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Out of the Question

23 August 2013



When visiting my brother in Suffolk, we discovered an unusual situation at the village church, where the new vicar had removed the eucharist every first Sunday in the month, and replaced it with an informal "Family/Children's Service". Among those who were distressed about this move was a retired priest with permission to officiate, who normally sat in the congregation. He "let it be known" that on those first Sundays he would celebrate the eucharist at the same time in his lounge, and invited others to join him. As the Sunday eucharist is central to our lives, we went along, and discovered 15 people there - most refugees from the parish church, but three new Christians, including a teenage lad. . . In some ways it was all very wonderful, but is this not an illegal "church-plant"?

This lamentable and serious state of affairs is, I hope, unusual. It is a conspicuous example of the disorder that arises when normally accepted protocols in ministry are ignored. A "rival service" may seem wonderful, but it is highly irregular.

Two fundamental principles are at stake. First, while many may sympathise with the distress of the "refugees" from the parish church, and even admire the willingness of a retired priest to minister to them, it must, nevertheless, be strongly emphasised that a new incumbent is given the cure of souls. That in­­cludes the inalienable right, in con­sultation with the PCC, to organise and con­trol Sunday worship in ac­­cor­­dance with the requirements of canon law.

No one, therefore, can lawfully challenge that authority in the parish, even when a new arrange­ment of services doesn't win every­one's approval.

Second, a retired priest's permission to officiate from the Bishop will be on condition that his ministry shall be at the invitation of an incumbent - in this instance, his own: under no circumstances is such permission carte blanche to of­­­­ficiate as, when, and where he chooses, however well-meaning he is.
(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire


I find it shocking that an incumbent fail to provide a eucharist for his parish and people on a Sunday when he is officiating at a non-eucharistic service in the same church, and when there is also another priest available.

Nevertheless, for the retired priest to try to resolve the matter by celebrating the eucharist in his home and inviting members of the congregation to join him is quite improper; for, in reality, it is a church-plant in another priest's parish, even though it could be argued that, if the eucharist is not there, the church is not there on that Sunday, as the eucharistic community is the local church.

If, as it appears, the incumbent disregarded canon law and refused to celebrate or permit another priest to do so on those Sundays, those who were distressed should have taken the matter to the Bishop.
(The Revd) Geoffrey Squire SSC Barnstaple, Devon



About 40 years ago, I read a novel telling the story of Jesus's life, which gave some plausible explanations of some of his healings and miracles. His walking on water was possible because he was "surfing" on a wooden door floating on the lake. The author was well-known. Can anyone remember who it was, and the title of the book?

T. A.

Address for answers and more questions: Out of the Question,Church Times, 3rd floor, Invicta House, 108-114 Golden Lane, London EC1Y 0TG.

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