Monday, 12 September 2011

Clergy Bullying revisited

I fully appreciate why this comment, left yesterday, was anonymous — Many thanks for it. Bullying is a subject to which I've returned again and again because, Christian siblings, there’s a lot of it about. This should not be. We are meant to be a community whose love shows the world the best that life could be. Bullying is a betrayal of all the Church stands for. So who do you tell? A part of me says, “It doesn’t matter, in a way, as long as you tell someone.” Traditional C of E cultures of secrecy and deference will not do. Openness is a Gospel Value — the open proclamation of the truth, the city set on a hill. So is mutual accountability, or submission of our work to each other - a discipline that cuts all ways.

Many (but emphatically not all) accusations of bullying mirror each other. A says B is bullying them. I go to B who then tells me that A is in fact the bully. This calls for definitions and metrics, but don't be put off. What the B word does indicate is a possible abuse of power, that’s all; so ask “what sort of power is being exercised how?” Go on to ask “by what standard can this be measured? human rights? codes of practice? the ordinal?” Don't get angry, don’t turn yourself into a designer victim, just tell someone. This whole thing thrives on fear, deference, and Voodoo. Remember the Wizard of Oz. Then ask “to whom is the perpetrator, as you see it, accountable to, and how?” Armed with that information, go deploy your information strategically.


One thing’s for sure. Doing nothing will make the problem worse, and you will increasingly internalise it until it becomes business as usual. To paraphrase Jesus, Once the light within you becomes darkness, said Jesus, you are well and truly stuffed. And so are all the rest of us.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

(This is a different anonymous to the other comment)

Bishop Alan, I fully agree that something must always be done...that staying silent does nothing. But the problem is, that it can backfire.

I was an Associate Vicar (not your diocese) being bullied by my Vicar over a number of years. The Diocese I was in named it as bullying to me, and ultimately supported me in taking extended time off sick and tried initially to find a solution. But when the problem went, to a certain extent, 'public' in the parish, I was hung out to dry. The Archdeacon told me, and I quote 'What's happening to you is wrong and unjust, but we can't do anything else about you're being bullied because your church contributes too much money to our diocese for us to put that at risk'.
So to be frank, I spoke up but got screwed. I left the post directly from my sick leave, with lies and half-truths about me spread by my vicar, to which I was unable to respond. The result was, this made me even more ill than the initial bullying. So maybe, sometimes in church, it's safer not to speak up and just get out. That shouldn't be the case, and the risk should be worth taking...but if you're on the receiving end, it's one hell of a risk.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks very much for your story. I'm so sorry. Inevitably, it speaks of several abuses of power, financial, secrecy, leadership. Add in the "Junior Hospital Doctors" dynamic, and its a truly toxic mix.

I do understand that it's all easy enough for me to go around trying to encourage people to speak up, but they bear the consequences, not me. One hell of a risk indeed.

But the more people manage to take it and speak up in as calm a way as possible, the more we create a culture where such screwings show up as the anomalies they should be but, sadly aren't always seen to be.

Thanks so much for saying.

Graham said...

Fine words with which I agree....but....

I work in a different denomination and it seems that the structures of the church are a problem.

I worked in a 'secular' (I do not like that word!) organisation- bullying and sharp practice took place there- it takes place everywhere. However, there there was the additional safeguard of being legally an employee. It was difficult, but it was possible to trigger processes where you employer who had caused the problem was not also the judge. There was recourse to trade unions, tribunals, courts etc.

This was not ideal: there were flaws in the process. I contrast that with the church: an 'office holder' (I think that is my status) feels aggrieved and the problem is not able to be sorted by the church. The 'office holder' then goes to the Bishop or equivalent who is also part of that same church.

From what I have seen, in a significant minority of cases, this leads to too much duplication of role. The senior figure is tempted to play down the issue or attempt to practice a kind of 'pastoral amelioration' that satisfies no one. In many cases the senior figure is inadequately trained or resourced to carry out this role effectively or consistently.

I do not feel that this is ideal, but part of me longs to be an employee so that if human mistakes occur there is the opportunity, when all else fails, to go to an outside authority that can arbitrate/decide neutrally.

I'll come clean- I am a Methodist minister. At worst, in situations like this there is a real feeling of 'In Methodism no one can hear you scream'.

I'm not bitter- the Church is in general an extremely graceful place. She is also like the little girl with the little girl: when she is good she is very very good and when she is bad she is horrid.

MadPriest said...

