A PARISH shaken by the departure of its vicar following his defection to the Catholic Church has been told to rally round and pray by the Bishop of Plymouth.
Parishioners filing into the Parish Church of St Mary The Virgin in St Marychurch were visited by the Right Rev Canon John Ford (pictured) a week after vicar David Lashbrooke told his congregation he was unhappy with the way the Anglican Church was going and he had decided to convert to the Catholic faith, taking part of the congregation with him.
Bishop John, who conducted the parish mass on Sunday, told the congregation that despite the 'hurt, incomprehension, and shifting plates of the Church', it was best to 'pray and reflect' rather than become angry.
In his sermon to the 120-strong assembly, he spoke of the tragic events in Japan and the feeling that some parishioners may feel that the ground was shaking underneath them and that the Church was quaking.
He said: "How different the world feels with the tiniest change. I wonder if for you, the people of this parish, it feels like this is the desert at this time. You must feel as if things have been shaken.
"The Church quakes. The flood of misunderstandings ebbs and flows. But we must put our quaking into perspective compared with what has happened in Japan.
"It is best not to say too much at times like these. It is best that we remain silent and pray and reflect rather give way to anger and further separation."
Father Lashbrooke had been attached to the St Marychurch parish church for almost nine years.
He told parishioners last week that he felt the General Synod had made decisions which were not within its power to make.
He is one of hundreds of Anglican priests who have left the Church of England in recent months.
Many have opposed developments including women bishops, gay clergy and same-sex blessings.
He said he believed the right path for him was to join the Ordinariate set up by Pope Benedict XVI for disaffected clergy.
Thirty members of the congregation left with him, including the church warden, the sacristan — the person in charge of the sacristy — most of the choir, youth leader, most of the youths, the cleaner and a retired priest.
His departure has also led to the Sunday 9.15am service being dropped due to a lack of priests.
He has been replaced for the time being by curate Father Dexter Bracey,
Before Sunday's service, Father Bracey told the Herald Express that he had known for a few weeks that Father Lashbrooke would be defecting.
He did not know that such a large section of the congregation would also leave.
He said: "The community is still here. It is not ruined. Bishop John is here to give us direction."
After the service Bishop John said: "The role of Bishop is to provide a focus for the community. I am here to express solidarity with the parishioners who are still carrying on and pray with them."
Father Lashbrooke's formal resignation will be accepted on Sunday April 17.