Tag Archives: St Mary and St Michael

Clergy Against Laity

Last week I posted about the growing media interest in the goings on at St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington.

The Church Times this week carries a more detailed report, which gives a bit more insight into what is going on. Tom Ambrose, the vicar at the centre of the arguments is quoted as saying the following:

“In general, we pursue things without involving the PCC and live a normal parish life. People who have come to the parish recently have no inkling of what’s going on because it doesn’t affect the parish.â€?

“We operate just like a normal church, except that if I want to do something, I tell people what we’re about, we have a general meeting of ourselves, and then tell the PCC we’ve done it. Since they’ve chosen not to be involved, they get bypassed. It’s just so sad.â€?

He again complains that he has encountered opposition from “the old guard� to a number of innovations he sought to make in the interests of inclusivity.

However, looking at what he has said, he’s left himself in a difficult position, whether he likes it or not, the PCC is the legal body in the Church that represents the laity. The basis on which the minister and PCC is to work is clearly set out in the opening points of the Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure:

(1) It shall be the duty of the [minister] and the parochial church council to consult together on matters of general concern and importance to the parish.

(2) The functions of parochial church councils shall include –

(a) co-operation with the [minister] in promoting in the parish the whole mission of the Church, pastoral, evangelistic, social and ecumenical;

I’d be interested to find out how his wife was elected Churchwarden, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he used the Churchwardens measure which gives the incumbent the ability to appoint a Churchwarden of his or her own choosing. However, ultimately even with one warden appointed, it can’t get over problems with the PCC. Both PCC and incumbent are vested with some powers, but ultimately one cannot operate without the co-operation of the other.

However, St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington is not alone in having publicised problems. The article then goes on to report on efforts of the Bishop of Exeter, Michael Langrish to calm problems at St Gregory the Great in Dawlish, a church well known to me as it was where my grandparents attended for many years, and in which they both sang in the choir. This story again made the national press.

The disagreements between the current priest-in-charge Rev Jerry Bird and the church focus on styles and times of worship and ministry style, and culminated in a walkout of the choir and organist before the sung Eucharist two weeks ago, and then a formal complaint. Unlike the situation in Trumpington though, things haven’t reached the point of highly expensive legal action, and it does seem that the bishop is encouraging both the incumbent and PCC to move forward.

In both cases the problems seem to centre on the incumbent wanting to grow the Church, and welcome new people by changing the main services. Giles Fraser also picks up on this theme in his column “Beware BNP Mentality in the Pews�. He highlights that all to often newcomers are “very subtly and nicely —put in a box and told to mind their place or keep their kids quiet�, and are expected to conform to the way things have always been done. He also highlights that most clergy are afraid of “the old guard� as Tom Ambrose described them, and more often than not do not have the stomach for a fight with them. Certainly if the current situations in Trumpington and Dawlish are anything to go by, you can well understand clergy who go for the status quo.

The classic problem is that in general most of the money and time committed to the church comes from long term members, newcomers quite obviously will take many years to become involved as deeply in the Church community. The long term members then feel that because they are giving the most money, and the most time, that it should be the kind of services that they like that should be most important, and that things should be run the way they want. The tension with this is that the way things are done currently, and the kind of services they like are often precisely the things that are putting off new members.

It would be fair to say that we have much the same kinds of people at St James, however as a community we’ve been through precisely these sorts of changes without ending up with the PCC and the incumbent at loggerheads. Over the last year our numbers have gone up by about 15% – primarily at the family services, but there is growth also at our traditional prayer book services too.

I think the key things that have happened at St James is that things have been a process of evolution rather than revolution. So initially the service pattern changed from entirely traditional language services to including contemporary language services once or twice a month. Over time the pattern has evolved again so we currently have a weekly contemporary language Eucharist, whilst maintaining a traditional language alternative on every week. There have been times where the incumbent at the time has wanted to move quicker, but through negotiation with the PCC has changed. A notable example of this is the second Matins during the month when our incumbent at the time wanted it reduced to one. There have also been concessions made to the requests of the traditional congregations, so for example Matins and Evensong have now reverted to using the King James bible for those services after a period when they used the same version as the contemporary services. There are frustrations of course, the big one being that the junior choir are often unwilling to attend both Matins and the Eucharist, but in general things are a lot better than the two Churches that are in the headlines.

It is also important to acknowledge that the so-called “old guard� have clearly shown that they understand that whilst they enjoy the traditional services, if the church is to grow we have to provide other services, and as part of that have shown a good deal of flexibility in having their services held at different times than what they had been used to. Indeed many will now say how proud they are of the diversity of services that we put on.

Ultimately it goes back to part of the Parochial Church Council (Powers) Measure, and the key work co-operation. If either the incumbent or the PCC tries to railroad or bully the other, you hit problems. Clergy need to realise that at times the parishioners will move a lot slower than they might like, and to understand their “BNP Mentalityâ€? as Giles Fraser puts it, but equally the laity need to realise that in order for their Church to survive, they need to change and grow. To move forward everybody needs to be part of, and support what is happening, otherwise it’s a recipe for disaster.

Is This a Good Use of £500,000?

Reading through “Of Course I Could Be Wrong…” I came across this story taken from the Cambridge Evening News about the parish of St Mary and St Michael in Trumpington who are trying to take their vicar, Rev Tom Ambrose to an Ecclesiastical Tribunal claiming that there has been a pastoral breakdown in the parish.

Unfortunately the article is rather one sided, as nobody in the parish who is backing the tribunal calls would talk to the newspaper. However Rev Ambrose and his backers don’t seem to think they have done anything radical. He was appointed to modernise and update the Church, something he had done elsewhere. From what he has described he seems to be trying to welcome in more families, so he moved the Harvest Supper to a Saturday evening from a Friday, removed four pews from the back of the Church to provide space for coffee to be served after the service, and the move that apparently provoked massive outrage – proposed to put toilets in the Church!

When you realise that the legal fees alone for the proposed tribunal would cost £150,000, with the full cost after appeals heading towards £500,000 it all seems like a stunning waste of money, and quite why the situation has been allowed to get this far I really don’t know. Certainly taking a browse around their church website the only real indication that there is anything amiss is the fact that one of the Churchwardens also resides at the Vicarage.

Really, with the volume of adverse publicity that this is generating, somebody needs to do something. There have been articles on the BBC News, in the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and a classic bit of Ruth Gledhill drama in the Times:

For more than 700 years the parishioners of Trumpington have worshipped in their church while the great crises of the Christian faith have blown about them.

The Crusades claimed the life of one lord of the manor while the building was damaged by reforming zealots during the Reformation.

Nothing in their long history however has frightened the parishioners like the arrival at St Mary and St Michael of a modernising vicar.

In eight years of disturbing radicalism, the Rev Tom Ambrose has moved the harvest festival supper back a day and removed four pews to clear a space for coffee meetings.

When he suggested adding new lavatories for the ageing congregation, the guardians of tradition snapped.

The feedback section after the article also includes a number of comments backing Rev Ambrose, and certainly with the other messages of support locally the people backing the tribunal unwilling to discuss their grievances – citing sub-judice as their reason – it is seemingly like they are proposing to waste a vast amount of money over what appears to be an argument over toilets. Worse than that the Diocese of Ely seems quite happy to back them in this, rather than calling for restraint and trying to get those involved to resolve matters locally. If there are serious accusations to be addressed, then the case should continue – but if it is only about the Harvest Supper, removing pews, and toilets, seriously there are better things to be doing…