It’s taken Aubrey Ellsworth more than three years to speak out publicly about his dismissal as a lay minister in the Parish of Meadows, but he’s doing so now because he feels he’s been wronged.
Ellsworth, 82, has been a lay minister with the Anglican Church since 1949, serving churches on the north and south shores of the Bay of Islands. In recent years he ministered primarily in the Parish of Meadows.
“It was my life, really,” said the former dairy farmer from Hughes Brook. “That was really the only hobby I had.”
Over the years Ellsworth said he’s done hundreds of sermons from Cox’s Cove to Summerside, and was often requested for funerals because he knew the people.
In all those years of dealing with many different people and ministers, Ellsworth said he never had a problem. But that changed in March 2011.
“And why, I’ll never understand,” he said.
On March 7, 2011 Ellsworth said he approached Rev. Malcom Palmer, the current minister in the parish, to inquire as to why he had cancelled two upcoming services.
Ellsworth said the two had an exchange and he left the church thinking it was done with, but the next Sunday when he went to the vestry to prepare for the service Palmer stopped him and, according to Ellsworth, told him he had “really pissed” him off the week before.
Ellsworth said the only words he said to Palmer were: “Woah, we’re on holy ground.”
It’s at this time that Ellsworth says he as told he was finished as a lay reader.
Ellsworth sat in a pew that day and continued to attend church in Meadows for the next year.
“But I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said and since has only been back for special occasions.
After the exchange with Palmer, Ellsworth went to see Bishop Percy Coffin, the Anglican Church bishop of western Newfoundland.
He said Coffin tried to address the issue by writing to Palmer.
Among correspondence provided to The Western Star by Ellsworth is a letter from Coffin to Palmer dated March 15, 2011. In it Coffin expresses concern over the issue and the manner in which the action was carried out. Coffin stated that only the bishop can revoke a lay minister’s licence and before that happens the bishop expects to be informed a minister’s intention to have a licence revoked and the support of such claim by the vestry/parish council.
Coffin asked Palmer to rescind his decision until the proper protocol is followed. That letter prompted a response to the bishop by the Meadows Parish Council that is dated May 5, 2011.
In it the parish council questioned Coffin’s handling of the matter.
“We have serious concerns with the way that you dealt with the situation,” it reads. “It is apparent to us that your actions were based solely on statements made by Mr. Ellsworth and without the benefit you would have gained by speaking with Rev. Palmer before you rendered your decision.”
The letter also stated that the council supports Rev. Palmer “in every aspect of his ministry,” and that Ellsworth’s accusations were “unfounded and unwarranted.”
The letter, signed by 12 members, said it was the council’s position that Palmer should not rescind his decision.
On May 11 the bishop replied to the parish council and provided Ellsworth with a copy of his response. He responded to the points of the council and reiterated the proper procedure to follow in this type of situation. Coffin said his letter was an invitation to discuss the matter with Palmer.
Coffin also questioned the council’s supposed support of Palmer saying he and other staff members of the Synod Office have heard directly from those whose signatures appear on the council’s letter, their families and friends with concerns over the ministry of Palmer.
Coffin said he advised both Ellsworth and Palmer to meet to discuss the engagement of lay ministers, their roles, duties and responsibilities in the life of a parish.
Ellsworth said he never heard anything on the matter after that and in letter dated March 11, 2013 wrote the parish council to outline everything that has transpired.
He questioned the council’s letter calling it a “fairly vicious personal attack” on both him and the bishop, and asked “will you kindly provide some details and set out the rationale for the conclusions and comments made in the May 5, 2011 letter.”
The final piece of correspondence provided by Ellsworth is a letter from the bishop to Palmer and the parish council dated May 10, 2013. In it Coffin requests a meeting with Palmer, the council and Ellsworth “to move this matter forward.”
However, Ellsworth said to date no meeting has been arranged.
Looking for resolution
Ellsworth has sought legal advice on what has happened, but decided against pursuing it due to the cost and the time. He still has his lay minister’s licence.
But he’d still like to have the issue resolved and that’s why he decided to go public.
“I didn’t want to take this to the grave with me,” he said. “But do people look at me now and just laugh and say ‘after all the years they took him and fired him. What did he do to them, I wonder?’”
Ellsworth said he’d like people to know what happened and an apology issued.
Spencer House is the co-chair of the Meadows Parish Council.
When contacted on the matter he said he wouldn’t do an interview on the situation.
“If you’ve seen correspondence with the bishop and between the bishop and Mr. Ellsworth, I think that pretty well sums it up,” he said. “If you’ve seen the letter from the parish council itself, again that pretty well sums up the views of council.
“As far as council is concerned, the issue is done.”
The entire parish council was involved in writing the letter to the bishop, said House.
Palmer said he was not present when the letter was written, but was aware it was going on. He, too, declined to do an interview on the issue.
“It’s something that went on between parish council ... there’s no substance to it, really. OK, letters were exchanged and that’s fair comment.”
Palmer said the matter happened three years ago and he was surprised it was still an issue.
“Anyhow, some things can’t rest.”
When asked if he would comment on the matter Coffin, the bishop, also declined.
“I wouldn’t because I don’t know what his (Ellsworth’s) position is, what he’s up to right now. I wouldn’t venture that.”