THINKING ANGLICANS

"Priest 'bullied' out of his Merseyside church"

Updated Saturday evening and Monday morning

Last September, Richard Blackburn, the Bishop of Warrington and Acting Bishop of Liverpool, established an episcopal visitation to the parish of St Faith’s, Great Crosby. The visitation was carried out by Bishop Stephen Lowe, and his report has now been published. Today’s statement from the diocese, Report on the Episcopal Visitation to St Faith’s Crosby, starts

A report of an episcopal visitation carried out by Bishop Stephen Lowe has found serious failings in the PCC and amongst the laity at St Faith’s Crosby. The report outlines major failings in the governance of the parish which has led to what can be described as a culture of bullying towards the Priest in Charge, Father Simon Tibbs.

The Episcopal Visitation was established by Bishop Richard Blackburn, The Bishop of Warrington and Acting Bishop of Liverpool in the wake of reports of difficulties at St Faiths. The Bishop instigated a six month visitation period for Bishop Stephen to thoroughly investigate concerns at the parish and produce a report.

Bishop Stephen report was presented to the PCC at a special meeting on Monday 20th January.
Bishop Stephen Lowe said “This has been a disturbing and distressing experience in the life of St Faith’s. I have found clear weaknesses in the governance structures at the church. Weaknesses that existed before Father Simon’s arrival. Weaknesses that have allowed a culture of bullying towards Father Simon from some elements of the PCC. The Diocese of Liverpool will need to consider its mentoring arrangements for priests in the light of this unhappy episode. However my main recommendation is that the Diocese of Liverpool takes firm action to restore good governance in the parish before considering the long term future of St Faith’s Crosby.”

The diocesan statement also details the “temporary measures to improve governance at St Faith’s Crosby”.

The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn, is to act swiftly on the findings of an independent report into the governance at St Faith’s Crosby. The Bishop has announced that he has asked for the visitation process to continue for 18 months to enable stronger governance procedures to be put in place and deal with Bishop Stephen’s recommendations.

Bishop Richard has given licence to Revd Susan Lucas to act as Priest in Charge during this time. She will be strongly supported by Bishop Stephen Lowe. She will be charged to bring in measures that address the weaknesses in governance, reinvigorate the teaching of Christian giving and strengthen the sacred traditions of Anglo-Catholic liturgical worship so they become a meaningful expression of God’s love and mission. Bishop Richard has asked that this process should take no more than 18 months and he will closely monitor progress…

Bishop Stephen’s full report is available for download: Visitation Report.

The report has received extensive coverage in today’s local Liverpool and Crosby papers.

Jamie Bowman Liverpool Echo Priest ‘bullied’ out of his Merseyside church by powerful drinkers’ club among his flock
Jamie Bowman Crosby Herald Damning report reveals culture of bullying at Crosby church

It has also attracted the attention of the national press

The Telegraph Priest ‘bullied’ out of parish for challenging binge drinking culture among worshippers
BBC St Faith’s Church Crosby priest was ‘bullied’ out of parish
Luke Traynor Mirror Vicar ‘bullied out of his job by right-wing drinkers in his flock’
Liz Hull Daily Mail Priest bullied out of his C of E parish after nine months after banning congregation’s ‘un-Christian’ boozy sessions after services

Update
The PCC has issued a press release this afternoon (Saturday) which can be read here:

Press Statement
from the Church Wardens of St. Faith’s Great Crosby
re the Episcopal Visitation report by retired Bishop Stephen Lowe

The report of Stephen Lowe purports to be ‘independent’, but is clearly subjective and opinion based. The overwhelming majority of those present at the Congregational Meeting on January 20th felt that his was a grossly distorted and one-sided view of the situation. His report made sparse reference to the carefully considered answers submitted by the PCC to the Diocese’s Articles of Enquiry. A report detailing the responses of the congregation to Stephen Lowe’s ‘findings’ is being submitted to the Diocese and we shall be requesting that this is also published on their website as a matter of public record.

The “Review of PCC Governance at Crosby, St Faith’s” referred to in Bishop Lowe’s report is now available online here.

