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Dispute arises over future use of Welsh church

20 October 2023

A community charity, The Parish Trust, wishes to buy the building for its sole use

Jaggery/Creative Commons

St Thomas Church Centre, Trethomas

St Thomas Church Centre, Trethomas

THE Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Cherry Vann, is committed to finding a way forward in a dispute over the future use of the St Thomas Church Centre, Trethomas, in Bedwas, near Caerphilly, a spokesperson for the Church in Wales has said.

The church, one of two in the parish, has an established worshipping community, but is also the home of a charity, the Parish Trust, which now wishes to buy the building for its sole use.

The Trust was founded in St Thomas’s in 2019 by the Rector of Bedwas, the Revd Dean Roberts. Earlier this year, he resigned as Team Rector of the Mountain and Marsh Ministry Area to become the Trust’s first chief executive.

Its charitable work and community services have been widely commended, including a foodbank, a weekly youth club, a toddlers’ group, and activities to counter loneliness and isolation. The First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, made a personal visit in 2020. The Trust employs 11 staff, and has received an Investing in Volunteers award for its apprenticeship and volunteer programmes.

The Parish Trust has no formal tenancy agreement with the Church in Wales, but has been paying the ongoing maintenance costs of St Thomas’s and has invested £50,000 in improvements, a press release issued by the church’s PR consultant, the Revd Paul Eddy, said. This had been done in a climate of “struggling parish finances”, Mr Eddy said.

The release was headed “The Parish Trust Could be Evicted by the Church in Wales”, and described the Church in Wales as “demonstrating a difficult attitude towards us, and even hostility”.

The PCC of St Thomas’s had petitioned Bishop Vann to make the church redundant, it said, and a Bishop’s notice was issued to that effect in August 2022, before being rescinded a month later. The Trust said that it had subsequently had to instruct a solicitor “to defend the charity against increasingly aggressive solicitors’ letters”, and had demanded face-to-face dialogue with the Bishop.

The press release was picked up by a local journalist, Martin Shipton, previously editor-at-large for the Western Mail.

A Church in Wales spokesperson told the Church Times that Bishop Vann had written to the trustees on 14 September, proposing further meetings and offering specific dates, in the hope of finalising an agreement.

“The Parish Trust does tremendous work to support people in need in the area it serves and we hope this continues for many years,” the spokesperson said. “Until recently, it operated in close partnership with the Church in Wales, with the local Ministry Area Leader, Revd Dean Roberts, as its Chair.”

Emphasising that Mr Roberts had been the direct connection between the Parish Trust and the Church in Wales, the spokesperson continued: “Ever since that formal relationship was changed by Mr Roberts’s resignation, the Church in Wales has sought to come to a new arrangement with the Parish Trust for continued use of St Thomas’s Church while they look for new premises.

“Three offers have been made to the Parish Trust by the Church in Wales but it has not yet been possible to find agreement.

“The Church in Wales congregations in the Mountain and Marsh Ministry Area have expressed a clear wish to resume Christian worship at St Thomas’s Church. We look forward to finding an agreement which suits all parties.

“Regrettably, the redundancy notice on St Thomas’ Church was issued in error last year before all procedures had been completed and therefore had to be rescinded in order for any lease to proceed.”

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