St John the Baptist church, Devizes (Pic: Kevin Farmer)

A Church of England priest has refused to confirm if he will remain celibate after marrying a Nigerian man 40 years his junior.

The Rev Colin Coward (64) from St John the Baptist church in the town of Devizes is planning to enter into a civil partnership with boyfriend Bobby Egbele (25) in October.

Their planned nuptials have raised eyebrows among Christians because they plan to hold a “blessing” ceremony in the church after getting hitched.

Coward – who met Egbele in 2007 at a Christian conference in West Africa – has also refused to promise to remain celibate, which is required by the church of its gay clergy. Egbele is a fashion designer who runs an online clothing store and is in the UK on a two year visitor visa.

“…we are both deeply committed Christians so it would be unthinkable for me not to do it in church and not to do it with the congregation and with all of our friends,” Coward told the Telegraph.

“I hope my wedding will inspire others and set a visible example to the church that we are not afraid,” he said.

Coward is the director of Changing Attitudes, an organisation that lobbies for the Anglican Church “to fully accept, welcome and offer equality of opportunity to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Salisbury said that it had had given permission for a ceremony to be held in church but insisted that it would be a “a Eucharistic service celebrating friendship” and was “entirely separate from any civil partnership ceremony”.

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