Monday update

Patrick Sawer in The Telegraph Merseyside’s ‘Cyber Priest’: ‘Thou shalt not drink wine in church’

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Mike Homfray
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Mike Homfray

This is the church I once attended
I wish I was surprised by any of this, but I am afraid I am not
There is a vicious culture of opposition to any change and the methods of sidelining anyone who tries it are legendary.
Many people will have to stand aside if there is any possibility of renewal
The full report is on the diocesan website

Commentator
Guest
Commentator

Perhaps as an independent ‘visitor’ Bishop Stephen should learn to use more balanced language when writing a report. The use of exclamation marks is not helpful. The single most unhelpful contribution to any process of reconciliation and constructive dialogue in the future between the diocese and the parish is the tone and unprofessional way in which this report is written. Father Timms failings are made light of in a situation where he has the responsibility to treasure & nurture the congregation committed to his charge. The failings of members of the congregation, and the Churchwardens in particular, are rehearsed again… Read more »

Alastair Newman
Guest

What a sad situation. The problem of a “theology of the Church that sees St X’s as a social club for its members who enjoy Y worship of a Z kind but have little interest in either Church growth or mission to the community in which they are set.” would be a challenge to any priest however gifted.

John
Guest
John

Simon Tibbs is a brilliant and charismatic personality. Any Church or church should be delighted to have him. Although himself liberal Anglo-Catholic, he is committed to proper provision for ‘traditionalists’.

Contrary to one of the newspaper reports he read English at Newcastle University (and sat in on one of my Latin classes, though I’m not complaining about omission of that key fact).

AndrewT
Guest
AndrewT

I agree with Commentator — although many of these shortcomings are ludicrously predictable. If these “visitations” are to result in public reports of this kind, they need to be independent, and not conducted by fellow clergypersons. Whether they feel it or not, they have a conflict of interest, and even the best of reports will not be immune from such charges.

Pam Smith
Guest

The bullying OF clergy is often not dealt with at all by senior staff. Indeed they often collude with it as they seem to be terrified of pointing out to senior lay people in a church that they have any responsibility at all for what happens there.

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

I agree with Andrew T and Commentator. The investigation should have been carried out by an independent body and its findings not made public. In the circumstances of this visitation, the lay people interviewed by the bishop perhaps ought to have been offered representation and warned that he intended to publish his findings. Had they known about the bishop’s conflict of interest and subsequent publication, would they have agreed to give evidence? I doubt it. Could there be misrepresentation/data protection/confidentiality issues – to say nothing of damaged reputations?

AndrewT
Guest
AndrewT

@JillArmstead: you would hope that the Diocese has been well advised about publishing the report, but having had some experience of the kind of legal advice that diocesan staffers are capable of producing, that hope might be forlorn. The report says that notes were not taken, but then goes on to make claims about who did what. Should those claims be disputed, there being no documentary evidence to support them, there is effectively a presumption of libel under English law. Moreover, a report such as this would not have any privileged legal status to protect it against charges of libel,… Read more »

betrayed anglican
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betrayed anglican

St. Faith’s church Great Crosby has been grossly misrepresented.

Far from having an “after service drinking culture”, the most you’ll get after a service at St. Faith’s is a cup of tea or coffee, (fair trade of course), and a bikkie.

An optional glass of wine, (as well as the choice of fruit juice, tea or coffee), was only ever served on extra special occasions such as parishioners’ birthdays ending in a 0!

It was on these occasions that Father Simon forbade the serving of alcohol.

Simon Butler
Guest
Simon Butler

I wish all those critical of Fr Timms and the visitation would have the decency to use their names rather than hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Do the decent thing, folks…

Alex
Guest
Alex

I agree with Betrayed. Also constructive help and guidance to a priest clearly out of his depth has deliberately been portrayed as bullying. This whole issue is the result of those with their own agenda ignoring sound advice by installing an inexperienced novice in a busy and diverse joint benefice, thereby doing immense harm to the priest and his flock and passing the buck.

commentator
Guest
commentator

In response to Simon Butler, I have always chosen to use the name Commentator on this site. I am not hiding in order to comment on St Faith’s Church, the Visitation, or Father Tibbs. I wish Mr(?) Butler would have the decency to respond to the comments rather than attack individuals.

Martin Reynolds
Guest
Martin Reynolds

Somewhat taken aback by the publication of this, as others are here.

I suggest this thread is taken down. It is probably too late to do anything pastoral or sensible for the parish.

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

I share Simon Butler’s view that if people are going to comment in the way they have, they should have the decency not to hide behind a pseudonym. This seems scarcely in line with the teachings of the Gospel. As a matter of course, I give little credence to the views those who are afraid to stand up and be named. I am distressed that some commentators seem to making the default reaction, so common in cases of bullying, of blaming the victim, Simon Tibbs. While there may be something to be said for not having a cleric conduct such… Read more »

AndrewT
Guest
AndrewT

My name is Andrew Wilshere and I am more than happy to be identified with criticism of the CofE’s handling of complaints.

Anne Lee
Guest
Anne Lee

Mike Homfray. I think the whole Report is not on the Diocesan website. The report mentions Appendices which are not included unless I am looking in the wrong place.

However, the issues of confidentiality raised here are very important. I hope all those mentioned who are identifiable gave their permission.

