By JR on Wednesday, July 20, 2011
A vicar was forced out of his rural parish when his ‘bullying’ congregation rebelled against his attempts to modernise the traditional Christmas service. The Reverend Jonathan Cruickshank fell out of favour with church wardens after introducing modern hymns to the service and welcoming those who didn’t attend the church all year round, a friend said.
A whispering campaign then apparently began behind his back, with villagers claiming he had abandoned tradition in favour of ‘happy-clappy’ informal services.
He and his wife Pauline left the parish in May after claiming they were ‘not made to feel welcome’ during his two-year tenure at the three churches in Holbeton, Noss Mayo and Newton Ferrers near Plymouth, Devon.
The Bishop of Exeter, Dr Michael Langrish, wrote a letter to the three congregations, blaming them for creating a ‘culture of bullying’ that drove Mr Cruickshank away. He wrote that this would ‘never be acceptable within the Christian church’ and blamed people working to ‘different agendas’ for the problems.
A friend of the vicar, who did not want to be named, said: ‘The wardens call the shots and Jonathan simply fell out of favour with them. ‘These people are traditional and don’t like change. At the end of the day, they run the church.
‘He made the Christmas service more informal by introducing modern hymns and welcoming people who don’t come to church all year round. ‘The wardens didn’t like this and a whispering campaign started behind his back. ‘People started to get the idea in their heads that the old order of service was being ditched in favour for a more “happy clappy” service, but it wasn’t like that.
‘The bishop had asked Jonathan to try to modernise the church and he was just following orders while trying to be sympathetic to the traditional values of the church.’
Bishop Langrish’s letter was recently read out to the stunned congregations in Holy Cross, St Peter’s and All Saints churches.
It said: ‘It’s clear there are a number of issues which need to be addressed if the church in this area is to move on and fulfil its purpose of furthering God’s mission. ‘It is very difficult for a parish priest to be an effective minister when different places and people are working to different agendas.’
The bishop said he was looking for a new priest who had the skills and experience to ‘address these issues’. A member of the congregation said hearing the letter was ‘quite a shock initially because it was a letter really condemning the parishes and the way they had obviously treated the outgoing vicar’.
The village, which has a population of around 1,100 and house prices averaging £400,000, tends to be home to retired executives and businessmen.
Mr Cruickshank, a former Royal Navy chaplain, is now the vicar of St Peter’s Church in St Peter-in-Thanet, Broadstairs, Kent. He described his vocation in life as ‘reaching out with tender, loving care to welcome all to the Christian faith and to teach and grow that faith for all ages’.