Until colleagues (and especially colleagues in authority) dare to "take the consequences," the bullies (in authority) will just carry on bullying. If sympathy was money I would be the richest man in the world. What the bullied need is practical support.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Graham, I have observed the phenomenon you report. That is why some external accountability is necessary to grow culture where human rights are respected within as well as outside the Church. I also wonder if the local Church doesn't handle these things better than at "higher" levels. This is probably because the relationships are more direct. But the wave of HR hitting the Churches has some drawbacks but may well enable anomalies to show up as anomalies, which is a very important part of the way forward.

Jonathan, I don't think anyone could disagree with your general point; being very specific with the people directly involved, a la Matthew 18, gives it legs.

Anonymous said...

"being very specific with the people directly involved, a la Matthew 18, gives it legs". No it doesn't I'm afraid. Culture of deference played with absence of clergy leadership skills trumps all. Toxic but revered Churchwarden opened fire on me this year. I sought Matt 18.15 reconciliation but CW refused to talk, in fact provoked even more flak. I asked vicar to mediate but got no response to repeated appeals. Vicar conveniently left for next post. My situation now untenable in parish. That won't look good at BAP will it?

Mr CatOLick said...

It is a sad fact that Bullying is very common in every sort of place; including within church and amongst laity and clergy, it can be seen a good deal at the back of many churches every Sunday, if I may be so bold.

The often closed and rather isolated world of Parishes and particularly the day to day isolated life that is experienced by our clergy, comparatively, offers a wonderful breeding ground for bullying to develop and to get a hold. Bullying is also encouraged by the inclination towards automatic deference that is afforded many clergy and some laity, especially those who are ‘senior’. The unquestioning acceptance by too many laity, and many in General Synod, still provides more opportunity for the bully to thrive and this can occur in very public arenas.

But I do not wish to sound too harsh, for Bully's are victims of the situation too. As I say, it is not a problem that is to be found only in Church life. It is a societal and organisational problem and one that we need to look at with compassion and with a balanced approach, and one that politicians, police officers, school teachers; everyone, needs to address.

The one thing that I have found that can help in this situation is a more public sort of airing. Not a rough and ready exposure to public view which can lead to hounding the bully and is not very helpful nor very honest of us, in my opinion; though at times it may be all we have.

Another approach would be to mix the ingredients up a good deal and allow people to meet others, people far away and to talk, with some freedom, about how they experience church, priesthood, team work, even the back of the church on Sunday morning. Make this mixing up something that happens often, make it compulsory and go outside the local diocese. This would allow us to begin to remove isolation and open all our eyes to what goes on elsewhere and by this process we will begin to understand how we are doing ourselves and give us a chance to change and improve.

Mr C

Anonymous said...

For obvious reasons, I too would like to remain anonymous (but am a different person from the two other contributors.)

No-one could disagree with any of the above, but (again from the perspective of a different denomination) it seems to me that there is a further issue, which is that of ministers or priests bullying voluntary workers to the extent that they feel they have to give up much of their involvement with the church.

It's very difficult for a lay person to come to terms with the fact that they are being treated in a way which, if they were employed as opposed to being a volunteer, would lead to a case for constructive dismissal. And any attempt to discuss the issue is met with a response of "You are just trying to frustrate the work of the church in this parish."

If there is no protection for the clergy, then what protection is there for the laity? And what does it say about the church that there is no way of bringing these issues forward with any hope of being believed - we all know how good bullies are at concealing their behaviour from others. In towns the obvious solution is to look for another church to worship in, but in an increasing number of areas that is becoming less and less of an option.

I don't see an easy solution to any of this, but I am glad that the subject has been aired.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

I know and understand why there are so many anonymous contributors to this discussion, and am grateful to all for being willing to say anything, given the depth of the back stories. I also feel we are touching on a place where progress could be made but is frustratingly blocked by some aspects of Church culture. I have also learnt this is a phenomenon that does not spare clergy or laity. I feel the human rights / dignity at work measuring stick is the only one to use; but it doesn't seem to be developed enough to work - or perhaps isn't being applied? One effect of being on the receiving end of abused power is to make people feel they are helpless. That's what the b•••••s want you to feel. I wonder what *Could* be done, and how, in my job, I could facilitate it?

UKViewer said...

I have no experience of bullying in the Church, but I do have of within the Army.

The Army once had a bullying culture, where physical abuse, let alone verbal abuse, racial, sexual and gender discrimination was rife. But adverse publicity, some very public Employment Tribunals and the European Courts caused a sea change in attitude, tolerance and culture to change things.

