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Church leader accused of "putting locals through hell" says sermon language was misunderstood but admits communication lessons learnt

by Will Hobbs
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St Leonard's Church

The rector of the church accused of putting Buckinghamshire locals "through hell" over plans for a building project has told Premier the church needs to be more careful in the way it communicates while insisting the sermon language that locals felt threatened by had been taken out of context. 

It's after residents of Buckinghamshire village of Chesham Bois expressed distress over what they describe as a four-year ordeal with the church, who they say described them as 'evildoers, dogs and mutilators of the flesh' for opposing the construction of a new worship centre.

Speaking to Premier, Rev Laurie Clow explained that the preached words of his wife Wendy were directly quoted form Philippians 3, as part of a sermon on the "spirtual battle" Christians face, rather than referring to local people, or the building project. 

"The preach was very much about the battle between good and evil and spiritual warfare in the heavenly realms. When he even when she said, we're in a battle, and called the church to step up and pray more, essentially, that's what she was doing.

"She even then quoted the Ephesians, saying, and of course, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of the heavens of the spiritual realms. So this, I understand how language can be misunderstood."

The church is yet to give Premier access to the sermon recording. 

The planned 'Multifunctional Parish Centre' building project has reprotedly been rejected three times by Buckinghamshire council, includes a car park for over 100 vehicles and has faced strong opposition from villagers concerned about the impact on the community's tranquillity.

The church later apologized, stating that it did not intend to be inflammatory or offensive.

A mission statement leaflet to congregants at Christmas also caused offense to locals, with its message: 'Bells being rung can have two meanings during a time of war – and make no mistake we are at war.'

Rev Clow admitted he understood why the messaging had been misunderstood, but told Premier it's design was to empower the congregation to pray more.

"At no point have we ever, ever, said this is about individuals, or it's about this issue.

"It's about the spiritual battle in the heavenly realms. And so this word was about ringing the bells as a declaration of victory of Jesus on the cross. And actually, we've done it a bit more. We hadn't rung our bells for a very long time. And we rang them over Christmas."

According to the Metro newspaper, Roger Booth, who’s lived with his wife Christine for 40 years in Chesham Bois said their lives have been ‘ruined’ by the dispute, while other locals anrgily described the church as simply not being "at the heart of the community" despite claiming to be. 

Willing to admit the church had to learn lessons from the way it communicated, Clow says he is focused on reconciliation.

"I don't want to cause offence. We've apologised several times now for the, for the offence that's been caused. That's not the intention.

"We can't not be who we are. But we don't want to offend. We want to bless we want to love we want to encourage so we're in a place of trying to put relationships back together now which is going to be really quite difficult."

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