Meet the Leeds vicar and LGBTQ+ ally fighting for same-sex marriage in the Church of England
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Born in Cape Town in 1980, Heston Groenewald of All Hallows Church said experiencing the end of apartheid at the young age of 12 and how the country became a ‘Rainbow Nation’ has shaped the person he is today.
Heston said: “Learning that my lot, the white South Africans, were the villains in the story probably was a huge factor in trying to be as least villainous as I possibly can be. Trying to include people who have been excluded and love people who have been unloved in the past. Being a vicar is a really special and amazing way of doing that.”
The vicar was a youth worker in Cape Town before he moved to London at the age of 23. He began his vicar training and served a church in South East London before moving to Leeds eight years ago.
All Hallows Church is known for its inclusiveness of gay and transgender people – long before Heston joined. Heston tells the Yorkshire Evening Post that: “Meeting a few gay people who love Jesus, you have to change your theology and reality – because they are reality. You have to love these neighbours.”
The Church celebrates that one-third to a half of the people who are attend are gay or transgender. Rainbow Junktion is the community cafe run by the Church and is headed by an agnostic and an atheist – one of whom is lesbian. Heston said these communities are at the heart of the Church and leadership so there are no barriers between the communities.
The Church also offers a foodshare and its cafe often has guests who provide mental health help among other support. There are also live musicians and board games for people to enjoy.
Heston added: “We are building a community through food. But loving our neighbours also looks a lot like justice, not just hospitality. It’s fighting for justice for those who are vulnerable. We have to allow our marginalised and oppressed neighbours – our gay or transgender or asylum seeker friends – to be an active part of the church and just let them be themselves."
The 42-year-old vicar said it is a privilege to working at a Church which includes and celebrates marginalised people and helping break down some of the suspicions and fear that exist. The Church is one of many across the UK which is currently fighting for laws to be changed to allow the Church of England to carry out same-sex marriage. More than 1,100 licensed priests in the Church of England have indicated that they are willing to conduct same-sex marriages if they become legal.
Heston added: “I check my own privilege. I’ve not had to fight these battles that others are facing as white heterosexual man. We have not done quite enough, there is more to do. We are longing for the day when we can marry same-sex couples. I am inspired by those fighting huge battles – prejudice, poverty and xenophobia – and are able to stay positive. I am blessed and lucky to be surrounded by these people.”