The introduced the Values and Standards of the British Army http://www.army.mod.uk/join/20217.aspx which became the standard against which all actions are judged.

The Army doesn't have a trade union and relies on the chain of command to have the integrity and perspective to deal with these situations. Provision is made for independent confidential help lines and there is even an Ombudsman appointed with a remit to review performance, who reports to the Secretary of State for Defence.

I trained as an Equality and Diversity Advisor and was involved in the implementation of the policy through training, advice, monitoring and being an independent advisor who anyone could come to in confidence to voice their concerns.
Things didn't change overnight, but gradually as people came to see that fairness actually enabled and empowered, rather than degrading performance. So, although it gets a bad press as political correctness, done well - it makes the whole workforce confident of both their rights and responsibilities for each other. In fact, quiet a Christian way of behaving.

I'm not arguing for such a system in the Church, but I can see that if the current system doesn't work effectively, leaving people feeling victimised, intimidated or even excluded, than something needs to be done.

Off course, common tenure will have an effect on all clergy, with the measure for clergy discipline, but it won't cover those personal relationship failures between clergy and laity or laity to laity. We need some sort of dispute resolution mechanism, at the lowest, local level to be in place, with the ability to escalate internally before going external to tribunals, where it gets very messy and effectively disengages individuals from the Church.

Introducing some sort of staff association for clergy might be a start, but who than looks after laity and congregations?

I know that some people in the church are 'sniffy' towards HR disciplines, but their ability to resolve disputes through independent arbitration is proven and perhaps we need something in place across dioceses. Lets keep the lawyers out of it and protect our fellow Christians following Jesus's 2nd Great Commandment.

Mark Bennet said...

I wonder what would be the theological resources within the Church which enable us to resist bullying? Some strands of thinking take Jesus and Matthew 18:21ff as justifying a kind of "victim wins in the eschaton" narrative, which makes a theological virtue of capitulation. Bullies often play on the insecurities and vulnerabilities of their victims, and one important part of a response is to find a secure place from which the victim can find the courage, for example, to tell someone else.
So there is prayer - tell God about it - rage if necessary. And there is the identity we receive in Baptism as a gift, which no-one can take away from us. These are not an adequate response, but they are perhaps components which may help.
And I do think that the comments about isolation are significant. So much of the business of the church depends on confidential personal relationships, which can be a breeding ground for abuse of power. We have much to learn about supervision and accountability from other caring professions - but we've a long way to go in spending the time and/or money to do this well. A report in Chelmsford Diocese made it clear that senior staff did not have the capacity to give anything remotely like the level of supervision which would be expected in the secular world.
Confidence can be used as a weapon too - I have been in a situation where I have been accused of something by someone and effectively told "and you can't tell your side of the story because you can't break confidence".
It is complicated - but what is the theology?

Grandmère Mimi said...

One thing’s for sure. Doing nothing will make the problem worse, and you will increasingly internalise it until it becomes business as usual.

Good advice surely, but advice that should always be accompanied by the warning that serious, adverse consequences may follow, and you may be left to hang out to dry all alone.

Erika Baker said...

The one thing that usually works is accountability combined with an independent adjudicator who has actual clout.
If anyone bullied, lay or clergy, right up to bishops in the church had recourse to an independent body that would look into the claims and that would have the power to make binding rulings, possibly including another layer for appeals, the situation would be much different.

At the moment, accused and judge are too often either the same person or closely connected or share the same interests.

MadPriest said...

When I was bullied out of my job for unanonymously standing up for bullied not one of my colleagues stood up for me. It was at that point that I finally realised that the Church was fake. What is the point of mission if the church is more evil than the outside world? And it is more evil because it doesn't abide by secular employment laws simply because it doesn't have to. I worked for 15 years and was then made redundant. But I received no redundancy payment (with which I could have found a way to support myself) because the church doesn't have to pay redundancy.

Fake!

Fake!

Fake!

And those who sympathise but do nothing are the biggest fakes of all.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous of 12 September 2011 13:28 back again:

What could one do as a bish? Where shall I start!?

