From the Daily Mail and the Daily Express
Every week for ten years the Rev Francis Cooke visited the shop floor at Bentley, offering counselling and advice to the luxury car maker's workers. But only days before Christmas he has been made redundant because the company says he might offend non-Christians.
It said there were too many religions represented among the 4,000-strong workforce at its factory to warrant a Christian chaplain.
Staff have started a campaign to reinstate the vicar, who they said was an 'important figure' who had even helped one employee who had been on the brink of suicide.
Mr Cooke was directly employed by Bentley – it would pay the Diocese of Chester, which would then transfer the funds to the chaplain. He had outside roles, but this was his only paid work.
He said he had been told to leave immediately after bosses said they needed to take a 'multi-faith outlook'.
He would visit the factory in Crewe, Cheshire, once a week for six hours, and also ran Christian courses and wrote a message in the firm's newsletters. 'It is not just about offering religious services,' he said. 'I provide counselling to workers who have stresses at home such as broken marriages. . . The reason I have been given is that there are too many people of different faiths to warrant a Christian chaplain. Everyone thinks it is quite ridiculous. I was told I wasn’t wanted anymore and to leave immediately.
“There have been no complaints made against me and my position is to help people and not just those who are Christians. I am not angry but more upset because I am very fond of the workers and they trusted me.”
One employee said: “We have not been told anything official about him leaving but we have started a petition as we want him back. Everyone is really angry about it as a few of us have been on courses with him. To do this just before Christmas is shocking. He usually writes a Christmas message in the newsletter but he hasn’t done it this time. He is there for anyone, no matter what their religious faith is.”
Another worker said: “It seems really hypocritical that the firm is worried about offending religions when there is a Bentley parked outside with a Christmas tree next to it. That tree is a Christian symbol.”
Retired Bentley employee John Austin, 67, who worked at the firm for 24 years, said: “The reverend gave me a great deal of support when I needed it as I was suffering from stress. He really brought me back around and was there for me as he was there for a lot of other people. I can’t believe they have got rid of him. I know one individual who was feeling suicidal, but Francis was there for him and turned him around. He was a very important man at the factory.”
A spokesman for Bentley Motors, which is owned by the Volkswagen Group, said: “We have a wide range of faiths and want to take a multi-faith outlook. It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith. This now gives us the opportunity to look at this and recognise the range of faiths we have here.”