Tag Archives: Bishop of Truro

An Island Parish – Broadening the Focus?

One of the big downsides as a parish priest of appearing on a programme like Island Parish is the attention and extra pressure it brings – Rev Jamie Allen resigned following his appearance in A Country Parish (although he didn’t leave the priesthood and is now at another parish) and Seaside Parish noticeably shifted focus onto the Bishop of Truro later on, after Rev Christine Musser started getting hate mail.

Watching the final part of this series of Island Parish I started to wonder whether Rev Guy was experiencing the same level of pressure.

The series was filmed over the whole of 2007, and Rev Guy featured quite heavily in the early episodes, but as the series wore on, and in particular he started to run into pastoral problems with some of his parishioners he noticeably featured less. My thought is that if, alongside the pastoral problems he was also dealing with a large volume of mail from viewers it may be making a difficult situation worse, so maybe the decision has been taken to try to lessen his involvement and allow him to actually do his job.

Then last week, Rev David Easton, the Methodist Minister suddenly featured after being pretty well ignored up to then. I thought that might have been just for the baptism story, but this week there was a lot more of him, including pointing towards a storyline for next year as his posting to the islands comes up for renewal during 2008. Interestingly although Rev Guy briefly appeared, and turned up in the final group shot, it was Rev David who did the summing up voice-over. Certainly after that I’m expecting to see a lot more of the Methodists come next year, and hopefully showing more than one priest will help lessen the inevitable pressure the priests shown will receive.

An Island Parish Draws to a Close

imagephp.jpeg

Tonight we had the last part of An Island Parish which finished with Rev Guy Scott being licensed as Rector of the Isles of Scilly by the Bishop of St Germans – a service that in fact only took place a month or so ago, in fact after the series had started.

It’s certainly been an interesting series, and perhaps as I alluded to in my previous posting on the series a bit of an eye opener as to the workings of Church politics, and also the heart searching that both clergy and their families go through over where they are called to go. I have to say that I don’t think my question over quite at what point the film crew, as opposed to his parish in Mullion knew about the move has particularly been answered, although I’m well aware that I probably have more of an interest than the casual viewer. Having said that, after the obviously difficult times for Guy and his family shown in the earlier part of the series, his the people of Mullion were shown giving him a sterling send off in the programme last week, and a goodly number of them made the trip to Scilly for his licensing.

In terms of things that weren’t said on the programme, tonight’s episode produced another – the totally unacknowledged Bishop! Thanks to the relevant Diocesan Newsletter and the wonders of Google I was able to look up that the unidentified Bishop was the Rt Rev Roy Screech, who is the Suffragan Bishop of St Germans – although it looks like since there is only one Suffragan (as compared to the three we have in the Oxford Diocese) he is referred to much of the time as Bishop Bill’s deputy. I suspect the reason for it not being mentioned is that Bishop Bill has been the only Bishop mentioned in the series so far, so it was probably regarded as being confusing – but anyway, it would have been nice to know who the person taking the service actually was!

The programme showed a number of the traditional parts of the licensing service, including the ceremonial getting of the key, followed by the point where the new Rector really gets the keys, and also when the new Rector goes and rings the Church bell. They also showed some of the various welcomes from the various visiting dignitaries. It also finished with some reflections on the new rector from Bishop Bill as a nice epilogue for the programme.

Looking around the internet, there is a lot more about the programme now. When it started, the BBC and Tiger Aspect still had Seaside Parish pages, and there wasn’t much on any of the Scilly sites, and just a small item on the Diocesan site. Somewhat embarrassingly for someone who lives near Reading and has never been to Scilly, my previous posting has been coming out pretty high up, if not top in most of the relevant Google searches, and picking up quite a few hits. The majority of the time it has coming above some of the more official pages about the programme and the relevant parishes!

There is a nice posting reporting on the licensing service with a couple of pictures over at the Isles of Scilly Photos site, there is also a nice introduction from Bishop Bill on the Diocesan site.

There has also been a bit of controversy about the programme on the ScillyNews site with the local Methodist church. Although Rev David Easton, the Methodist Minister appears briefly a couple of times, a number of the island Methodists – a larger Church in terms of membership – haven’t been happy that the support that their Church offered during the vacancy hasn’t really been acknowledged. Although Rev Donald and Rev Margaret Marr, the couple appointed as house for duty priests during the vacancy featured quite prominently, the contribution of Rev David in taking services wasn’t mentioned (although I seem to recall that you do see him taking a funeral earlier in the series). Again I suspect this is down to the same reasons as the Bishop of St Germans doesn’t get a mention – trying to keep it simple, and only have a limited number of characters being covered. It is worth highlighting though that the introduction from Bishop Bill makes the Methodist contribution clear, even if it is not clear in the programme.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the programme, and it has certainly been an entertaining introduction to life on Scilly – and has produced some interesting comments from people outside the Church such as this reviewer who described the programme as a cross between Castaway and Pop Idol… I’m certainly looking forward to finding out how Rev Guy settles in to his new role when the series returns next year. Hopefully a month in things are going well for him and his family, and they are all getting used to their new life on the islands.

An Island Parish – A Window on Church Politics in Cornwall

anislandparish.jpg

I’ve just finished watching the second part of An Island Parish, the latest incarnation of A Seaside Parish and A Country Parish, again produced by Nigel Farrell and Tiger Aspect.