- when one police force transgresses, it gets investigated by a force in a different region for impartiality. Why not implement this intra- and inter-diocese?
- provide clergy with proper leadership training; it is well known that bullying is frequently an emotional reaction to feeling out of control/out of depth as a leader.
- If you must keep the PCC system (which I think is fundamentally set-up to fail) at least tighten up qualifications for candidates: faithful people of good repute etc. Never allow shoo-ins. Insist on hustings. Make it viable to vote against someone in confidence. Give incumbent more powers to veto troublemakers. Set up a PCC inspection/standards/complaints system/whistleblowers' charter.
- trade-in the 'ever-so-gracious' Anglican model for something rather more realistic/prophetic, iron sharpens iron, teach and admonish etc etc Balance can be achieved - I've seen it in the non-Anglican charo/evo tradition I left a few years back.
- build up clergy self-esteem, another root of bullying. Maybe insist on regular counselling! As a professional counsellor, my wife has to do that.

themethatisme said...

Thank you for another interesting post on 'bullying'. I have been giving some thought to this selfsame question and how to avoid the traps of wanton bureaucracy, when a different debate elsewhere led me to this paper, which I believe makes relevant statements. cf; Ethical Exercise. Sorry can't do a clickable link at the moment, blogger won't allow it for some reason.

http://shura.shu.ac.uk/1759/1/Prof_Boundaries_FINAL_REPORT.pdf

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for contributions, including awareness of the special position of whistle-blowers, and the army material. A similar standard with supporting procedures was pubished by +John Packer's group in 2008: I wonder how this stacks up, whether it is being used around the country, and whether it's worth digging up, dusting down, and revisiting? http://www.churchofengland.org/media/1167938/dignity%20at%20work%20booklet.pdf any comments on that material?

MadPriest said...

Erika is absolutely right. Nobody who has been bullied by a member of the church hierarchy is going to trust that another member of the church hierarchy (or other insider) is going to be impartial. Heck, they are always at secret meetings together and many of them completely ignore secular regulations about data protection and confidentiality. Yet this was the only arbitration offered to me.

And if a priest who has been victimised moves to a different diocese to get away from his or her abuser, the first thing the bishop of that diocese does is have a "chat" with the previous bishop. This means that the injured party is never given the chance to be evaluated by the new bishop free from the prejudices of the abusing bishop.

It should be up to the church to make the first steps towards reconciliation, whether the complaint against the church is valid or not. But complainants are just swept under the carpet and ignored. They are sacrificed for the hierarchy's idea of the "good of the church."

Anonymous said...

I too will not leave a name as the person I'm about to mentioned might be identified.

The Mission Communitee that I have been working in has curates. The previous curate was treated with little respect by her incumbent. This was implicite as she was even told this by her training incumbent. In her reflections she did mention sound examples of bullying as this was the only way that she knew how to deal with the situation. These refections were shared with staff (mentor?) from the local theological college in three way meetings.

Nothing was done about it so she decided on a head down just do the time as a curate and move on. She is now responsible for several rural churches and has also discovered that her training has been very weak.

This incumbent now has another curate and on his first day of being in the role the incumbent laughed at a simple mistake that we all could have made, told him that he had fallen at the first hurdle. He did this in front of all his staff, including 3 other priests.

During a conversation I had with some senior clergy who are involved in the training of curates I was told that this incumbent was very highly reguarded. The following questions came to mind; how well do you know him? Have you ever worked with him? What is your opinion based on?

How are clergy in your diocese, who have other clergy working alongside of them, trained/monitored/mentored in people management? Particularly training incumbents?

Ann Memmott said...

The Dignity at Work thing is a fine publication. But often as much use as waving an ASDA till receipt around, alas. The last time I tried asking for help with such a situation for someone, (in another Diocese, I hasten to add), I was told that there was no point in the Bishop or his other team members talking to the clergy bully as "people would just get angry about it". On another occasion with another bully in yet another Diocese, I found out they had put in place someone to look after vulnerable adults...but the clergy refused to refer any cases to that person. And of course I've been told that it is up to the victim to forgive whatever happens to them as we are all sinners, and as Christians we must forgive absolutely anything. Hmm. Well worth having a look at the Equality and Human Rights Commission pages and their truly excellent new report on disability hate crime (out yesterday) which details the 2 million instances a year of hate incidents against disabled people in the UK. And how in all but 1 in 1300 cases, absolutely nothing happens, ever. Not even for the worst violence. Invariably we're told that we caused it to happen, must be mistaken, or deserved it by Acting or Communicating or Worshipping Like a Disabled Person, etc etc. No wonder so many people end up so scared of reporting anything... and scared of God if this is how his leaders are seen to act. Some of those experiencing this who approach me are clergy. 'Who wants an eternity in a heaven where people can still call you a retard and say you're not a human like other people are, and have no soul?' That's the behaviour standard the church often effectively says is fine from our clergy, so logically people think that's God's standard too. There are of course excellent people and excellent churches - it's by no means always the case that bullying happens. But when it does, the church tends to use the Bible as a weapon against the victim, not as a tool for love and safety. Can we do better than this? We can indeed. Partly my responsibility as an adviser to the CofE on autism, of course.

