Sparks flew when church figures clashed over a controversial priest.
The rift at St. Anne's Anglican Church in Southampton is so bad that a special tribunal has been formed to sort it out.
At the centre of the row is Reverend Carl Williams, who was hired six months ago.
A 12-page document details complaints against him and accuses him of "priestly ineptitude".
At a fiery special meeting on Friday, a church warden went head to head with an archdeacon. Warden Lisa Quinn said Rev. Williams should be suspended; Archdeacon Arnold Hollis jumped to his defence and alluded strongly to a concerted campaign.
Archdeacon Hollis said the row threatened to make the church "a laughing stock" of the worldwide Anglican communion.
He also said moves against Rev. Williams echoed previous attempts to oust him some years ago: "...There was a designed attempt to force the removal of myself from my parish and indeed to cause me to have a heart attack and die. I am talking about attempted murder.
"You have heard me speak before in this Synod of how the church is guilty of murder. You have heard me speak. I am now telling you there has been at least five attempts on my life in this church."
The Anglican Church and in particular the wardens and members of the vestry at St. Anne's have been trying to keep a lid on the matter, which has been brewing for months.
Parishioners who agreed to give Rev. Williams a chance to have his own church - under some pressure, it is believed, from the Department of Immigration - have had enough of what some say is his autocratic management style and want him to go. Now Anglican Bishop Ewen Ratteray has referred the dispute to a bishop's court, a three-member tribunal. At Friday's special meeting of the Synod, the church governing body, one minister described the dispute as a "great gulf in the relationship between the parties." During the hour-long meeting, which was called by the Bishop, open to the public and attended by a Bermuda Sun reporter, Bishop Ratteray was challenged about his decision to put the matter to a tribunal. The flaring of tempers at one stage was confirmation that the relationship between the hierarchy at St. Anne's and Rev. Williams, who was not at the meeting, had soured.
The flashpoint came when Archdeacon Hollis, a known supporter of Rev. Williams, argued against a tribunal, saying it was only called for in serious cases such as heresy and grave immorality.
He said the Williams case was a simple one that could easily be handled by Bishop Ratteray. He said it had got to its current stage because the church lacked guidelines for dealing with such matters; that Rev. Williams had inherited a mess that was not of his making and all he needed was support from the Bishop.
"The problem can be fixed by a shot of firm spiritual guidance by its shepherd," Dr. Hollis said.
But when he argued that the problem was not "the people in the pews", but St. Anne's wardens and vestry members, warden Lisa Quinn Brown countered: "Archdeacon Hollis, I don't appreciate a word you just said..."
And she added: "This gentleman doesn't worship at St. Anne's. He hasn't experienced the climate that we are experiencing at St.Anne's. He has obviously received his information from one source. He is misguided. He has not enough experience as to what has gone on in our church in recent months because he doesn't worship there."
Earlier she had called on the Bishop to suspend Rev. Williams until the tribunal had come up with its findings, but Bishop Ratteray said he would have to remain at the church.
Mrs. Brown said: "Our church is in a very desperate situation right now. I would hope that something could be done regarding a move to suspend Rev. Williams for the time being because what is a very sad situation is going to quickly become worse very fast."
12-page document
Archdeacon Hollis also revealed that St. Anne's wardens had handed Bishop Ratteray a 12-page document, claiming, in Dr. Hollis's words, "priestly ineptitude" on the part of Rev. Williams. The Bishop had then passed on a copy to Rev. Williams.
Dr. Hollis, who said Rev. Williams had read out its contents to him, said: "I was horrified that the document seemed to be a rewrite of a document with which I was confronted four or five years ago when there was a designed attempt to force the removal of myself from my parish..."
Dr. Hollis also described the document as "a blatant exercise of bad judgment and ignorance." When word got out that the tribunal had been convened to deal with the case, he predicted that Bermuda's Anglican church would become "the laughing stock" of the worldwide Anglican communion.
The whole exercise, he said, would push the church into irrelevance and minority status, useful only for state funerals, marriages and popular classical concerts.
Bishop Ratteray countered that the tribunal was the best way of dealing with the case.
Members of the tribunal are lawyer David Astwood, Rev. Patrick White, rector of St. Paul's Church, and church member Valerie Dill.
The trio will present its findings to the Bishop who will then make the final decision on Rev. Williams' future. What Rev. Williams was alleged to have done was never discussed at Friday's meeting, although sources have told the Bermuda Sun it essentially boils down to his management style.
