Labour-controlled Tameside has sacked Mr Rees as its council chaplain for heresy as he blessed the monthly meeting.
Councillors bowed their heads and cast their minds upward. Mr Rees prepared to give his address. What would it be, wondered elected representatives of Pennine valleys famous for radical dissent. A spot of Tory immolation from Revelation, perhaps. But Mr Rees, vicar of Mottram, Greater Manchester, chose Romans - 'Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due . . . owe no one anything.' And he was admonishing not filthy rich tax-dodgers, but the council treasury, which still owed him pounds 187 in overpaid poll tax.
The rebate should have been in the post six months ago, he protested.
'In the name of God - the judge of all - that cannot be right,' Mr Rees, 43, said. Yesterday, the defrocked chaplain said he was 'exasperated' at council bureaucracy.
'A six-week delay is inefficiency but a six-month delay is negligence. Here I am saying nice prayers for them and I would have kicked myself if I hadn't taken the opportunity. The council like the Church to stand there and bless whatever it is doing, but heaven help the chaplain if he stands up and shows the Church still has a prophetic voice.'
John Hughes, Mayor of Tameside and a Labour councillor, said he had no alternative but to sack the chaplain.
'I was sad, unhappy and very embarrassed because he was using the privilege of prayers to attack Tameside employees,' Mr Hughes said. 'He had mentioned to me last Friday he was having problems and I had already set the wheels in motion to have it looked into. But then he saw fit to raise it during prayers.'
Mr Rees said he had acknowledged his dismissal in a letter to the mayor with a postscript: 'I am still owed my money.'Reuse content