A VILLAGE rector at the centre of a row over his controversial opinions on homosexuality has resigned.
Alan Comfort, 44, cited "theological differences" with his congregation as the reason for leaving his post at St Mary's Church, Great Baddow.
The former professional footballer angered members of his congregation with comments on same-sex relationships in July.
Spokesman for the Diocese of Chelmsford, Ralph Meloy, said: "It was apparent from early on that there were unexpected theological differences between the congregation and Mr Comfort.
"So he is taking this action believing it to be to the mutual benefit of all concerned."
Rev Comfort, who also acts as team chaplain for Leyton Orient Football Club, announced his intention to step down on Sunday.
The message was passed onto his congregation by associate minister, the Rev Sandy Southee.
Rev Comfort was unavailable for comment, despite numerous attempts to contact him.
The comments which angered sections of the congregation and the wider community in Great Baddow were made during services at the church, and later in an interview with the Essex Chronicle.
He stated that while he believed people have the right to choose how to live their lives, he himself also had the right to express his own views on those people.
Church-goers claimed the rector was dividing the congregation with anti-gay preaching.
But Mr Comfort, who took over at St Mary's in Great Baddow in March, insisted he was simply preaching the views of the Bible, although he admitted the Church of England's official stance was not clear.
He said, earlier this year, that although modern-day culture had moved and become more open to same-sex relationships, it didn't mean 'the church has to move too'.
He added at the time: "If you are a committed follower of Jesus and want to continue doing what the Bible says, then I believe that means sexual relationships are only appropriate within a married situation between a man and a woman."
Following his outspoken remarks, 'God loves gays too' stickers were plastered on a fence at the church.
Readers flooded the Chronicle letters page and website with messages both supporting and condemning Rev Comfort's stance.
Steven Evans, of the Essex Protestant Council, wrote: "What a sad reflection that a Christian minister can provoke anger simply for telling his congregation what the Bible teaches."
John, from Chelmsford, wrote: "I am convenor of the Essex group of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and also of the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians.
"My experience is not only that God loves gay and lesbian people but that He uses them in His service equally as much as non-gay people."
Despite calling at his home in Church Road, Great Baddow, making telephone calls and sending emails, no response was received from Rev Comfort.
Mr Meloy said: "St Mary's Church remains committed to serving the people of Great Baddow and the clergy and ministry team there will continue to focus on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in Great Baddow as the process now begins to appoint his successor as team rector."