One parishioner, who did not want to be named, complained that Rev. Williams makes decisions without sufficient consultation and takes the position that he answers to the Bishop.
The wardens and vestry say as an employee of the church, he is obliged to include them on decisions, be they spiritual or business matters. At the start of Friday's meeting, Bishop Ratteray merely referred to the dispute as "the situation that has arisen at St. Anne's between the priest in charge and the wardens and vestry."
Towards the end of the meeting, Bishop Ratteray promised the case would be dealt with expeditously and before he steps down in March.
Rev. Williams told the Bermuda Sun yesterday: "I have no comment at this stage."
And in an e-mail response, Bishop Ratteray said: "I have no comment to make at this time. I explained at the Synod meeting the purpose of the Bishop's Court. I have nothing to add."




By Meredith Ebbin
Reverend Carl Williams wanted to be a priest since he was 10-years-old growing up in Barbados, but he only got the opportunity after he had embarked on a first career as an accountant.
But even after he was ordained to the priesthood, first as a deacon in 1998, then as a full-fledged priest the following year, the road to full-time employment in the church would be a rocky one.
Rev. Williams is a Barbadian, who came to Bermuda in 1986 when he married his Bermudian wife Melinda, a Government statistician.
The couple were active members of St. James Church in Sandys and long-time rector Archdeacon Dr. Arnold Hollis backed him in his desire to become a priest. The Anglican Church has a dire shortage of Bermudian clergy.
Rev. Williams, who has Bermuda status, studied at Codrington College, the Anglican seminary in Barbados, between 1995 and 1998. Then he returned to Bermuda. His first posting was as an assistant priest at St. Peter's Church in St. George's and priest-in-charge at Chapel of Ease in St. David's.
He left that post suddenly, according to several church members the Bermuda Sun has spoken to. He then returned to the Caribbean, and for the last six years was an assistant priest at All Saints Church in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Rev. Williams is believed to have applied for several positions in Bermuda in the interim, but was never successful. According to Rev. Williams, Anglican Bishop Rev. Ewen Ratteray said he needed more experience overseas.
Working overseas came at some cost to his personal life - his wife remained in Bermuda and the couple had a commuter marriage, meeting up during vacations.
In December 2006, St. Anne's rector Rev. Michael Davis retired and an opportunity opened up. Rev. Williams was given the opportunity to fill in at the church for three months. Interviewed by the Bermuda Sun last February, Rev. Williams said he hoped it would lead to a full-time position. He got his wish in July.
The Bermuda Sun has been told that Department of Immigration did not expressly insist that St. Anne's hire Rev. Williams. But applications to bring priests from overseas from other Anglican churches were said to have been held up, according to a parishioner we spoke to.
But the parishioner - who is no longer a supporter of Rev. Williams - insisted that St. Anne's was not forced to take him. There was a lobbying effort within the church to give him a chance and a majority of the members were in favour.
But even before his installation, there was a hint there might be trouble ahead. Rev. Williams was installed by Bishop Ratteray as priest in charge in July at a ceremony attended by his family, friends and church members. The service went ahead even though he had refused to sign a contract with St. Anne's.
The Bermuda Sun has been told he baulked at being hired as priest in charge. He felt that with his experience, he should have been a rector.
He eventually did sign the contract, but the relationship between Rev. Williams, his parishioners, and the vestry and wardens, to whom he reports, seems to have gone downhill from there.
Rev. Williams was praised for some initiatives - in August he held a Unity in Diversity service that was attended by Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and then Opposition Leader Michael Dunkley that was well received.
Rev. Williams did make some changes, which may have ruffled some feathers - he is said to be more high-church, with his services taking on more Roman Catholic character, than those of his predecessor, Rev. Davis.
But concerns seem more to be about the way he runs the church. The example given by the parishioner we talked to was his decision to change locks at the church, apparently without informing members of the vestry and the wardens. We approached Rev Williams for comment on this and other matters but he declined.
Another complaint had to do with his car. A car comes with the position, but the vestry rejected his first choice, saying it was too expensive. Neither was he very happy, we were told, when the church furnished the rectory with second-hand furniture.
Rev. Williams is believed to have been hired for two years, subject to his passing a six-months probation period.
A 12-page document detailing the wardens' and vestry's concerns was said to have been handed to Bishop Ratteray just before his period of probation was up, which was earlier this month.