Peter Owen
Guest

Bishop Lowe’s report refers to only one appendix, although it is mentioned in two places. It is the review of PCC Governance by the area dean. It is now on the diocesan website and is available online here:

http://www.liverpool.anglican.org/userfiles/files/News/2014/St%20Faiths%20Crosby%20Governance%20Review%20by%20Canon%20Roger%20Driver.pdf

I have added a link to it as part of today’s update to my article.

Andrew Wilshere
Guest
Andrew Wilshere

@Daniel Lamont: I take your point re. anonymous comments, although in the context of this story it’s hardly surprising that those close to the situation don’t want to identify themselves in a forum such as this. With respect, you seem to object to the criticisms made in this thread (of the report and of its publication), but you seem also to agree with those criticisms at least to some extent. It is also worth noting that the only reason the priest’s name is now circulating widely in the press is because the Diocese chose to publish the report in the… Read more »

Andrew Wilshere
Guest
Andrew Wilshere

(PS: The report also makes a false claim on page 8, not to have used the word “bullying” in the body of the report; it is in fact used, on page 4.)

Alex
Guest
Alex

Daniel. Have a look at St Faith’s web site you may find out something about this congregation. The fact is that this document was published in the press on Monday afternoon, before the wardens and congregation had sight of it. The enquiry was conducted without notes being taken nor any third independent party being present, by a person with an obvious conflict of interest. The findings were produced in December solely from the memory of a 70 year old. The PCC and congregation were given the opportunity to answer a list of questions put by the diocese. The replies were… Read more »

Alex
Guest
Alex

In Reply to Mike Homfray. No! people didn’t give permission to be named in public. They were at no time before or after the interviews informed that the report would be made public. The report was given to the press on Monday afternoon BEFORE the wardens PCC or congregation had sight of it. The findings of the PCC and congregation questioners have been sat on.

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

In response to comments made by Andrew Wilshere and Alex, may I respectfully ask that they read my post again. I was very careful NOT to sit in judgement. From his response, I take it that Alex is, if not a member of the congregation, at least close to it. Clearly what he saw as constructive advice was not read in that spirit. I simply said that the situation was all too recognisable. I have offered no judgement on St Faith’s per se and, yes, I did look at the parish web-site. I did say that I could see that… Read more »

Andrew Wilshere
Guest
Andrew Wilshere

Thank you, Daniel. Reading through the range of comments again, it strikes me again just how silly it was to publish the report. As you rightly point out, it exposes the priest in question to further distress while simultaneously antagonising the church community whose co-operation is essential to resolution. On that note, I think it’s fair to mention that many cases of bullying by clergy are brought to the attention of bishops each year. I’m not aware of any cases that have resulted in the kind of public denunciation of those clergy that in this case has been levelled at… Read more »

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

I take issue with Daniel Lamont on two points: firstly, the Bishop’s report was far from ‘judicious’ if that word means ‘showed good judgment’. An employer who put himself in the position of judge and jury following an undocumented investigation carried out by himself would likely find himself facing litigation.
The PCC members’ names can all be found on the Charity Commissioners website:so much for anonymity.
I make no judgment about what happened at St Faiths – but natural justice – i.e. the right to a fair and unbiased hearing appears to have been overlooked by the bishop.

Mark Bennet
Guest
Mark Bennet

A fact finding exercise to get under the surface of a situation with a view to private attempts at reconciliation has a rather different dynamic from one which is published with the intention that there are consequences. There are huge questions to be asked about “due process” here, and the expectations of evident fairness in public criticism are very high. It is possible that the enquiry got somewhere close to the truth of things, but I think it will prove hard to use this report as a basis for action. Reading St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians this morning… Read more »

Daniel Lamont
Guest
Daniel Lamont

This could run and run so I will make my last contribution to this thread. 1) We will have to disagree about the word ‘judicious’ and whether or not the inquiry was fair and unbiased. 2) Bishop Stephen is not an employer. He is a retired bishop and is not listed on the Diocesan web-site as an assistant bishop. 3) It appears to be a moot point as to whether clergy are legally employees in the normal sense. Members of the PCC are not employees of the diocese.4) This was not, anyway, an investigation concerning employment matters. It was an… Read more »

jackie
Guest
jackie

My name is Jackie, I am on the PCC at St. Faiths, I won’t overly comment on any of the above, just to say I am so disillusioned on many levels, the family of St. Faiths have been let down so much by the Diocese, I’m sure most of you have read the statement issued by the Wardens, I would ask you to be patient before passing judgment in the hope that the truth will be made public, people have been asked to put their thoughts in writing about the biased one-sided report revealed in Monday’s meeting, I can say… Read more »

Judith
Guest
Judith

As a fellow parishioner of Jackie, I totally echo what she has said, and thank her for posting this. It is easy to sit in judgement without having all the facts. Your prayers would be appreciated at this difficult time x

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

Jackie
My prayers for everyone caught up in this episcopal fiasco.

