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Rev. Martin Preston | Profile

Biography

Martin Preston was one of the founding members of the Gay Christian Movement (now Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement) in the U.K. He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and Regent's Park College, Oxford, followed by a year at the Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) through a scholarship from the World Council of Churches. He was ordained as a Baptist clergyman in 1959. He worked briefly for the Education Commission of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Martin spent most of his career working in churches as the head of Religious Studies at St. Dunstan's College, Catford, London.

At the time of his initial involvement with the Gay Christian Movement, Martin was working as Assistant Minister to Brighton (Sussex) Central Free Church. Martin served on GCM's leadership committee as the person responsible for arranging central meetings. He notes that he was responsible for getting Harry Williams to deliver his (innocently) controversial  address one year for the Michael Harding Lecture.

Martin continued in this leadership position until Private Eye chose to 'out' him and name the school where he was chaplain. He had already come out at school and so the impact of the article was considerably blunted. The headmaster (who somehow was unaware of what all the rest of the school and common room knew) forbade Preston to have any further dealing with gay organisations on pain of dismissal. Consequently, Martin had to withdraw from active participation in GCM.    

During these years, Preston worked with the counselling service of the Campaign for Homosexuality Equality (CHE) in Brighton. He also helped organise the first Metropolitan Community Church in the town and served as its pastor until he moved to London in 1982. Furthermore, he was able to get Brighton Central Free Church to recognise the presence of the annual gay conference in town and to invite them to join it officially for the Sunday morning service.

Preston became an Anglican priest in 1988. After his retirement, he worked as Joint Director of the Lovemore Trust, a project to provide education for AIDS' orphans and destitute children in Zimbabwe. This project, along with all other non-governmental organisations, was closed down by President Mugabe in 2004. Preston is currently assistant priest at St. Nicholas Old Parish Church in Brighton, Sussex.

(This biographical statement provided by Martin Preston.)

Biography Date: June, 2005

Tags

Baptist | Church of England | Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (London, United Kingdom) | Clergy Activist

Remembrances

“Martin took me for Divinity and Russian at St. Dunstan's. He never knew I was gender dysphoric and I never knew he was gay, although it would never have bothered me even as a teenager. St. Dunstan's went through some very dark times in the late 1960s and early 1970's. From 1969 to 1971 there was a communist cell in the school whose actions finally  destroyed the reputation of the then particularly vile headmaster. Martin knew of our left-wing sympathies but nobody knew how extensive, devious (and sometimes downright illegal) the clandestine operation was. I think it put him in a difficult position as he found it difficult to sympathise with communists, however much he might have shared our views of the head. My most abiding memory is of Martin asking me to lay off the head as he was under a lot of pressure after a spectacular demonstration staged in the Great Hall during the 1970 Speech Day ceremonies. On reflection it was quite extraordinary for a school chaplain to ask (not "tell" - he knew that wouldn't work) a pupil to lay off the headmaster. It was typical of him that he counselled moderation but I think that subsequent events proved that the communist cell understood the head rather better than he did. That was not surprising given the then unknown effectiveness of our espionage. He probably thought we were young and hot-headed, having no idea of how coldly ruthless a campaign we had undertaken. Dark days but I always remember Martin as one of the good guys.”
 – as remembered by Olwen Morgan (formerly David Blyth) on March 23, 2012

“I remember Martin, and this is 46 years ago, as a lovely, kind, intelligent man, one who brought tears to my eyes as a young man by playing the piano.  I remember Martin so well because he was an oasis of calm, reason, good humour and intelligence. This was at a time before OFSTED and schools like St. Dunstans thought they could do what they liked, as did many of the teaching staff who were not particularly suited to their vocation. As far as the piano playing is concerned, I was sitting quietly in the Great Hall at St D´s one day in the mid-1960´s when Martin came in to play the piano. He did not know I was there and I don´t remember what he played but it was pure magic. I remember the disappointment when he broke off half way through a bar and hurried off.”
 – as remembered by Nicholas Murphy on July 1, 2014

“I had Martin for Divinity at St Dunstans. I didn't know he was gay, and at that time I wasn't dysphoric, but can't imagine it would have made much difference. He taught a few of us o-level so I knew him reasonably as a tutor, a kind, caring man, christian in the best sense, if that isn't too patronising.

He may not have spoken out loudly on a variety of matters, mainly I'd say out of a feeling of responsibility for us rather than self protection, but he always put himself forward as a classic social liberal and encouraged the same in us, something in short supply at the time and much needed by many pupils. When in '69 a few of us passed out leaflets at the school open day about its admissions policy - essentially a colour bar - part of the strength to do that lay in the knowledge of a basic sympathy from a few of the teachers like Martin.

My most vivid memory, though,is of something less serious, though I suppose it says something about the time. He always had a little habit of stopping and seeming surprised, slightly out of proportion to what might have been said, when he needed a moment's time to think. But there was this one time when something really stopped him in a classroom, when he really couldn't respond to someone apart from furiously blushing and desperately looking for words to pass over the moment,and perhaps it was a measure of the sympathy between him and us that we were tactful enough - at 16 ! - not to explode into laughter about it until after we'd left the classroom. At this time he was halfway bald and cultivated a small moustache and beard, and the particular class happened in a divinity room full of posters of religious and cultural figures and general information. He'd had a typical US right wing southern baptist type wished on him, that he'd warned us of, who sat in on a reasonably anodyne class. At the end the evangelist got up and said that it was quite a different way of teaching christianity than he was used to but that what he was taking away was that their was obviously a great relationship between us and Martin and that he was very impressed that we thought so much of him to have made the fine portrait that was pinned to the wall. It was a picture of Lenin....”
 – as remembered by Sophia (previously Alan) Raphaeline on February 2, 2016

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(All entries are reviewed by the LGBT-RAN office before posting.)