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Parish fails 'OFSTED' visitation

24 January 2014


A PARISH in Liverpool has been put into "special measures" by its diocese after an episcopal visitation found that "a small number of powerful individuals" had led a campaign to oust its priest (News, 4 October 2013).

A report by the former Bishop of Hulme, the Rt Revd Stephen Lowe (above), was presented to the congregation of St Faith's, Great Crosby, on Monday. It said that there were serious problems with governance at the church, including a dysfunctional PCC, a treasurer who led opposition to the Priest-in Charge, the Revd Dr Simon Tibbs, and churchwardens who "interpreted their role as shop stewards of the laity rather than officers of the Bishop".

It said that the wardens had "colluded and, indeed, participated in" a process designed to undermine Dr Tibbs, who was subjected to "a culture of bullying".

The report said that the church had "a theology . . . that sees St Faith's as a social club for its members, who enjoy Anglo-Catholic worship of a traditional kind but have little interest in either church growth or mission to the community in which they are set".

Bishop Lowe said that one of the changes, "the reduction of the number of occasions where alcohol was served after church", had "produced a reaction that has been totally disproportionate".

Dr Tibbs has now stood down from St Faith's, but he will continue to minister at the neighbouring St Mary the Virgin, Waterloo Park.

The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn, described Dr Tibbs as "an extremely able priest", and said that "while his confidence has been affected by this unhappy experience, I have every belief that he will have a successful, fulfilling ministry".

Bishop Lowe said that the small group of people at St Faith's had "in practice . . . driven him out. For the good of the Church in Crosby and the diocese of Liverpool, they must not be allowed to believe or be seen to have been successful."

In a statement, Dr Tibbs thanked his supporters. He said: "This has been a very difficult period for me."

The diocese has appointed the Revd Susan Lucas as acting Priest-in-Charge as a temporary measure, and extended the visitation period for another 18 months.

No parish representative would comment on the report. A churchwarden, Maureen Madden, referred enquiries to the diocesan office.

Breakdowns such as this are usually dealt with through the Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) Measure 1977, regarded by many as cumbersome and expensive. "The use of an episcopal visitation in this way to do an 'OFSTED' on a parish is unusual," Bishop Lowe said this week. "I think it is probably a very good tool to do an evaluation of the dynamics that is happening in a parish . . . and I think it could be very important for the Church of England.

"An episcopal visitation allows you to bring in an outside inspector to evaluate, to listen, and to discover what is really going on in the situation and then produce a report back to the bishop."

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