THE vicar of a church near Marlborough has been forced to apologise to parishioners after he accused them of arrogance and conducting power games.

But after the Rev Andy Thewlis of All Saints Church, Burbage sent out the letter to church members he was called to an urgent meeting with the Bishop of Salisbury The Rt Rev Nick Holtam and told to write a letter of apology. He has also been sent on a three month sabbatical.

The furore, which has been reported in a number of national newspapers, has surprised people living in the village including parish council chairman Steve Colling.

He said: "I do not recognise the complaints made by him. We have found the church community very welcoming since we came to the village."

But in his original letter Mr Thewlis said his Sunday morning services were marred by gossip and disunity.

He wrote: "The Sunday morning worship experience is neither warm, nor welcoming. It does not portray real love joy or peace. Rather it reflects an organisation that is characterised by grumbling, gossip, and disunity.

“Criticism and negativism are predominant behaviour traits in too many church members. Some people through their actions are actively sabotaging the ministry of their vicar and their church.

"The arrogance of some church members through e mails and conversations on an almost daily basis is wearisome. It drains energy robs enthusiasm and reveals that some as we were told would prefer not to have a vicar.”

A spokesman for the Bishop said: "Upon being made aware of the letter sent to church members at Burbage, the Bishop of Salisbury met with the Rev Thewlis at the earliest opportunity. Mr Thewlis has now written a letter of apology to those who received his letter, which was inappropriate in both tenor and content.

"The Bishop has also offered Mr Thewlis pastoral support including sabbatical time to consider his future and he has accepted this."

In the second letter Mr Thewlis, who has been the vicar in the village for a year, told his congregation: "I recognise that the letter was inappropriate and came as a shock. I should not have sent it to all church members nor should I have named individuals within it. I apologise unreservedly for the upset and hurt it has caused.”

It is understood that Mr Thewlis and his wife Sarah-Jane are now looking for a ministry in a different part of the country.