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Choir stages mass walk out in ‘solidarity’ over organist’s mystery termination

PUBLISHED: 17:01 09 April 2015 | UPDATED: 17:01 09 April 2015

Lavenham Church. The Church of St Peter and St Paul.

Lavenham Church. The Church of St Peter and St Paul.

Archant

The imminent departure of a musical director at a church in a picture-postcard Suffolk village has been met with a chorus of disapproval.

Stephen Hogger works on the draw stop action for the Hoar Cross Church organ that Bishop and Son is restoring in Ipswich.Stephen Hogger works on the draw stop action for the Hoar Cross Church organ that Bishop and Son is restoring in Ipswich.

The strange series of events unfolded in the week leading up to Easter, when Stephen Hogger, organist and musical director for 17 years, was given notice to leave.

After the choristers heard of the decision, they all quit in “solidarity” with Mr Hogger, with Sunday’s Easter service marking their final performance.

Mystery still surrounds why he is set to have his contract terminated, with a spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich refusing to comment on contractual matters, but thanking Mr Hogger for his service.

Mr Hogger has worked in the cathedral-sized church, on Church Street, since 1998, when its current organ was first installed.

Reverend Stephen Earl, Rector of Lavenham ChurchReverend Stephen Earl, Rector of Lavenham Church

He said: “It is pretty devastating to me. We had just finished refurbishing the church organ. I had put a lot of work in to that personally, but nothing is for ever.”

Mr Hogger was given three months’ notice to terminate his contract on Sunday, March 29, by the Parochial Church Council (PCC) who run the church of St Peter and St Paul.

He told the EADT that he had not been given a reason for the termination, but stressed the church were not required to do so in his contract.

He said the choir, which he had overseen for more than a decade, announced its intention to quit on Easter Sunday, handing a letter out to the congregation.

The letter read: “Following the announcement last week of Stephen Hogger’s dismissal, it is with huge sadness and after a great deal of thought and discussion that the current members of the choir have decided to leave.

“This decision follows a long period of unhappiness and lack of understanding between the choir and the leadership of Lavenham Church. Today (Easter Sunday) will be our last service.

“We would like to thank you for your support over the many years that we have been singing together as a group - it has been hugely appreciated. We will miss singing here every week immeasurably.”

A choir member, who did not wish to be named, stressed that the termination of Stephen Hogger’s contract was the final straw for the choir, but not the only reason they quit.

Gill Smith is a member of the choir. She said: “We done it (resigned) in solidarity with Stephen Hogger. That’s the reason why, we have come out in support of Stephen.”

The church has been home to a choir for at least 200 years, with singing a weekly occurrence at the 14th century building.

John Howard, spokesman for the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said: “The PCC of St Peter and St Paul Lavenham has ended its contract with Mr Hogger in his role as director of music, and wish him well in the next phase of his career.

“Mr Hogger was first appointed in May 1998 and has worked voluntarily and professionally in the enhancement of the church’s fine Willis organ.

“The rector (Reverend Stephen Earl) and churchwardens pay tribute to Mr Hogger’s musical talent and are grateful for all that he has given of his time and skills at Lavenham.”


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