Two thousand people had converged on Southwark cathedral in South London for a day denounced by evangelicals as "a celebration of gay sex". But their mood seemed more studious than festive, although quietly confident that the tide of public opinion is moving in their favour towards acceptance of gay priests.
The fiercest opposition to the gay movement's celebration came from the evangelical wing of the Church of England whose members say the cathedral should not have been be used to celebrate homosexual acts which are officially deemed sinful by the Anglican church.
They organised prayer and fasting in several churches including St Mary Magdalene Church, Bermondsey, close to Southwark Cathedral.
The Rev Francis Gardom, one of the organisers of the protest, said it was nonsense to think that they were hostile to homosexual people, as opposed to homosexual acts.
"Very often God was the driving force behind celibate homosexuals being such excellent scoutmasters, schoolmasters, vicars, and whatever is the great love they have for boys and young men, they are capable of by God's grace putting this to a good purpose, and gaining by it a good deal of satisfaction," he said.
Anne Atkins, the outspoken vicar's wife who caused a furore by attacking homosexuals on BBC Radio Four's Thought for The Day, was yesterday attending a similar day of prayer at the church of her vicar husband, the Rev Shaun Atkins.
She renewed her criticism condemning the sinfulness of all sex outside marriage on the Today programme.
"There is nothing wrong with homosexual orientation, but sex outside marriage is wrong," Mrs Atkins said. "Homosexual orientation is a fact. God's word is clear that there should be no sex except within marriage. Homosexuality is not sinful, but sexual acts outside marriage are."
Yesterday's events in the cathedral culminated with a service attended by four bishops - of Southwark, Croydon, Kingston and Guildford, and the Cathedral Provost, the Very Rev Colin Slee, who has defended his decision to allow the service to take place, by implying that sex outside marriage could be acceptable to the Church.
Although the claim that all sexual activity outside marriage is sinful remains the official teaching of almost all churches, many Christians probably accept Mr Slee's view. But yesterday other leading commentators agreed that Mrs Atkins' uncompromising stand had highlighted the tough choices which Christians have to face about morals in a secular society which embraces liberal values.
Dr William Oddie, the Roman Catholic journalist and former Anglican vicar, said: "The real distinction isn't between sex outside marriage and homosexuality it's between heterosexual acts and homosexual ones. That's what she's really saying but she doesn't want to be nasty."
Piers Paul Read, the Catholic author, endorsed the view of Pope Pius XII: "The worst sin of the 20th century is the loss of the sense of sin."
Evangelicals, however, have never lost their sense of sin. They derive their creed from the New Testament. The Old Testament has many examples of concubinage, sexual abuse of servants, and so forth. In the New Testament, things are tightened up. Jesus praised complete celibacy, and was stricter on the question to divorce and remarriage than most of the rabbis of his time.
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner and leader of Outrage! said it was insulting for evangelical Christians like Anne Atkins to devalue the loyalty and care that existed in many non-marital relationships.
He fetched his Bible for reference to criticise the logic of relying on biblical teaching. "If every single word of the Bible must be obeyed then they must presumably believe that homosexuals should be put to death as it states in Leviticus 20:13."Reuse content