A cautionary tale from the diocese of Chelmsford

A recent 30 Days item headed “What integrity” drew attention to the problems raised in an A and B parish by the appointment of Mr and Mrs Cooling (both priests) who were members of the pro-women priests movement in Wales. Mr Cooling has asked for space to reply. We are happy to give it:

Dear Sir,

In your November issue you carried an item about me and the situation in Stow Maries parish. I therefore expect the courtesy of a public reply. It is not uncommon to find in a parish disturbed individuals who have the knack of manipulating parochial differences to feed their own neuroses. The parish priest may have received private information about such persons which he/she is unwilling to publicise, in spite of personal attacks, because the priest still cares enough not to cause further hurt to those concerned. Nevertheless the resulting situation still has to be dealt with. The information fed to you is a distortion of the facts and the real situation, but I refuse to engage in a public debate that may cause further pastoral damage. It is regrettable that you blundered into this situation to exploit it for your own propaganda without first bothering to check the circumstances with the parish priest. I cannot say that I am surprised at this. I am indeed the same Derrick Cooling who set in motion the campaign for women priests in Wales. This issue is fundamental to the practice and faith of the Gospel and I will continue to promote and defend it against reactionary and obscurantist forces to my last breath.

Yours faithfully Derrick Cooling All Saints Rectory, Church Hill, Purleigh, Chelmsford, Essex CM3 6QH

We have also received a long letter from Dr Laurie Green, Bishop of Bradwell making the following points:

1. Some parishioners claim the A and B vote meeting was convened illegally. 2. All the Churchwardens interviewed the couple and were aware of Mrs Cooling’s eventual priesting. 3. He, the bishop, has been constantly in touch with the situation. 4. The Archdeacon is investigating the legality of the resolutions meeting. 5. There is no need for a flying bishop; there is a bishop of that integrity in the diocese (Bp. James Johnson, formerly of St Helena, now Vicar of Hockley). 6. The article was “not properly researched” showed an “ill-informed determination to lampoon the bishops of the church” and was seeking “to undermine the episcopate” which “is not acceptable within our Catholic tradition.”


1. Since the arrival of Rev. and Rev. Cooling, Stow Maries has “been under tremendous pressure to accept women priests”. Mr Cooling threatened them with no celebrations on many major festivals if they did not accept his wife’s priestly ministry.

2. Service times were changed without consultation. Stow Maries representatives were told that people from other churches in the benefice didn’t really like them but came to worship there only “out of a sense of duty”.

3. Following an Ascensiontide Deanery Communion (celebrant and preacher the bishop) at which Stow Maries representatives chose to receive from a male priest and not Mrs Cooling, Mr Cooling’s fury knew no bounds. On the following Sunday he preached at Stow Maries accusing them of “Apartheid”, “an act of disunity, uncharity, of faithlessness and sin against the Holy and Blessed Trinity”, “rudeness to the Bishop”, “personal prejudice against women”, “a contempt for other Christians,” “disregard for the Lordship of Christ” and “an arrogant and proud spirit” and several pages of similar invective and abuse.

As a result Mr Cooling then publicly outlined his options which were:

a) The removal of the Blessed Sacrament “until such time as genuine penitence has been shown for the sin against the body of Christ.”) The removal of the Bishop’s licence to administer the chalice from any of the offenders. c) The removal of Stow Maries from the benefice.

4. The November parish magazine, “The Beacon” is also an eye-opener. Prefaced by a plea for peace from the editor, Mr Cooling launches into a tirade in favour of women priests, an attack on Forward in Faith and a description of his opponents’ faith as “pretty inadequate”. He invites readers to consider the question themselves via a leaflet insert and (in block capitals) “PLEASE CHECK THAT THIS LEAFLET HAS NOT BEEN REMOVED FROM STOW MARIES MAGAZINES”. The leaflet is a MOW leaflet by David Edwards (former Provost of Southwark) and scarcely a balanced view.

Later Mr Cooling gives his view (2 pages) of Forward in Faith which he describes as “offensive”, “based upon discrimination”, “a form of apartheid”, “contrary to the Gospel”, “Insulting to women”, operating a “corrupt theology”, it “betrays the Anglican way” and he informs us that “priests who join are asked to sign a declaration that they accept the Pope as Universal Pastor of the Western Church (sic) and the whole teaching of the Magisterium” – including the invalidity of their own orders.

5. Bishop Green appointed this man to the parish knowing his track record.

6. Bishop Johnson first knew about the difficulties because he was contacted by a member of Stow Maries PCC. (There is no need to consult on an appointment to an A and B parish, only a C parish.)

7. The objection to the legality of the meeting which passed the resolutions was raised and is being pursued by a Baptist woman in the parish.

In our view there can be few greater examples of why parishes need to pass resolution “C” to ensure the oversight of the flying bishop, and of why it is essential that there are no “no-go” areas for flying bishops in liberal dioceses.