UKViewer said...

Having read the guidance it seems to me that it's a bit vague and in particular doesn't really give any times cale for the resolution of a complaint.

The reality is that you have a maximum of six months to resolve a complaint under internal procedures, before a complainant has the right to take the complaint to a tribunal. So it's important that:

1. Those who complain are aware of the time scales involved, in particular the need to follow internal procedures before resorting to a tribunal.Equally the Church needs to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay in dealing with complaints. (My experience of church bureaucracy and administration doesn't inspire confidence).

2. There is lots about the complainant, but little about those complained about. In the circumstances of a complaint being made, the person complained about also needs support and access to independent advice etc. So, Harrasment Advisors from another diocese may be required to support them. The principle of innocent until proven guilty being applied. Talking to the same person who may be dealing with a complaint is not a viable option in this situation.

3. The roles of the people dealing with a complaint need to be separated. The investigation should be conducted by a neutral third party, who is not in the pastoral chain within the diocese. The investigators should submit their report direct to the person responsible for dealing with a complaint, with a copy to both the complainant and the person complained against. This prevents the 'both judge and jury' aspect of some of these cases.

4. Any agreed or mediated resolution should be in writing (even informal agreements) accepted and signed by both parties and be retained (with their agreement) on record at diocese for future reference on appropriate personnel files.

5. At all stages of the processing a complaint, both parties should be kept fully informed of developments in the investigation and resolution of the complaint. Communication, face to face, is very important. Impersonal communication via letters or email cause resentment and my well cause the case to be escalated to a higher level than necessary, particularly if either party feel that they are being pre-judged or are not being dealt with in a fair manner.

6. Training and communication is probably the most important aspect of all of this. The culture of the church demands that we treat each other with love and with the respect and dignity we deserve. Awareness of what is and isn't acceptable behaviour, is of the highest importance and needs to be embedded throughout the Church at every level.

7. Probably the most controversial, the guidance does not mention discrimination? When most of the problems affecting the church appear to be ones of overt discrimination (whether legally correct, but morally wrong) to ignore them in such an important policy seems to me to be unfortunate at the least and negligent at the worst.

8. Finally, all involved need to have confidence in the procedures invoked when a complaint is made that it will be dealt with fairly and quickly. Without that confidence in the system, it is likely that we will continue to suffer abuse, bullying and worse, which will go unreported, ignored and causing real harm and damage to individuals and the church as the Body of Christ.

UKViewer said...

Having read the guidance it seems to me that it's a bit vague and in particular doesn't really give any times cale for the resolution of a complaint.

The reality is that you have a maximum of six months to resolve a complaint under internal procedures, before a complainant has the right to take the complaint to a tribunal. So it's important that:

1. Those who complain are aware of the time scales involved, in particular the need to follow internal procedures before resorting to a tribunal.Equally the Church needs to have policies and procedures in place to ensure that there is no unnecessary delay in dealing with complaints. (My experience of church bureaucracy and administration doesn't inspire confidence).

2. There is lots about the complainant, but little about those complained about. In the circumstances of a complaint being made, the person complained about also needs support and access to independent advice etc. So, Harrasment Advisors from another diocese may be required to support them. The principle of innocent until proven guilty being applied. Talking to the same person who may be dealing with a complaint is not a viable option in this situation.

3. The roles of the people dealing with a complaint need to be separated. The investigation should be conducted by a neutral third party, who is not in the pastoral chain within the diocese. The investigators should submit their report direct to the person responsible for dealing with a complaint, with a copy to both the complainant and the person complained against. This prevents the 'both judge and jury' aspect of some of these cases.

4. Any agreed or mediated resolution should be in writing (even informal agreements) accepted and signed by both parties and be retained (with their agreement) on record at diocese for future reference on appropriate personnel files.

5. At all stages of the processing a complaint, both parties should be kept fully informed of developments in the investigation and resolution of the complaint. Communication, face to face, is very important. Impersonal communication via letters or email cause resentment and my well cause the case to be escalated to a higher level than necessary, particularly if either party feel that they are being pre-judged or are not being dealt with in a fair manner.

6. Training and communication is probably the most important aspect of all of this. The culture of the church demands that we treat each other with love and with the respect and dignity we deserve. Awareness of what is and isn't acceptable behaviour, is of the highest importance and needs to be embedded throughout the Church at every level.

