THE Bishop of Southampton has attempted to heal an acrimonious rift in Bournemouth’s town centre parish.

The Bishop, the Right Reverend Jonathan Frost, told a gathering at St Stephen’s Church that he had received “disconcerting” letters, petitions and counter petitions about the leadership of the rector of the town centre parish, the Rev Ian Terry.

The Bishop, who organised the meeting, gave his public backing to the Dr Terry and heard a stream of speakers for and against him.

Dr Terry was criticised over a range of grievances including the organisation the rota of those speaking at Mass and the departure of five clergy since he took over three years ago.

Parishioner Francesca Jessop called on him to be replaced and was met by a loud round of clapping from many in the church.

She said: “It’s all show and no substance and he cannot keep his word.”

She asked the Bishop not to “patronise” her and called for the former team vicar Robin Harger or another to replace the rector.

Chris Watkins said St Stephen’s was “no longer a welcoming church” and spoke of his regret over the recent resignation of lay preacher the Rev Chris Colledge.

Many also stood up to air their support for the rector and the way he has run the parish.

But Martin Broad said there was “wide respect” for Dr Terry and said he had been horrified by the “obstinacy and nastiness” surrounding St Stephen’s.

Adrian Scott, parish warden, said he felt a lack of communication surrounding the departure of Robin Harger had led to people feeling resentful towards the rector “with Father Robin left in the corner”.

The Bishop said it had been decided that Dr Terry would not be at the meeting.

The Bishop had called on the congregation of the town centre churches, St Stephen's, St Peter's and St Augustin’s to temper their speeches with “love, charity and forbearance.”

Nick Edmonds, spokesman for the Diocese of Winchester, provided a statement.

He said: “Church life like all human life does not always run smoothly and from time to time tensions arise between people that need to be worked through carefully.

“All can be assured that, following a productive meeting on Thursday January 10, senior clergy are continuing to work closely with those in the Bournemouth Town Centre Parish to resolve the current situation.”

He said the Bishop of Southampton felt the meeting was “frank, and thoroughly worthwhile; an opportunity for deep exchange and conversation.”

The Bishop added: “The rector, Ian Terry, has my full confidence and support, and I would now ask everyone for the space and understanding for the Bournemouth church community to pull together as they find a constructive way forward through to a flourishing future.”