Tag Archives: Nigel Farrell

David Easton – Why Did He Have to Go?

One of the busiest postings on the blog of late has been this one which I wrote a while back about An Island Parish which after almost exclusively focusing on Rev Guy Scott, suddenly seemed to discover that there was another church at the bottom of the street – the local Methodist church led by Rev David Easton. The reason the post has been getting so much attention of late has not been particularly because of it’s content, but because of the most recent series of An Island Parish which has just finished a repeat showing on BBC2. This time around the Anglican church is almost absent, aside from a story about a new peal of bells, and instead the fourteen episodes heavily feature Rev David Easton as he moves away from the Isles of Scilly to his next posting.

I have to admit that I didn’t see the series when it first aired last year, having missed it’s return. However this time around I was able to catch up and see what the fuss is about.

The problem is that the commentary is very much framed that David Easton is being pushed out, against the wishes of his congregations, so if you browse through the comments made on my posting there are comments quoting employment law, and a lot of people speculating about a variety of reasons for David being asked to leave. However a large part of the problem is that the programme totally failed to explain the process that was going on.

Each church denomination has different ways of managing their clergy staffing. Historically in the Church of England clergy would be “given the living” of a parish, and were largely set up for life. I can think of several parishes in my part of Berkshire where this has happened, and one priest has remained in post for his entire working life, and in one case where the priest remained in post despite repeated legal attempts by the diocese to remove him. More recently clergy are often appointed as what is called a “Priest in Charge” at which point they are employed on a fixed term contract, and at the end of that period the priest, local bishop and parish consult about whether the contract is renewed – we have just been through this process at St James’.

The Methodist church does things differently. They operate a process called “stationing” – you can find a detailed explanation from a serving Methodist minister online with part one here, and part two here. The basic idea is that minsters are itinerant – i.e. they expect to move from appointment to appointment. The standard appointment is five years, after which a minister can apply for an extension of up to five years. From the commentary on the programme David Easton had been in post for seven years, so had already been granted one extension. Unlike the Church of England where a priest can remain for more than thirty years, the Methodist Church actively encourages circuits to move ministers on, much as their founder John Wesley would move from place to place preaching.

It is also important to highlight that the decision is not a purely local church level decision as it is in the Church of England. All Methodist churches are grouped together and to some extent managed in what are called circuits – for example my Mum, who preaches on her local Methodist circuit contacts a representative of the circuit to establish which of several local Methodist churches she will be taking services in over the next few months. In the case of the Isles of Scilly the circuit is based on the mainland in Cornwall, hence why on several occasions during the series Methodists came across on the ferry to show support. Whilst the location perhaps limits the ability of ministers and preachers to be mobile between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland a bit more than normal, it is still part of the same system that operates across the rest of the country. The decisions on extensions are made at a circuit level by a group of Methodists elected from across the circuit – so the group that ultimately made the decision was drawn from across the circuit in Cornwall, and the decision was based on what was best for the circuit as a whole, not one particular church.

The main point to bear in mind is that whilst obviously the average person in the pew often only views things from the point of view of their particular church, and will be sad to see a popular minister go, and equally the minister involved will be sad to leave, it is a normal and accepted part of the way the Methodist Church operates, much like the way a regular large company will move staff around between offices. Whilst this season of An Island Parish brought the process into sharp focus, every year, all across the country the process is taking place and ministers are moving on – it’s just a pity that An Island Parish didn’t take the time to explain this.

For further reading there is more debate on An Island Parish at this blog, which amongst other things includes an official statement from the Methodist Church on David Easton.

An Island Parish Finally Talks to the Methodists


If I were part of the Methodist Church on the Isles of Scilly, I’m sure I’d be decidedly annoyed with Nigel Farrell and the team behind An Island Parish. Up to now, the fact that there is a thriving Methodist Church on the islands, has been largely ignored by the programme. As I commented at the end of the first series Rev David Easton appeared in the background but isn’t acknowledged, and in the first episode of the second series appears only once making a joke in a Church service. After that, I nearly fell off my chair this week when he appeared in the programme more than Rev Guy – indeed you realised that some of the footage of Rev Guy has been filmed in the Methodist Chapel, and also how close the two church buildings are – if you look at the picture you can see the Anglican Church in the background, barely two minutes walk up the street!

I have to say though, that it has taken rather a tragedy to get some more balanced coverage. Earlier in the series the mechanic on the local lifeboat tragically died of a heart attack, deeply affecting the community. When it happened, Nigel Farrell interviewed Rev Guy, but then the commentary highlighted that it wasn’t Rev Guy that did the funeral. The family involved asked Rev David to do the service instead. To be rather brutal about it, the programme had to talk to the Methodists in order to actually get a continuation to that story. So as a result, this week we had a lot of discussion with Rev David, as the daughter of the family was brought to baptism, again in the Methodist Church.

He didn’t just appear without introduction, you had some shots in his Manse, and some establishing footage of him preparing for his role in the island panto. The commentary even mentioned the Anglican/Methodist Covenant that was signed nationally in 2003, and highlighted that when Rev Guy is absent, his congregation holds a joint service with the Methodists down the street. If all of this has been happening, it seems increasingly odd that he hasn’t featured more sooner.

Perhaps the An Island Parish team have wanted to simplify things – but if they have, I do think that they have simplified things rather too much by effectively sidelining the Methodist Church. Maybe the local superintendent and the local circuit didn’t provide support in the same way as the Diocese of Truro has done (only the Diocese is on this weeks credits). However, it is pretty apparent that Rev Guy and Rev David work quite closely together – another part of the programme shows them jointly leading a Remembrance Service – surely it would be a more accurate representation of life in the parish to show the two denominations working together rather than what has been done up to now. We’ll have to see whether this continues in the weeks to come.

An Island Parish – A Window on Church Politics in Cornwall


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.