'We want an end to it' - Wymondham's plea over Abbey row

Bishop of Norwich

The Bishop of Norwich (l) has come up with a list of damning recommendations for Wymondham Abbey's vicar, Catherine Relf-Pennington (r) - Credit: Archant

Community leaders have expressed their "disappointment" at an ongoing dispute involving leading church figures at Wymondham Abbey, calling for the row to be resolved for the good of the town.

Local mayor Kevin Hurn is among those to have spoken out with a plea for the long-running quarrel to come to an end.

He and others say the town is being harmed by the dispute, which has been blamed by some locals for the Abbey closing its doors for longer periods than in the past, because not enough volunteers can be found to keep it open.

The row dates back to 2017 when 37 complaints were made against Rev Catherine Relf-Pennington, the Abbey's newly appointed vicar, alleging inappropriate behaviour - all of which she denied.

The allegations, the majority of which had come from members of the choir, were investigated by a retired High Court judge in 2019, who ordered the two sides to settle their differences.

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Reverend Graham Usher, subsequently published a series of recommendations for the vicar and the Abbey's church council (PCC), which included ordering the Rev Relf-Pennington to apologise to her congregation.

However, the dispute has been reignited this week after the publication of a report in which the vicar and abbey wardens hit back, alleging they had been the victim of "false allegations, delays and threats".

A service to commemorate Anzac Day was held at Wymondham Abbey. Pictured is the Reverend Catherine R

The Reverend Catherine Relf-Pennington took over as vicar of the Abbey in 2017 - Credit: Ian Burt

The 12-page report also accused the Bishop of "unethical, immoral and self-serving" behaviour.

But Mr Hurn said the bitter dispute was harming not only the church community but the town as a whole.

Most Read

He said locals wanted it to come to an end and for the Abbey to be "open again as it once was".

Martin Ford of Wymondham in Bloom, left and councillor Kevin Hurn who has been co-ordinating the cou

Kevin Hurn, mayor of Wymondham. - Credit: Archant

He said: "The whole issue is to the detriment of Wymondham. It affects prayer, worship, wellbeing and tourism, which is something every town needs now especially as we're trying to come out of the pandemic.

"Places like the Abbey are something that we rely on."

The building had been shut for a period but is now open three days a week and by appointment with the PCC.

Locals have linked the closure to the ongoing row, as they say not enough volunteers can be found to keep the Abbey open for longer.

Mr Hurn said he had spoken with Rev Relf-Pennington several times and that he expected a resolution to take some time.

He added: "It's still difficult for them to get the meetings together that they need to get everything resolved.

Wymondham Abbey and town centre

Some 2,600 new homes will have been built in Wymondham by 2038. - Credit: Mike Page

"We would so much like the Abbey to be open and back to its former glory for this coming spring, but we can't see it happening because it's quite obvious it's going to take some time to resolve all of them to the satisfaction of both parties. It's a very difficult situation."

He added: "We had the big project of the Abbey extension, which was predominantly funded by the National Lottery, and we've got this fantastic building with history and modern facilities in one, and the disappointing thing for all of the residents of Wymondham is that they just can't use it."

Town councillor Kim Carsok said the local community was "losing out massively" as a result of the dispute and called for the church to "open the doors" and hold a community event to welcome people in and resolve the issues.

She said: "One of the things the businesses say over and over again is 'why is the Abbey shut?', because people come from other places to look at the Abbey. 

"People are also having trouble scheduling funerals and weddings.

"It's not that difficult, how many churches are there in the country that run well? They should be leaders in bringing the community together for events and gatherings."

Fran Young, chair of the Wymondham Town Team, said the controversy is being repeatedly brought to the group's attention.

She said: "The tradespeople have been telling us that tourists have been expressing their disappointment about not being able to access the Abbey. It's really sad, Wymondham is a vibrant market town community. That is our jewel in the crown.

"I don't know what the resolution is, and we'd love to work with the Abbey, but the church needs to take responsibility for the resolution, whatever its rules and regulation is."

The PCC was approached for comment.