Head priest of All Saints Church in Northampton announces intention to resign in emotional letter

Father David McConkey pictured in 2012 on becoming the new priest in charge at All Saint's Church

Father David McConkey pictured in 2012 on becoming the new priest in charge at All Saint's Church

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The head priest at All Saints Church in Northampton is to resign after claiming in a newsletter he has been subject to ‘vilification’ and ‘rancour’.

Father David McConkey wrote the farewell article to his congregation in a newsletter on Sunday.

The emotional note said that “despite what some may think (or hope) there is no funeral this morning”.

Fr David goes on to say: “No one needs to point out to me that there are some who have eagerly anticipated this day for several months now; and I’m obliged to say that I am certainly not naïve, though I well understand that the work of a parish priest is in many ways a political work and that politicians inevitably attract animosities.

“Still, never in my more than 40 years of work in churches have I encountered the animadversion, the rancour, the vilification that I have experienced at All Saints, Northampton.

“There are some in this congregation who ought to — and perhaps do — feel heartily ashamed of their behaviour.

“But they must deal with their consciences; there is nothing I can do or say to change them.”

He adds: “I take comfort in knowing that the only One in the universe to whom I must give answer is One who knows what it means, as we sing in a hymn, to be “hated by those he came to save.”

It is understood that Fr McConkey is referring to a decision to, in effect, make him re-apply for his own job.

He joined the church in 2012 as priest-in-charge, a temporary position because the Church of England was considering joining All Saints with another parish.

But three-and-a-half years into his tenure the Church of England decided to scrap the merger idea and appoint a permanent rector of All Saints.

They have now advertised for the position, which is seemingly identical to the one Fr David has been doing since 2012.

It is understood a recommendation has been made from within All Saints church that Fr McConkey is not given the permanent job.

A spokeswoman for the Diocese of Peterborough, which includes Northampton, said giving the temporary priest-in-charge title is to “give flexibility when changes to the legal structure of a parish are under discussion”.

She said: “The priest-in-charge, the Parish and the patron have all been aware of this situation from the beginning.

“The priest-in-charge will be welcome to apply for the permanent position.

“Arrangements are being made through the area dean for other clergy to take services in the interim.”

Fr David has taken leave as of Tuesday this week but said in his letter he intends to resign at some point.

The text of the pew sheet article is below:

Many of you will have heard words I often say when the Burial Office is read in the church and many of the congregation of mourners are unchurched. “Whether you think of yourself as religious or not,” I will say as we commend the departed person into the care and keeping of Almighty God, “I daresay that all of us say a prayer many times each day. As we put down the telephone, as we end a conversation with friends, as we terminate a difficult relationship, we say ‘Good-bye.’ And each time we do so, we’re saying a prayer. ‘God bless you’ we say, and we place people—casual acquaintances and close friends, business colleagues and adversaries alike—into the hands of the God whom we trust to shorten distances, to smooth relationships, to hold us and to heal us.”

Despite what some may think (or hope) there is no funeral this morning. I remain Priest-in-charge of this parish until I resign that office at some indeterminate date in the future. I shall be on leave beginning Tuesday of this week, though I shall be returning from time to time to officiate at certain services. The process for the appointment of a Rector of the parish will go forward during the autumn months, and only the foolish would speculate how that process will end.

Nevertheless, many of you, I don’t doubt, will not see me again after this morning’s services. And at such a juncture the only proper word to say is that hoary Anglo-Saxon phrase “Good-bye,” with its prayer that a beneficent God will mercifully bless both you and me, bless us as our lives go in differing directions, bless us and heal us.

No one needs to point out to me that there are some who have eagerly anticipated this day for several months now; and I’m obliged to say that though I am certainly not naïve, though I well understand that the work of a parish priest is in many ways a political work and that politicians inevitably attract animosities, still, never in my more than forty years of work in churches have I encountered the animadversion, the rancour, the vilification that I have experienced at All Saints, Northampton. There are some in this congregation ... who ought to — and perhaps do — feel heartily ashamed of their behaviour.

But they must deal with their consciences; there is nothing I can do or say to change them. As for me, I stand before my Judge unashamed of the work I have done in this place these past forty months. Indeed one of the most strengthening claims we make in the church’s daily prayer is found in the Te Deum after we recite the great truth of the Incarnation and then shout that the God who took upon himself the deliverance of humankind and overcame the sharpness of death is the One whom “We believe … shalt come to be our Judge”—the divider and assayer, yes, but more than that, our Advocate. I take comfort in knowing that the only One in the universe to whom I must give answer is One who knows what it means, as we sing in a hymn, to be “hated by those he came to save.”

Barbra Streisand sang that “what’s too painful to remember we simply choose to forget” and averred that “it’s the laughter we will remember whenever we remember the way we were.” I’m a bit less confident about that. In my experience painful memories just burrow themselves deeply into our subconscious minds, re-asserting themselves with deadly regularity.

It will be no secret to anyone that I have nothing good to say about hypocrisy and cant, and that I am constitutionally incapable of giddy bonhomie. But one of my favourite prayers in the Prayer Book occurs at the conclusion of the office for the Visitation of the Sick: “Unto God’s gracious mercy and protection we commit thee. The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace, both now and evermore.” It is to that gracious mercy that I commit you, as I pray you will hope for me as well. And whatever our memories or versions of the past are, may His peace stablish us, both you and me, in the days to come.

Father David McConkey