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CofE vicar faces firing for hugging parishioner at funeral, going maskless to sing last verse of hymn

Charlie Boyle
The Rev. Charlie Boyle, the vicar of All Saints’ Church in Poole, Dorset. |

A diocese of the Church of England is investigating a vicar and has threatened him with disciplinary action, including firing, for singing the final verse of the Easter hymn “Thine be the Glory” without wearing a mask and thereby breaking the denomination’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“The fact that someone would report me to the (church) authorities over this is quite upsetting,” the Rev. Charlie Boyle, the vicar of All Saints’ Church in Poole, Dorset, says in a statement released by the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Boyle.

The Diocese of Salisbury received a complaint against the 52-year-old vicar after he sang the hymn during an Easter Sunday service without wearing a mask, although he is exempt from wearing a mask as he is asthmatic.

The Archdeacon of Dorset launched the investigation after Boyle refused to resign quietly, Spiked noted in an op-ed, adding that the government guidance on places of worship at the time stated that “those who are leading services or events in a place of worship” were exempt from wearing a face covering.

The Archdeacon visited Boyle and told him that he should leave his post and the vicarage by the end of July.

The allegations against the vicar include singing “Thine Be The Glory” while walking down the church aisle, hugging someone at a funeral, placing Bibles on pews (which had been in storage for a year) and failing to take overall responsibility for COVID risk assessments of the church, according to Premier Christian News, which also noted that Boyle is evangelical and he brought in more modern music and structures to grow the church.

“The way that I’ve been treated personally by the diocese of Salisbury has been very heavy-handed … when really, what we could had was just a conversation over the phone,” Boyle was quoted as saying.

“There was hardly anyone in the church anyway,” the CofE minister was quoted as saying, concerning the allegation that he sang a portion of the hymn without wearing a mask. “I feel shocked and saddened that they could be so petty.”

Referring to the accusation that he hugged a parishioner during a funeral, Boyle said, “Do you know what? I’d do it again. It’s an involuntary reaction of comfort. I feel sad that the whole world has got to this stage where people will complain behind your back about giving a hug to somebody. The motivation to hug someone is out of kindness and love.”

A spokesman for the diocese was quoted as saying: “The Diocese cannot comment on individual cases. High standards of integrity and service are expected from our clergy. Occasionally clergy fall short of what is expected and complaints are brought against them. These matters need to be dealt with in a formal and confidential way. The Clergy Disciplinary Measure can be used by anyone who has a formal complaint. Such complaints need to be thoroughly investigated with pastoral support always being offered at the same time.”

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