Vicar at heart of bitter church row resigns

Catherine Relf-Pennington, the vicar of Wymondham Abbey Picture: Ian Burt

Catherine Relf-Pennington has resigned as vicar of Wymondham Abbey - Credit: Ian Burt

The vicar at the heart of a bitter row within a church community has resigned from her post.

Catherine Relf-Pennington has resigned as vicar of Wymondham Abbey, a role she has held for the past five years.

Her resignation comes following a long-running and bitter feud with members of the church choir, which saw mediators brought in amid accusations of bullying.

When she took on the role in 2017, Rev Relf-Pennington became the Abbey's first female vicar in its 900-year history.

However, relations between her and members of the church choir soon grew sour, with a report leaked in 2020 revealing that some 37 formal complaints had been made against her. 

These included allegations of bullying - which the vicar has always vehemently denied.

The complaints were investigated by former High Court Judge Sir Mark Hedley, who in his report ordered the warring factions to get along, slamming the dispute as "a disgrace to the Christian community".

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Mayor of Wymondham Kevin Hurn
Byline: Sonya Duncan

Mayor of Wymondham Kevin Hurn - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Kevin Hurn, Wymondham's mayor, said he hoped a new vicar would be able to restore community spirit to the town.

He said: "Catherine has had a very torrid time at Wymondham and I think she has been under an incredible amount of pressure.

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"Her way of preaching the Bible was very historical and harked back to the ways of a previous generation,  which I do not think sat well with certain members of the church community. 

"Whoever succeeds her will have a big challenge on their hands to restore harmony in the church community and bring back some of the people who have left to join other churches.

"The Abbey is the real crown jewel of Wymondham and I hope whoever takes over can help open it up and rise to this challenge."

A spokesperson for the Wymondham Choral Society, which has not held a concert at the Abbey for three years, said they hoped the vicar's resignation would mean they could return to the historic venue.

The society, which is a separate organisation to the Abbey's own choir, previously held three concerts a year at the landmark, but was last permitted to perform there in 2019.

They said: "The dispute has made things incredibly distressing for our members and the community as a whole. A new vicar will be an entirely new person and we hope they will welcome us back with open arms."

A spokesman for the Diocese of Norwich said: "Catherine Relf-Pennington has resigned her post as Vicar of Wymondham as of 30 June 2022.

"The Bishop of Norwich and his senior colleagues will be working with the parish about plans for the future and the people of Wymondham continue to be much in his prayers.”

Efforts have been made to contact Rev Relf-Pennington and the Wymondham Abbey parochial church council.

Wymondham Abbey and town centre

An aerial view of Wymondham Abbey - Credit: Mike Page

Timeline

February 2017

Catherine Relf-Pennington is appointed Wymondham Abbey's 60th vicar, succeeding Rev Cannon Christopher Davies

September 2017

She is formally welcomed into the role, becoming the Abbey's first female vicar 

January 2020

Leaked documents reveal details of the dispute publicly for the first time. It is revealed 37 formal complaints have been made against her

Former High Court Judge Mark Hedley labels the row "a disgrace to the Christian community"

November 2021

Bishop of Norwich, Graham Usher, accuses the vicar of an "authoritarian style" and urges her to apologise

January 2022

The vicar releases a 12-page response to the Bishop's comments, accusing him of "unethical, immoral and self-serving" behaviour, prompting members of the Wymondham community call for an end to the row

June 2022

Catherine Relf-Pennington resigns as vicar