Louis Ashworth for Varsity

The dean of Clare College has consistently opposed proposals supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church of England, including voting against blessings for same-sex weddings.

In February last year, Reverend Mark Smith voted against a motion that stated that the Church should “lament and repent the failure of the Church to be welcoming to LGBTQI+ people and the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced and continue to experience in the life of the Church” at the Church of England’s general synod.

In November 2023, Smith also voted against a motion for the Church to introduce a trial period of giving blessings during same-sex weddings. Both motions passed, despite opposition from over 40% of the bishops, clergy and laity represented on the synod.

Smith also backed a total of 20 amendments that would have changed the extent of the reforms.

The dean teaches at the Divinity Faculty and has a pastoral role for all students at Clare College, as well as working as a tutor and being responsible for the college chapel.

Smith was elected to sit on the Church of England’s governing body in October 2021, representing the constituency of ‘universities and theological education institutions’. On his manifesto, Smith stated that his role at Clare, and previously Christ’s College, had “involved sensitive welfare support to those struggling with bereavement, relationship problems, depression, loneliness and anxiety, as well as many wrestling with questions of faith and belief.”

He also noted that he was well-suited to represent universities at the Church as he had “heard first-hand the concerns that many young people have with the Church” and that he “sought to exercise a ministry of kindness, welcome and radical hospitality.”

“If elected, my primary aim for the next five years would be to help build a church that will allow every type of person to engage with God’s love,” his manifesto concluded.

Reacting to the news, a fellow said: “I find it deeply concerning that someone who is supposed to be providing pastoral care to a diverse community like a Cambridge college has so consistently, and apparently covertly, voted against queer liberation and the interests of LGBTQIA people, joining attempts to prevent even watered down blessings for same-sex couples and even opposing an apology by the House of Bishops for the rank queerphobia of the Church of England.”

They continued: “We are not talking about the odd vote here or there, but a clear pattern - this puts the Dean of Clare widely outside of mainstream chaplaincy opinions in Cambridge, and frankly calls into question his ability to gain and deserve the trust and respect of his students and the wider college community, queer or otherwise.”

Clare student Emma Caroe told Varsity: “I am deeply saddened by the slowness of the pace at which the Church of England is moving on the issues of sexuality, gender, and same-sex relationships. Divisions within the Church on this issue are causing a lot of pain. I believe that the Church does not have the right to limit God’s affirmation of love, and am upset to find out that the Dean voted as he did.”

They continued: “But speaking from personal experience as a queer student, I have confidence that Clare chapel is and will always seek to remain a diverse and loving community within which all are welcome. Mark is also widely known to be a great tutor and a recognised friendly face in college. It is definitely hurtful to discover that he has opposed change in the Church of England, but this thankfully does not seem to translate into compromising the pastoral support he offers students at Clare, both queer and non-queer alike.”

Another Clare student, Julian Manresa, described the dean as “a brother in Christ” who “knows that I am in a same-sex relationship”.

“The dean’s theological convictions should not be confused with prejudice. Some might surprised to learn that there is even disagreement among partnered gay Christians about whether or not we should marry in church. I have always been supported by the Dean and stand by his ministry”, he said.

Among the amendments Smith voted for were motions proposed by Sam Margrave, a lay member of the general synod. In January last year, Margrave was reported to the police for describing Pride events as “the nation’s next Jimmy Savile”.

Debates over the Church’s position on same-sex relationships have been divisive within the general synod. The vote to support trials for blessings for same-sex marriages, opposed by Smith, came as an amendment to a motion noting the progress made by bishops on issues relating to sexuality. The amendment only passed by one vote.

The change means that gay Christians can hold a special service to bless and celebrate their weddings. Readings and music mean that the services could look very similar to a heterosexual church wedding.


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A representative for the Union of Clare Students (UCS) told Varsity: “The UCS is concerned about the impact that the implications of this article will have for the well-being of Clare students, and in particular queer students. We understand that there are multiple dimensions to the debates in the Church of England’s General Synod around both doctrine and procedure, and that in his voting the Dean was acting as a representative of a collection of university chaplains nationally.”

They concluded: “The UCS reaffirms our support to queer students and encourages anyone who would welcome support and/or further discussion on this to reach out to the UCS.”

Reverend Mark Smith and Clare College were contacted for comment.