A GAY church has been set up in Worcester - the first in the city's history.

The church, based at the Friends Meeting House in Sansome Place, Worcester, is for gay people to celebrate both their faith and sexuality, says the minister who will lead the services.

The church has been set up by the Birmingham-based Journey Metropolitan Community Church to serve the "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered" Christians of the two counties.

Rev Chris Dowd, an Australian who came to the UK 12 years ago and who is leading the services, said: "It's appalling that there simply isn't a place where openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people can come to church and be accepted for who they are. For a substantial number of gay and lesbian people spirituality is very important.

"There is a difference between being tolerant of sexuality and celebrating it."

Mr Dowd, aged 42, is also a writer and organiser of Queer Carols, a carol service for gay people in Nightingales nightclub in Birmingham which features songs, poems and even an Elvis impersonator.

He said: "The church is on the liberal side but people don't have to be gay to come to it. Some gay people feel that they are expected to sit at the back of the church and say nothing.

"The fact that people don't see a need for a gay church is the problem. A lot of people who attend the church have been on the receiving end of bigotry from people. Most people in my church - particularly the gays and lesbians - have suffered terrible stress from other denominations and feel they can't worship freely.

"The established church is getting itself tied in knots over the whole thing."

Rev Dowd said there could be gay weddings at the church, where he would give a blessing. He said the Worcester branch was the first of several such churches expected to be set up across the Midlands - there are already 14 in the UK.

Bishop of Worcester the Right Rev Dr Peter Selby said he was aware of the church. He said: "They are a very famous worldwide group. I don't have any problems with them and I don't want to discourage people because they think differently to me. I understand some people's experiences with established churches can be difficult and they feel that some churches can be homophobic."

The Metropolitan group meets at 7pm on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

Metropolitan Community Churches have aimed to help the gay community for the last 40 years and have 40,000 members worldwide. It was originally set up in the US in 1968 by a gay man called Troy Percy.