Andrew Wilshere
Guest
Andrew Wilshere

@Daniel: I don’t think that your substantive point was missed, but it probably escaped comment because I doubt there is anyone here who disagrees that bullying of, and by, clergy is a problem in the church and that a) more needs to be done to prevent it and b) more managerial and pastoral support needs to be offered in the event that it happens.

I don’t see how publishing reports of this nature can ever form a constructive part of that managerial and pastoral ministry, though.

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

Andrew Wilshere is right in regard to your substantive point, Daniel. We all know parishes where the tail is determined to wag the dog with miserable consequences for the priest and some parishioners.
For many CofE parishes it seems the church is a social construct perhaps encouraged by the liberal tradition of providing religion-lite so as not to frighten off the punters. Imposing authority becomes a problem.
Would The Clergy Disciplinary Measure (given that ‘discipline’ embraces ‘capability’) have enabled the diocese better to deal with the problem at St Faiths?

Hugh Valentine
Guest
Hugh Valentine

Jill, I don’t disagree with the thrust of your point but I dissent from any notion of dogs and tails within Christian communities.

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

Quite so, Hugh!

tommiaquinas
Guest
tommiaquinas

Jill, the Clergy Discipline Measure does not actually cover capability matters and procedures – there is a separate capability procedure under the Clergy Terms of Service legislation (“Common Tenure”). CDM is restricted to issues of misconduct.

Jill Armstead
Guest
Jill Armstead

Thank you for the information tommiaquinas. I wonder if the diocese is familiar in practice with all forms of dispute resolution. In this case, a visitation was probably right in respect of the PCC governance failings but for reasons of absence of neutrality, inappropriate for investigating clergy capability matters and the subsequent relationship breakdown at St Faiths.

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

A sad story within which anyone who has worshipped in an Anglo-Catholic parish will probably find some resonances and say ‘There, but for the grace etc.’ One question which doesn’t seem to have been dealt with is what was the role of the patron (St Chad’s, Durham according to the parish website) and the parish representatives in presenting and accepting Fr Tibbs. If change was being called for in the job specification, did they not realise the difficulty this would cause with the congregation’s conservative culture? If they did realise, but wanted change nevertheless, they should have ensured more support… Read more »

tommiaquinas
Guest
tommiaquinas

Malcolm,

Given Fr Tibbs was not an Incumbent, the Patron and Parish Representatives had no “formal” role. They may have been informally consulted, but a P-i-C is a Diocesan Bishop’s appointment.

Malcolm Dixon
Guest
Malcolm Dixon

Thank you, tommiaquinas, for pointing out what I had stupidly failed to notice. In which case, the same questions could be asked of the Bishop (since retired) and of his agents.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

Point to ponder: If you were a young enthusiastic guy looking to spread the word of God…would you go into the CoE with its conservative/traditional culture or…do your own thing and start up your own home-plant church group?

Justice
Guest
Justice

I attend a Church in the area. Some years ago I uncovered the fact that considerable funds had been fraudulently removed from the Parish Funds.
The Priest and members of the Standing Committee were clearly involved. The Priest resigned and neither I nor one of the Churchwardens could obtain any action or help from the Diocese indeed the reverse was true. They will cover up for their own every time. Is that Christian? No! Liverpool Diocese is like a Trollope novel

Arthur Farqarharson
Guest
Arthur Farqarharson

There was a problem between St. Faith’s and Simon Tibbs but the Diocese preferred to use the politicians’ trick – if you do not want to face the real problem, Discredit the opposition”. Some of the information given to the press was a lie although, unlike Bishop Lowe, here there is proof. The congregation and officers have been left bewildered and some ill. Is this Christianity?

John Scrivener
Guest
John Scrivener

It may be worth updating this thread. St Faith’s home page has two new announcements; one to say that they have sent a response to the report to the Diocese, and the other to say that both churchwardens have now resigned because they have no trust in the Bishop whose officers they are supposed to be.

Max
Guest
Max

Reply to John. Indeed. I gather that a request was made to the diocese to publish the response to the report, as was a request to publish the findings of the PCC and other offended members to the original enquiry. To date no such publication has been made, which in the light of the indecent haste of the publication of the Bishops report, before any member of St Faiths had sight of it; would seem to be unfair, undemocratic, and flies in the face of any semblance of Christianity. It is understandable that the wardens would stand down and not… Read more »