Priest called ‘bully and liar’ in parish-breakdown case

by
05 September 2007

by Pat Ashworth

Smiling through: Dr Tom Ambrose leaves the tribunal at St Mary-le-Bow in London, on Wednesday PA PICTURE

Smiling through: Dr Tom Ambrose leaves the tribunal at St Mary-le-Bow in London, on Wednesday PA PICTURE

A THRIVING parish had been brought to its knees by its Vicar, a provincial tribunal was told this week. The tribunal, chaired by a circuit judge, has been hearing the case of alleged pastoral breakdown in the Cambridge parish of Trumpington, between the Vicar of St Mary and St Michael, the Revd Dr Tom Ambrose, and his PCC.

The PCC brought the case under the Vacation of Benefices Measure 1977, as amended in 1993, after the failure of a long process of mediation and reconciliation. Dr Ambrose has been at Trumpington since 1999, and has the freehold. On 25 April 2003, the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) voted by 58 to seven that he had “lost their trust and respect, and they do not believe he can heal the pastoral breakdown that he has created”.

A series of conflicts over an eight-year period culminated in a large row over the installation of lavatories in the 14th-century church building. Dr Ambrose said that, throughout that time, he had encountered opposition from what he described as “the old guard” to a number of innovations he sought to make in the interests of inclusivity. Relations had deteriorated to such a point that there had been “a blanket objection to absolutely anything. . . In general, we pursue things without involving the PCC, and live a normal parish life,” he said.

“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 steadfastly declined to comment, wrote to the Bishop of Ely, Dr Anthony Russell, in February 2004, announcing its intention to seek a tribunal, after a motion passed by two-thirds of its lay members.

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Justin Gau, counsel for the PCC, criticised Dr Ambrose in strong terms on Monday, the opening day of a five-day hearing at St Mary-le-Bow in London.

“It is a tragedy that we are here,” he said. “Dr Ambrose is a square peg in a round hole. He has talent, he is intelligent and learned, but he is also a bully and a liar. He would lose his temper if he did not get his own way, and he was incapable of believing the beliefs of others if they did not fit his own. This was not a parish that would be browbeaten, but he brought a thriving parish to its knees.”

There are reported to be 97 allegations against Dr Ambrose, whom Mr Gau accused of intimidating members of the congregation who opposed him.

Dr Ambrose studied arts, then geology, at Sheffield University, before training for ordination at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and Westcott House. He spent six years in parishes in Newcastle, before returning to Cambridgeshire, where he was Director of Communications for the diocese of Ely. His wife, Gill, is the diocesan Children’s Adviser, and a member of General Synod.

Thirteen people wish to make representations against Dr Ambrose; 35 people will make witness statements in his support. The tribunal, comprises a diocesan registrar and four General Synod members, and will make its recommendations to the Bishop of Ely. Reported estimates of the costs vary from £150,000 to £500,000. The tribunal continues.

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