Unholy row as Christians protest at spiritualist group's use of Nailsea Tithe Barn
Christians packed a council meeting to press for a spiritualist group to be banned from using Nailsea’s historic Tithe Barn for a seminar.
The Vibrant Souls spiritualist group has booked the 15th-century barn, which is managed by Nailsea Town Council, for a special seminar on Sunday.
The group has described the seminar as a “one-day experience aimed at helping people understand who they are and what life is about”.
The group also offers people the chance to experience life regression – using hypnosis to uncover what are claimed to be memories from previous incarnations – and hear channelled messages from the spirit world.
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But the booking angered local Christians, who packed a council planning and environment committee meeting to press members to ban the group from using council owned property.
Resident Eric Smith, who spoke at the meeting, said: “As a practising Christian with experience of the occult in my earlier life I think this seminar is highly dangerous and has the risk of making vulnerable people mentally ill.”
Some councillors agreed that the booking was inappropriate.
Town councillor Mary Ponsonby said she had been bombarded with phone calls and e-mails demanding the booking be cancelled.
Mrs Ponsonby, a Baptist church member, said: “We should not let the building to persons who may cause offence to people in the community.”
The council’s booking terms for the Tithe Barn, which was restored at a cost of £1.2 million, state that the council cannot discriminate on grounds of “sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, nationality, race, politics or religion”.
Other councillors said they were surprised at the reaction by local religious groups to the booking.
Council chairman Rod Lees said: “I haven’t received one complaint about the booking. I am surprised about what is happening and if we did what was asked it would discriminatory and that is wrong and we could get sued.”
Committee chairman James Tonkin said: “I am at a loss as to why this is offensive and a decision to ban Vibrant Souls is outside the remit of the meeting. This building is owned and managed by the town council and as such allows the multi-cultural use of the facilities.
“In a town with a population of approximately 19,000 we have received only 14 letters of representation. Why was this particular organisation singled out?
“It does not appear that they will cause a breach of the peace. What happened to freedom of choice?”
Tithe Barn trustee and rector of Holy Trinity church Jolyon Trickey also attended the council meeting.
The Rev Trickey said: “I have personal reservations that this particular use may be misguided, even a danger to members of the community. Yet I attend this meeting as a trustee of the Tithe Barn, and as a Christian leader, to listen. I have both a high regard for the Christian heritage of the Tithe Barn and an understanding of the open access to the community that lies at the heart of the trust’s intention.
“Our common concern must be to have a robust hiring policy and process that prevents any use of the Tithe Barn that is inappropriate, illegal or damaging to the community.”
Vibrant Souls members Hazel Newton and Simon Rowe, of Backwell, and Katherine Membery, of Portishead, all attended the meeting but were not given an opportunity to speak.
Afterwards Mrs Membery said: “We appreciate our seminar is not mainstream but we accept and honour each person’s right to think and act for themselves in accordance to their belief system.
“We have 60 paying delegates so we aim to honour our contract with them and we expect the Tithe Barn to honour its contract with us.”
The booking at the Tithe Barn will go ahead as planned.