Vicar and choir row ‘disgrace’ to Christian community

A retired judge has called a dispute between a vicar and her choir a “disgrace” to the Christian community.

Rev Catherine Relf-Pennington, the first female vicar of Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk, faced 37 allegations made by members of the choir.

Former judge Sir Mark Hedley was brought in to assess if the allegations should go before a church tribunal.

His report said the complaints were of “high-handed and over-authoritative behaviour amounting to bullying”.

The report, which was dated 7 November and leaked to the Eastern Daily Press said complaints also arose from the handling of the 2019 annual parish meeting.

But the report, by Sir Mark who is the deputy president of tribunals for the Clergy Discipline Commission, said the vicar’s “firm” actions were necessary because a small group in the choir had a “history of troublemaking”.

Of the complaints against Ms Relf-Pennington, 19 were taken forward by the Bishop of Norwich, who ordered a formal investigation.

‘Healing hurts and divisions’

Sir Mark said the “the picture that emerges can only be described as a disgrace to a Christian community” and urged both parties to reconcile their differences.

He said that any reconciliation must be “entirely unconditional”, adding that “attitudes are clearly hardened and must now be recognised as such”.

“However if Ireland could do it in 1997, who are we to say that Wymondham could not do it in 2020,” Sir Mark said.

The Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, said: “The Church of England takes complaints about its clergy very seriously and seeks where possible to find ways in which a community and its priest can come together and move forward.

“I urge all involved at Wymondham Abbey to find ways to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ to one another and to work together in healing hurts and divisions.”

Ms Relf-Pennington and the choir’s director of music have been contacted for comment.

First published 17.01.20:

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