Durban - The 150-year-old St Thomas Anglican Church on the Berea is in the thick of a controversy over the sidelining of three clerics.

To add to the intrigue, the new minister at the centre of the debacle, the Reverend Canon Martin Louw, has resigned, but declines to comment.

The upset began when the reverends, Jane Manser, Margaret Ambler-Moore and Jen Hands, were placed on leave earlier this year, causing much unhappiness among parishioners and claims of bitter divisions within the church.

In emotional letters distributed to parishioners, Ambler-Moore and Manser wrote that they had been instructed to go on sabbatical to allow the new rector, Louw, to “establish his authority”.

In her letter, Manser said she and Ambler-Moore had obeyed the instruction and “stayed away” from St Thomas’s, but the relationship with Louw became strained and she was eventually referred to as “retired”.

“This has been the most difficult time for both of us. St Thomas is our spiritual home and we feel that we have been cast aside mercilessly, after years of dedicated service,” Manser told parishioners.

“It has been a time of many tears and deep anguish.”

Ambler-Moore, a former councillor, said she too had been suddenly informed she was “retired”.

She was told that when she returned from her four-month sabbatical, it would be to serve as a deacon and occasionally to preach.

Ambler-Moore told The Mercury she was still unsure why she, Manser and Hands had been asked to take leave, but felt that their age had been used as an excuse.

She said the tumult had subsided and the situation was being resolved after meetings with the bishop of KwaZulu-Natal diocese, the Right Reverend Rubin Phillip.

Ambler-Moore said it seemed that she, Manser and Hans would be allowed to return to their duties.

Congregants have confirmed that the three women were popular, and that they did not know why they had not been allowed to officiate at services, including funerals and marriages.

One parishioner told The Mercury it was hoped all three women would be granted their licences again.

However, Louw was not “disliked” by the congregation and was regarded as intelligent.

The parishioner said it was also important to respect the decisions of Phillip and the rules and regulations of the Anglican Church.

Phillip was approached repeatedly for comment but, despite phone calls and text messages, did not respond.

The Mercury