Priest leaves church after complaints

A PRIEST has left a Suffolk church after complaints by worshippers to the Bishop about his ministry divided the congregation, leaving them shocked and distressed.

A PRIEST has left a Suffolk church after complaints by worshippers to the Bishop about his ministry divided the congregation, leaving them shocked and distressed.

Two members of St John's Church in Felixstowe wrote claiming the majority of the congregation did not want Rev Doctor John Hare serving in the parish.

The concerns - which are said not to have been shared by most people in the church - have now led to Mr Hare leaving the parish.

Exact details of the problems have not been made public - the letters of objection remain confidential.

One member of the church said there had been “lots of small matters of complaint” and “a personality conflict that had been allowed to get out of hand”.

There had been some concern, too, in the very traditional church at Mr Hare's innovative and imaginative children's services, and some felt it difficult to go along with all his ideas.

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Mr Hare, a non-stipendary minister, has been serving at the church in Orwell Road since last summer as assistant priest with permission to officiate at services and there were plans to license him to the role of assistant curate to make his role more formally recognised.

It was at this point the letters were sent to the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Following meetings he then decided to leave the parish.

A retired vicar, Rev Peter Leitch, who preaches at the church, has also stood down from his role because he is upset at the way the assistant priest has been treated.

Rev Canon David Lowe, vicar of St John's, said the situation had been “very upsetting” and caused a lot of hurt and distress to Mr Hare and his wife Mary and the congregation as a whole.

It was now apparent that the letters of objection which claimed to represent a majority of the congregation did not speak for most people.

“They claimed to be speaking on behalf of quite a number of people which apparently was not the case at all,” said Mr Lowe.

There was a tremendous amount of support for Mr Hare and lots of people had written of their shock and sorrow at the situation. Many had been unaware there were any problems.

“From my point of view, John has done a tremendous amount of work in this parish - people who have been on the receiving end of his ministry at funerals, weddings, and in the congregation, have testified to how caring and able a priest he is. He has been super in moving this church forward and the situation is very sad.”

Mr Hare was not available for comment.

Have you been caught up in the situation at St John's? Tell us your view - write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

WORSHIPPERS have spoken of their distress at the conflict within the church.

Celia Sims, who has written to the diocese, said her first reaction was to be ashamed to be a member of a congregation which had let such a situation arise.

“I was appalled at what had happened,” she said.

“I was not even sure I wanted to be part of such a congregation any more. My final and considered reaction was that I had to stay and try to do something about it.”

She was saddened that people had not aired their feelings earlier so they could have been properly discussed and resolved.

Another worshipper said: “I didn't even know there was anything wrong - to think people have written to the Bishop to complain about a priest is incredible.

“John Hare's services have been lovely and it's great to see something different in the church.

“I can only imagine that people were worried that he was making too many changes, that it would modernise the church and make it less traditional somehow.”

A worshipper who was visiting the church said he had been shocked by the conflict.

“I hadn't got a clue what was going on but there was a lot of upset. It's quite shocking to see this happen in a church,” he said.

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