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Swale's new mayor Paul Stephen axes council chaplain role


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And lo, God has been made redundant by the new mayor of Swale borough council.

Yoga-loving Paul Stephen, the Independents Alliance councillor for Woodstock, has decreed that politics and religion no longer mix in the council chamber at Sittingbourne and has overturned nearly 50 years of tradition by refusing to appoint a new civic chaplain.

The Rev Colin Johnson
The Rev Colin Johnson

A council insider said: "Apparently it is the general view of the new administration that prayers should not be given at the start of council meetings and that religion and politics don’t mix."

Outgoing chaplain the Rev Fr Colin Johnson from Minster, Sheppey , who was appointed by outgoing Conservative mayor Ken Ingleton, said: "I've never heard such rubbish in my life.

"I will be taking this up with the new Bishop of Dover the Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She was chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. I bet she wouldn't agree politics and religion don't mix.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has never shied away from politics, either."

The Rev Cindy Kent, who takes services at Minster Abbey, said: "I’m sad to hear the role of mayor's chaplain will be axed. The new mayor will need as much help as he can get from as many different sources as possible.

The Rev Cindy Kent
The Rev Cindy Kent

"The chaplain is a politically neutral person to bounce ideas off and to offer comfort and support where needed.

"The chaplain is also there to lead the community at civic services like Remembrance Sunday. To say religion and politics don’t mix is invidious since Jesus was frequently with the leaders of His day and entered into some interesting discussions with them."

She offered to become the new mayor's chaplain and added: "I would would enjoy having robust discussions with him."

In a statement, Cllr Stephen said: “Following last year’s elections the coalition passed an equality and diversity motion and as Mayor I have the option to employ the services of a chaplain to say prayers at full council meetings.

Cllr Paul Stephen (Swale Independents) for Woodstock. Picture: Swale council
Cllr Paul Stephen (Swale Independents) for Woodstock. Picture: Swale council

“As we live in a multi-faith society, myself and a large majority of the coalition decided that employing the services of just one faith was not in-keeping with the equality and diversity motion.

"As I said in my speech at the annual council meeting earlier this year, I will happily attend services of any faith during my time as mayor.”

Cllr Stephen worked for British Telecom for 38 years and moved to Tunstall, near Sittingbourne, in 2005 after meeting his wife Sarah on a yoga retreat in Majorca. They both teach yoga.

He has been helping to renovate the Thames sailing barge Raybel at Milton Creek. His charities as mayor are Swale Citizens Advice and MS Swale.

Swale covers Sittingbourne, Faversham and the Isle of Sheppey.

The Rt Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin has been asked for a comment.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture: Graham Lacdao/St Paul's Cathedral
Rose Hudson-Wilkin with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture: Graham Lacdao/St Paul's Cathedral

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne here

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey here

Read more: All the latest news from Faversham here

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