As shown by the change of title, this is another reboot for the documentary series – a somewhat necessary change since, not only is the programme refreshed by new characters, but it moves the focus onto a new member of the clergy. As Rev Jamie Allen, the priest at the centre of the first series of A Country Parish discovered, the priest in the programme ends up as an almost de-facto vicar for large numbers of viewers in need of spiritual support, but feeling unable to turn to their local church. The pressure resulted in Rev Allen resigning his post as Rector of Seend, Bulkington and Poulshot. Following that, the series moved to focus on Rev Christine Musser, the new vicar of Boscastle in Cornwall, although she too became a star in the same way as Rev Allen, and even received hate mail since she was a divorcee, I think the programme makers learnt somewhat, and broadened the range of characters, and especially in the most recent seasons, focused as much on the Bishop of Truro, and the wider diocese. To be honest, had it not been for the Boscastle Flood in 2004, I suspect this years reboot may have occurred sooner. Certainly last year Boscastle had a much reduced role, as the programme searched for a new focus, which they have found with the name change. Thankfully, also it seems that Rev Musser has survived being the primary focus of the programme, and is now returning to her ‘real’ job looking after her six churches and their communities.

So this time around, the programme is focusing on one of the most remote parishes in the Diocese of Truro, on the Isles of Scilly. Once again we have Bishop Bill playing a prominent role, and a broad selection of characters on the islands, including the local vet, and a new police woman. The islands featured occasionally in the last series of A Seaside Parish, and I assume proved popular then, hence the decision to change focus.

What is most interesting though is that there isn’t initially a main priest – instead we get to see a fairly unique bit of Church politics in action, and some of the fallout.

At the beginning of the programme, the post of chaplain to the islands (the local title of the incumbent of the parish) is vacant, with the work being carried out by two retired clergy. However curiously, the programme also features Rev Guy Scott, Priest in Charge of Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe, who we quickly find out is feeling called to apply for the post on Scilly, but importantly hasn’t put in an application. At the end of the first episode we are told that he has decided to apply, and then in the second episode we get told that he has got the job, and get a flavour of the fallout in Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe.

Now quite what was filmed when I don’t know, and certainly the sequence with Bishop Bill talking about the appointment seems to imply that the the Bishop assumes Farrell, who is behind the camera won’t know Rev Scott – and yet in terms of the programme, Rev Scott been on screen since part way through episode one struggling with his calling. I can’t think that they just happened to pick on Rev Scott by chance. My suspicion is actually that they’ve gone back and filmed some phoney pre-application scenes to try and build the story, although this isn’t explained. Given the reaction from the parishioners in Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe it is something I hope gets clarified at least to them, or even better that they were forewarned about it.

The key thing to bear in mind is that at the point he resigned, Rev Scott was only just over two years into a contract as Priest-in-Charge. In general in the Church of England unless something happens such as the priest being offered a new role such as being a Bishop, you’d expect your priest to stay a reasonable length of time, generally about ten years. In terms of the Priest-in-Charge appointments, in Oxford at least priests are appointed on a five year fixed term. Certainly if your priest moves parishes after two years, it will certainly provoke discussion about why the priest is moving so soon. Given the large amount of stress and uncertainty that a vacancy causes, it is also a source of much discussion within the parish.

So this was what we saw happening in Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe tonight. From what we had seen in the previous episode, Rev Scott and his family were happily settled in the parish, and he was involved in many community activities, and popular among his congregation. To be frank he struck me as incredibly naïve in not expecting the reaction he got – apparently some parishioners refused even to speak to him after the announcement, and there was what was described as ‘a lot of anger’ – enough to, according to the commentary, cause Rev Scott to consider whether he had made the right decision at all. They interviewed two Churchwardens, one of whom said how hurt many people in the parish had felt, and the other who said that there was an audible ‘Oh no.’ when the announcement was made.

Sadly, from a number of the comments made, the Isles of Scilly role seems much the harder role to fill, particularly due to the isolation from the rest of the wider diocese, so I suspect Church politics played a large part in the appointment, and whereas Rev Scott might well have been told to stay put for a while longer. It does strike me that a strategic decision may well have been made at diocesan level that having someone keen to take the post on Scilly, and dealing with the obvious pastoral fallout of an early departure from Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe was the best course of action. For obvious reasons you don’t see anything of the other candidates for the post, if indeed there were any at all – the destabilising effects of seeing your parish priest on TV going for a different job are easy to envision – partly why I think that it is important that the people of Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe are told if last weeks scenes are phoney, as it may well reopen the feelings of hurt and betrayal if they believe that a BBC film crew knew their priest was leaving before they did. Either way, it’s hard to see the whole picture of what happened. However from my point of view, how Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe cope with what has occurred does strike me as at least as interesting as how Rev Scott copes with the move to Scilly – especially considering that having taken a look at the Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe parish diary, his last service in the parish was as recently as Christmas Day, meaning that I suspect his first service on Scilly may end up being the finale of the series.

Hopefully the move will prove to be good both for Rev Scott, and the community in Scilly, who it is explained in the programme have been without a priest for a while. Also it is my sincere hope that the interregnum in Mullion, Cury and Gunwalloe goes well. For any parish such a period is a stressful and difficult time, but in these circumstances I’m sure it will be a lot harder, and I don’t envy the Churchwardens and PCC there the task of trying to keep things on an even keel during the vacancy.