Clergy and laity at loggerheads

30 May 2007

by Pat Ashworth

THE PCC of St Mary and St Michael, Trumpington, Cambridge, is taking its Vicar, the Revd Dr Tom Ambrose, to a provincial tribunal under a Measure not used since 1993. The PCC alleges pastoral breakdown, after a series of disputes which has culminated in a row over the installation of new lavatories in the 14th-century church building.

Dr Ambrose, who has been at the church for eight years, complains that he has encountered opposition from “the old guard” to a number of innovations he sought to make in the interest of inclusivity.

Dr Ambrose commented: “In general, we pursue things without involving the PCC and live a normal parish life. People who have come to the parish recently have no inkling of what’s going on because it doesn’t affect the parish.

“We operate just like a normal church, except that if I want to do something, I tell people what we’re about, we have a general meeting of ourselves, and then tell the PCC we’ve done it. Since they’ve chosen not to be involved, they get bypassed. It’s just so sad.”

The PCC, which has not commented publicly, has brought the case under the Vacation of Benefices Measure 1977, as amended in 1993.

The diocese of Ely also takes the view that the matter is a legal process and therefore sub judice, but has issued a statement of clarification: “The dispute is a matter between the parish and the incumbent, the Revd Tom Ambrose, and does not involve the bishop and the wider diocese.

“A tribunal scheduled to sit later this year will consider an alleged breakdown in the working relationship between the incumbent and some of his parishioners. The tribunal will make its recommendations to the bishop, who will consider these and act upon them.”

The tribunal could cost the diocese of Ely a sum in the region of £150,000. It will consist of a diocesan registrar and four members of the General Synod. Dr Ambrose, whose wife, Gill, is a Synod member, has protested at the delay in setting it up.

“Anything that is supposed to deal with employment stuff should not just go into abeyance for 12 months and leave people hanging out on a limb,” Dr Ambrose said. “I can’t find a case where this legislation has gone through its course and I can’t see it achieving anything. This kind of technique has no place at all in 2007.”

At St Gregory the Great in Dawlish, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, has sought to calm a situation where the PCC has brought a formal complaint against its Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Jerry Bird. Disagreements reportedly centre on styles and times of worship, and ministry style. Conflict culminated in a walkout of the choir and organist before the sung eucharist two weeks ago.

Bishop Langrish said in a statement: “I am fully aware of the differences of opinion which exist within the congregation at St Gregory’s, Dawlish, and I have discussed them both with the incumbent of the parish and with many of the congregation. The hurt and division which is present within the parish

at the present time concern me deeply. I and my colleagues have been working with the parish for a considerable period of time to find a way forward.

“The Church Council is currently considering a proposal for a constructive way forwards from the present situation and I believe they will be sharing their thoughts with the parish in the bear future.

“I and my colleagues are committed to working with the parish for healing and we continue to pray for and seek a resolution of the present difficulties. In spite of the current difficulties, there is also a great deal of growth occurring at St Gregory’s, and this should be celebrated.”

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