Church fears as ill vicar marries

Canon Andrew Clitherow and Nicola Howard, now his wife'in September 2009 at St Cuthbert's Gala.
Canon Andrew Clitherow and Nicola Howard, now his wife'in September 2009 at St Cuthbert's Gala.
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THE absentee vicar of crisis-hit Lytham Parish Church has married for a third time.

Canon Andrew Clitherow stunned the congregation at St Cuthbert’s Parish Church last March when he announced he would be leaving after the Easter Sunday services.

The 60-year-old father-of-four has been on sick leave ever since – and concerned parishioners say the church has suffered for the past 10 months through a lack of leadership.

Mr Clitherow separated from his second wife early in 2010.

His civil ceremony wedding to Mrs Nicola Roman – well-known as Lytham soprano singer Nicola Howard – who he had previously appointed as the church musical development officer, took place on Friday, December 23.

Meanwhile anxious parishioners have told The Express that the church is “rudderless” – with no churchwardens and a dwindling congregation.

It is in stark contrast to two years ago when the church celebrated its 175th anniversary with numerous events – including a Royal visit by the Duke of Gloucester.

Mr Clitherow was appointed a chaplain to the Queen in 2008. He is the author of books for his fellow vicars, advising on how to deal with pressure on their work and marriages.

One parishioner, who asked not to be named, said; “The problem is Andrew said he was leaving us and then went off sick. We are a church with a vicar who’s not working. The situation is heartbreaking for everybody”.

“I see a congregation that’s very much disheartened and dropping like a stone,” he said.

“Unless he moves to another parish we have no idea how long it could go on for. People are very disappointed in the lack of information we get from the Blackburn Diocese. We have been absolutely hung out to dry.

Area Dean Peter Law Jones of St Thomas Parish Church, St Annes, said: “The church is facing a significant challenge.

“There are a lot of good people at St Cuthbert’s that are working very hard to keep it going.

“The simple legal situation is, as a divorcee, Canon Clitherow was perfectly at liberty to marry again. As it happens he has married Nicola.

“I think the official diocese line is, they are free agents and the church has always tried to be as understanding as it can be.”

Mr Law Jones said Canon Clitherow now wanted to move on and added: “The parish on the whole would agree it would be a good idea for him to move on.

“It is just a question of where and when that move might be. Anything else must be in the realm of speculation.

“On the whole, I’ve found everybody at St Cuthbert’s have tried their very best to understand a difficult situation.”

Parishioners are known have made numerous representations to the Blackburn Diocese, wanting to know when a new vicar will be appointed.

However Martyn Halsall, communications officer at the Blackburn Diocese, would only say this week: “Canon Andrew Clitherow remains on sick leave.”

The Express visited the newly-wed couple at the vicarage in Church Road, Lytham, but they declined to comment.