Thursday 29 September 2011

Bullying of and by clergy: a way ahead?

Many thanks to people who have posted stories and comments on clergy bullying. This is no more than an open discussion, not a therapy point, but any posting of information and ideas helps break the culture of silence around the subject. I did promise to say what we were doing in our diocese.

Archdeacon Karen and Poli Shajko, our HR Lead, have been scoping a new policy and procedures in the light of the Dignity at Work national documentation, in collaboration with Anne Lee, an Oxford psychologist who specialises in this area. We are going to recruit two confidential non-hierarchical listeners in each archdeaconry, the Parish Development Advisor (who already works and is known by any clergy) plus one - a mixed gender team with access available from any to all. This includes congregational members who say clergy are bullying them, as well as clergy who say congregational members are bullies. We are working with an independent partnership to develop training both for awareness and implementation of a new dignity at work policy, with documents to go to Bishop's Council, then out. I'm not sure how and when this is published around deaneries, but that's got to happen well — a comms job.

It seems to me, along with some comments earlier this month, that everyone knows what bullying is, and when they feel bullied, but the description needs to be in terms of the behaviour that has to change. If we don't do that the onus stays in the wrong place, and things will never improve. The vast majority of claims I have drilled into dissolve into mutual recrimination. So I have to say that the perception of "bullying" boils down to a symptom of organisational malaise, the abuse of power.

We need procedures in place, as for whistleblowing, available to individuals; but this is not enough.

The key to progress is to have a public framework describing the proper use of power against which all behaviour can be measured.

Such a framework makes any anomaly look like an anomaly, rather than just a random incidence of "shit happens."

One final frontier remains, however. Church culture, deferential, hierarchical and often inclined to hypocrisy, breeds an alignment gap between aspiration and active accountability at the top. The Church is full of good intentions but some bishops, forgive me for saying but it's the truth, fear and loathe that kind of open accountability. Confronted recently with a proposed standard policy on appointments, out poured reasons why this was an impossible bureaucratic imposition to clip their wings. Ironically, much practice is consistent with what was proposed, and the law will probably carry my Lords kicking and screaming where they don't want to go.

Why does it have to be like this? Perhaps the Great Sacred Cow of diocesan exceptionalism belongs to good and decent people who think they are doing their best, so where could the problem be? "parked on the candidate, not them" is the answer. The problem is this: Candidates applying for jobs need to have confidence that their applications will be treated consistently and fairly, and that the rules of the game are being observed by everybody involved - or why should they waste their time offering their work and ministry in the first place? Without some public standard applicants will inevitably suspect stitch-ups all over the place without this elementary accountability — even where they aren't happening! So culture has to change at every level in the organisation, if our practice is to align with our values. The problem is not, of course unique to the Church, but this may be the next area in which us Don Quixotes need to grab Sancho and buckle up.


UKViewer said...

I sometimes wonder why the word 'Transparency' isn't in the Gospels, because if it was, the church might be more receptive to it.

If the Church is living in the days of selective preferment and nepotism than it needs to wake up to the world around it. Tradition has no place in interpersonal relations, just God's grace, a lot of prayer and hope and transparency.

Ann said...

This is great -- getting at the issue of power and how we use it - the root of many problems -- sexual misconduct, power abuse, etc. Thanks

Amandajane said...

Reading all your posts and finding them really interesting. Looking forward to you becoming the new Christians Aware chairman in January!

Amandajane said...

A breath of fresh air!

sjh said...

I think also one of the problems the clergy face is the lack of boundaries and objective criteria to work by. I have now come out of ministry but have experienced bullying in the past, and found that people can and do complain about what little work you do and how unavailable you are even after a 70 hour week. Of course the church does nothing to protect you from this, as officially you are on duty and available 6 days a week 24 hours a day.
How about looking at that angle as well Alan, not just power structures? If the clergy had clearer agreed criteria people couldn't play that game.

Revd. Neal Terry said...

"So I have to say that the perception of "bullying" boils down to a symptom of organisational malaise, the abuse of power."

