any context except in the pulpit about how I think the teaching should change, particularly on sexuality and gender identity. I finally decided to nail my colours to the mast at the beginning of this term.”

“It’s the quality of the love that matters between people, not the gender of the lovers”

I ask about the sermon in question, in which he declared: “In the end, for me, it’s the quality of the love that matters between people, not the gender of the lovers.” He beams when recounting the “quite extraordinary” response people had to it, with “people of all ages” going beyond “the normal ‘thank you, lovely service vicar’”, instead “seizing my arm and saying ‘Thank you for saying that, it needed to be said.’”

But it is apparently still not something that can be said in a Cambridge pulpit without raising some eyebrows — he was visited by some members of the Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) shortly afterwards “to have disputations”.

“It was done in a very friendly way, it was extremely constructive”, he says, smiling, but ultimately “we didn’t agree”. “They’re trying to save my soul, I think”, he chuckles.

I ask how he feels about CICCU generally. The image they project tends to be of a relatively conservative Christianity – does he see that as an issue?

He says it “worries” him: “On the whole, yes, it’s a rather sort of conservative with a little ‘c’ and evangelical organisation. It would describe itself as very much Bible-based, as though other Christians weren’t. But, at the same time, every individual you’ll meet is as nice as pie. And that’s not a fake – they are nice, it’s just they’ve got some views that can give you the heeby-jeebies.

“What really gets me, is the effect that it can all have on people who don’t feel like they fit this mould”

“There is the particular kind of theology and ethics that they have, which, are actually, for all that they look terribly numerous, are a minority position in the Church of England. The other thing, which is what really gets me, is the effect that it can all have on people who don’t feel like they fit this mould of a certain kind of human being.”

This is clearly something Hammond feels strongly about, and his frustration is evident when he tells me: “I’ve had people on my sofa weeping as a result of their tangle with some people or some events from that part of Christian life in Cambridge.”

Hammond emailed me a couple of days after the interview to expand on these concerns, adding: “there are indeed occasions when people are hurt, upset and potentially damaged – especially when it comes to issues of sexuality and gender. It can cause depression, anxiety, self-harm and sometimes even worse.”

He also expands on what he terms his “more outspoken stance on inclusion and acceptance”, and how it is not simply “giving another Christian point of view”, but is “more about paying loving attention to other people and to the way they express their love and identity”.

The role of a chaplain in college welfare support is something that comes up a lot in our conversation, and I ask Hammond about what he considers a chaplain’s pastoral responsibilities to be.

“I think some chaplains don’t want to be terribly accessible all the time”

“It’s easier for me because I’m single, which means I can live in the heart of college, and be accessible – but I think some chaplains don’t want to be terribly accessible all the time.”

Should they be? “Well it’s not for me to dictate, but I just get the sense that a lot of students are pretty fragile, and I don’t meant that in a pejorative sense at all. They are ill-served by schools, who just stick them through this sausage machine of A-level achievement, and then they’re shot out into Cambridge.

“I just think that whatever is possible to provide by way of support is really really important”, he adds. He makes sure that everyone has his mobile number – “In the first week, I had three calls in the middle of the night.

“It’s all joined up: it’s not like I do chapel sometimes, and chaplain other times: it’s absolutely joined up. The kind of Christianity that I am wanting to talk about and to live out makes sense of that”, he explains.

Reverend Andrew Hammond performed a duet with Courtney Act at King's Affair in JuneANJALENE WHITTIER

Eventually, and inevitably, we reach his arguably the biggest moment of his Cambridge career so far – singing onstage with drag queen Courtney Act at last term’s King’s Affair. He recalls the night fondly as “huge fun”: an organiser knew he was a “huge fan” of RuPaul’s Drag Race, so told him Act would be performing. “All I said was that in my wildest dreams, it would be great fun to get on stage and introduce her”, but they had other plans.

At one point it was suggested the two do a duet of ‘Physical’, “which would have been an outrage”, he hoots, “but I was so terrified of getting it wrong”. In the end, it was decided he would sing a verse of ‘Amazing Grace’.

“I had my white summer cassock on, so I was dressed like the pope”, he says, grinning, “and then she said: ‘I think there’s room for more than one man in a dress up here.’

“It was huge fun in itself, because I used to be an opera singer, so I like audiences and showing off”, he enthuses. But as much as he had a wonderful time, it was the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic student reaction that really touched him. “Isn’t it amazing, just a little thing like that.”

Does he think it demonstrates the need for more spaces in Cambridge where things like that could happen, rather than it being a May Week one-off?

“It depends what it would look like in other contexts, because if it becomes compulsory for Cambridge chaplains to sing with a drag queen...”, at which point he breaks off laughing.

“But I would hope it made anybody who’s an overt ambassador for the Church and for the Christian faith in Cambridge colleges to think: ‘well, what am I doing?’”

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