'Relief' in parish as priest quits after turbulent tenure: Senior church official will try to restore confidence to a rural community split by feuds since the arrival four years ago of a charismatic figure. Peter Dunn reports

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The Independent Online
Father Terry Moore, who disappeared from his parish in Cornwall two months ago, has resigned after four turbulent years as vicar of Stratton and Launcells near Bude.

Tony Tournoff, church warden, organist and the only parish loyalist to have been in regular touch with Fr Moore since he vanished on 27 January, said last night that the 45-year-old bachelor priest had personally delivered his letter of resignation to the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Michael Ball, on Saturday.

Confirming Fr Moore's departure a spokesman for the bishop said: 'It's an enormous relief.' Senior church officials will visit the parish this week to begin the process of restoring confidence in the Church of England's apparent helplessness when faced with 'difficult' parsons.

Mr Tournoff could only despair of the circumstances - four years of sackings, feuds and committee takeover bids - which have torn the rural community apart since the charismatic, high church Fr Moore arrived there in 1989: 'It's been like living in a goldfish bowl here.' Fr Moore has been seen only once since his departure. He was spotted in the vicarage of St Andrew's Church, Stratton late one night, but his only contact with the parish has been via Mr Tournoff's fax and telephone answering machine.

He has used these to pass on instructions to Father Bob Parsons, a retired priest who has taken over pastoral duties at the parish churches of St Andrew's, Stratton and St Swithin's at Launcells. He described Fr Moore as 'an extremely good and devout parish priest'.

However, this is not a view shared very widely in the two parishes these days after years of increasingly frantic conflict.

In March 1991, Fr Moore's sacking of Henry Trewin, bell tower captain at St Andrew's, led to the resignation of nine other ringers.

Quarrels broke out between Fr Moore and members of the parochial church council at St Swithin's. Acrimonious meetings were secretly taped and the vicar ordered the locking of the church door except on Sundays.

The bishop ordered an inquiry, at Fr Moore's request, into the conflict. His opponents saw it as the start of a long and costly process under the Vacation of Benefices Measure 1977 - a rarely-used device to sort out an irreversible breakdown between priest and flock. When its findings went against the priest he dismissed it as 'negative'.

Parishioners at St Swithin's found their PCC and church taken over by a 'rent-a-congregation', ardent supporters of the priest from Stratton, including Mr Tournoff, a retired music teacher who became church organist and PCC vice- chairman. The transfer of power to key pro-Moore committees effectively neutralised the bishop's ability to proceed further against the parson under the Measure. The cancellation, with explanation, of the children's Christmas carol service at St Swithin's led to it being transferred to the local pub, the Red Post Inn.

After a triumphant honeymoon period relationships between Fr Moore and some of his loyalist Stratton congregation began to crumble. Among the casualties was Trish Furse, secretary of the Launcells PCC. Her husband, Tony, claimed that his wife's verbatim shorthand note and transcripts of PCC meetings had subsequently been toned down by other committee members.

Last October Fr Moore, in his parish magazine, composed an ode to his love of empty pews.

'For many years I have addressed my old friends, the pews, as 'Dearly beloved' and during that time they were always there, patient, never whispering, fussing or talking. They never fanned themselves with the service leaflets or scowled when the priest mounted the pulpit. They did not sing but they quietly held the hymn-books and did not look bored . . . Can pews really have personality, a Spiritual life or the power to witness? Perhaps.'

Now the bitter saga of Stratton appears to be drawing to a close. In a confidential letter to parish churchwardens last week the Bishop of Truro disclosed that he was trying to negotiate compensation for Fr Moore on the grounds that he is leaving the Church after the General Synod's decision last month to admit women priests.

The sticking point is that the priest is six months short of the five-year qualifying period as a parson in the Church of England.

A church spokesman said yesterday many parishioners would be relieved after living so long in 'a climate of fear'.