There is a great deal of truth in this. There is also an extension of this which is about institutionalised bullying, where the behaviour is so effectively internalised by members of the organisation, that the perpetrators do not conceive of themsleves as bullying or as bullies, they are simply doing what is required of the job. An additional filip is in considering how policies and procedures have of themselves become 'bullying', not just in relation to the matter itself but in areas such as child protection. Somewhere in here we have to get over the liberal paradox of someones ignorance being equal to someone else's knowledge and address matters through ethical exercise rather than proscriptive dogmatics.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

UKV I agree transparency isn't int he gospel, but I think it is a gospel value - how can you be a city on a hill, light for the whole house without being open? What does it mean to say your secrets will be sbouted from the housetops if secrecy and establishment cover-up for the good of the institution are Christian values? Wat is the "open commending of the truth to the conscience of all" without transparency? Thanks, Ann and Amanda - Im looking forward to Xns Aware, too. SJH, thank you for your comment. In the last discussion (next post down) there is some great material from Sheffield Hallam University on Boundaries that examines exactly the angle you raise - on which I suspect we agree with each other strongly. After 32 years ordained ministry, I wish I had asserted my personal and spiritual boundaries as clearly as I jumped when the hone went off.

Anonymous said...

I'm watching a bully from the SSC wading his way through the women in the congregation who speak in opposition to his practices.

Normally the bullying is done verbally out of public view, but I've now seen some of it in writing. Without any management to turn to (the PCC were described to me as "nodding donkeys" and as the archdeacon moves next week), the ones left behind feel very hurt and isolated.

He has even tried to demand copies of emails between members of the parish. Ethics isn't a county east of London!

Until the C of E puts proper structures in place to monitor clergy performance and gain feedback from parishioners without fear of retribution (whether Divine or practical), this will continue.

Apologies for anonymity, but when I'm woken by members of the PCC calling me at 11pm because they're frightened, it shows the need. Please give Anne Lee a pay rise - we need more people like her!

Anonymous said...

I wish I had time to recount my tale here - the discernment process in the USA has many problems that relate. Rectors, bishops and committees have no real accountability -- there is no point in a process to require an explanation about a decision or non-decision (in a process where only a 'yes' response gets you forward, many play the passive-aggressive game of not-saying-no). It is ironic that ministry, according to almost everything my seminary training, was very much dependent upon accountability, mutuality, honesty and integrity. These things are often lacking -- to suggest that the bishop should be accountable only shows 'you have a problem with authority.' Suggesting mutuality is taken as hubris. I won't go on -- I just wish there were a way around the problems. I'm outside the official church because of these problems; currently, I'm in my thirteenth year of a professional appointment as a chaplain at a retirement community and hospital, having graduated summa cum laude from my seminary -- and yet the ECUSA process wouldn't even allow me to ask the question, "am I called?" -- much less get an answer.

Ann Memmott said...

Tricky to define, bullying.

I'm aware that the internet often allows quasi-definitions to 'go viral'; the same explanation and example is put on hundreds and thousands of different places, without any evidence that it is correct or meaningful. For example 'manipulative' behaviour. "Person X was trying to get me to do Y by saying Z! Manipulative!!" Shock, horror, aghastness all round! Yet all communication of any sort whatsoever is surely designed to get someone to do something or think something. It doesn't have any other purpose. It's arguably all 'manipulative', every single word and phrase and action, even the nice stuff.

Being very careful about how one understands such words is very important indeed, otherwise innocent people might get 'scapegoated' all too easily.

Meantime, clergy are expected to be superhuman, and the slightest fault or display of ordinary human behaviour is often deemed to be 'world-shattering'. Suppose a young fairly penniless single male curate falls mutually in love with an equally single parishioner with a powerful job in society and £millions in the's the member of clergy who is deemed to be an abusive power-mad nightmare if they engage in romance with that person. Terrifying stuff for the couple, and I suspect entirely unrealistic.

Same for friendships with any of the (say) 3000 or so people in their parish: "You can't have any friends, otherwise parishioners will hate you for favoritism and we'll all be Doomed!" Well, no. It can happen, but it could happen whether the person is a friend or not.

"Welcome to clergy life - work 24/7 won't you...and do have no money, no friends, and no relationship...enjoy!" Gee whizz, no wonder so many are in crisis.

It's very good to see good work being done to bring clarity to much of it.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for your contributions, all. The hghly discretionary world of self-entitlement that comes with some brands of religion is as much a problem as anything else - another reason for having standard measures around the use of power. Anon, thank you for sayings omething of your experience; proof that the prblem is not confined to the UK, or indeed the Church. But this is where I work, so this is where I'm trying to move things forward. Ann, I strongly agee with your point. Words get thrown around in all kinds of ways when power is abused; we need to fix things more accurately than that, or we remain where we are.

Chris Enwerem said...

I reflected upon my terrified experence in
Chris Enwerem

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