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Priest returns to Wymondham Abbey to heal wounds in troubled Norfolk parish

19 August 2022

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Wymondham Abbey

Wymondham Abbey

A FORMER Vicar of Wymondham, in Norwich diocese, has been re-appointed as an interim priest, after his successor stepped down last month after a long row over bullying allegations.

Canon Christopher Davies was the Vicar of Wymondham for ten years until he moved away in 2016. The Revd Catherine Relf-Pennington was appointed in his place the next year.

Several complaints were made against her under the Clergy Discipline Measure during 2019. In 2020, the Eastern Daily Press reported on a leaked Clergy Discipline Commission report, in which Sir Mark Hedley, a former High Court judge, brought in to investigate 19 complaints against Ms Relf-Pennington, described the situation as a “disgrace to the Christian community” (News, 24 January 2020).

Wymondham AbbeyCanon Christopher Davies

Last year, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, ordered Ms Relf-Pennington to apologise to the people who had brought the complaints, after he received a visitation report that highlighted problems in the benefice (News, 19 November 2021). This included her “authoritarian style”, the termination of a longstanding choral tradition, and non-payment of parish share.

Ms Relf-Pennington denied the accusations, and she and the churchwardens later complained of “unrelenting” pressure exerted by the diocese, and accused the Bishop of “unethical, immoral and self-serving” behaviour” (News, 28 January). Her resignation, none the less, was announced at the start of last month.

Canon Davies was appointed interim Priest-in-Charge of Wymondham by Bishop Usher for a period of up to three years, the diocese confirmed on Tuesday. He is currently Team Vicar in the Heart of Norfolk Benefice, and was made Acting Archdeacon of Lynn earlier this year. He will relinquish these duties when he returns to Wymondham next month.

A diocesan statement said: “The Bishop of Norwich has invited him to return to support the Abbey community and the wider town during this next season.”

Bishop Usher said in an accompanying statement that Canon Davies “had a fruitful and much respected ministry at Wymondham and will bring wisdom, as well as gentle pastoral care, to support the Abbey’s congregation and the wider needs of the town at this time. There is a long process ahead of healing and reconciliation, as well as rebuilding governance and oversight of the parish, and building on its valued ministry with children and young people.”

Interim ministry, he added, was sometimes used in the Church of England “after a time of challenge so that bridges can be built, and time given to reflection, in advance of discerning the appointment of a permanent vicar” (News, 9 April 2021).

“Following Canon Davies’ offer of help, a number of people have been involved with me in discerning that we believe this to be the will of the Holy Spirit. Canon Davies and the congregation will remain much in my prayers over the coming years.”

Canon Davies said: “The Abbey and the town of Wymondham has always had a special place in my heart. During my ten years as Vicar, I developed a deep love for the congregations and the wider community. I much look forward to us all working together in the time ahead.”

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