7. Probably the most controversial, the guidance does not mention discrimination? When most of the problems affecting the church appear to be ones of overt discrimination (whether legally correct, but morally wrong) to ignore them in such an important policy seems to me to be unfortunate at the least and negligent at the worst.

8. Finally, all involved need to have confidence in the procedures invoked when a complaint is made that it will be dealt with fairly and quickly. Without that confidence in the system, it is likely that we will continue to suffer abuse, bullying and worse, which will go unreported, ignored and causing real harm and damage to individuals and the church as the Body of Christ.

Mary St George said...

At one stage, at least some dioceses in New Zealand had a series of workshops on sexual harassment, including the idea that people may be perpetrators and either unaware or in denial of the effects of their actions upon others. I think this idea was important in allowing people to make positive change with grace. Workshops were at several levels - synod, diocese and archdeaconry - and were repeated, so that it was reasonably achievable to attend a workshop in the absence of someone you had a problem with.

There was information among the church leaflets and in the restrooms about who harassed people could contact for support. There were support options both within and beyond the church.

I don't think perfection was achieved, but I do think there was behavioural change. I believe this could work for bullying as well.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Very grateful to everyone for all your experience and wisdom, which reveals the complexity, awkwardness and stuckness we are in. One or two thoughts strike me as emerging again and again — a culture of fear and omerta all over the place, the lack of firm anti-discriminatory frameworks within which to work, the universal vulnerability of people in churches, the importance of realising clergy sometimes bully people as well as the other way round, so a simple mechanism for beefing up clergy power over lay people can't be the answer, the way in which total cultures operate, and, most maddeningly of all, the crying need to do something.

That's not entirely smple, though. Paternalistic imposition could actually lowers the caacity of people to look after themselves; but without buy in from everyone, especially the leaders int he organisation, change won't happen. Both true.

My close colleagues and I have been trying to put something together with our HR person in Oxford, in collaboration with Ann Lee, a psychologist who specialises in these things. I will blog what seems to be emerging when I am back at my desk, which may be later, or after the weekend depending on who needs a lift where after house of bishops.

I would really value your comments, on and off list, when I blog the latest state of this work in hand.

In parenthesis there is a lot of training undertaken in management etc in the diocese, indeed the bulk of IME 4-7 has been described to me as management training. The effectiveness of training, however, depends vastly on the person being trained - their intentions, their capacity to learn, how much they understand the bigger context. A few years ago my former colleague Ken Humphries did fascinating work on the difference training makes in counselling (he was secretary of BAC at the time). It has an essential place, but, I'm sorry to say, more training does not automatically raise people's games. It can even train the wicked in how to be more wicked and get away with it! So we need to be very focussed about training.

Watch this space, or rather the top of the blog, and I'll see if I can get something more substantial out soon for your comment.

Ann Memmott said...

+Alan, yes, much wisdom in your summary, I think.

You are right in saying that certain training makes some situations worse rather than better. We see this in domestic violence work, where 'anger management therapy' ended up making a lot of abusive people much much better at using anger and controlling people with it. Ooops!

Much wisdom also from authors who suggest we need to tailor our responses. As one poster here said, we're not lacking in sympathy when we hear of bullying. But is sympathy the best response? Is church often a culture of tea-and-sympathy, a pastoral caring response...rather than action and really clear leadership on zero-tolerance of bullying tactics (from anyone - clergy, laity or otherwise)?

Do some leaders sometimes think they've solved bullying situations by nodding and empathising. Or getting the two people in a room to talk 'as equals' about the situation (not realising the power dynamics may make honest responses impossible in such a setting?) Much to consider.

Si Hollett said...

completely unrelated to bullying, but I'm glad to see someone else using 'siblings' rather than the clunky 'brothers and sisters' that is normally used.

Anita said...

Thanks so much for writing on this subject, Bishop Alan, and for breaking the conspiracy of silence. I would never have believed how bad clergy bullying could be if I had not observed it (an identical situation to the anonymous of the first comment) and to a lesser extent, experienced it.
Thank you for spelling out the best steps to deal with bullies, clergies or otherwise. I think those steps will be helpful to many.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks so much for help moving this on. Presently in Spain putting together course for next year on how our theological vision of being embodied affects our lives. Leading course in June 2012 with my colleague Rosie Harper at Los Olivos — a fabulous retreat centre high in the Sierra Nevada. All welcome! (Plug over)
Ann, special thanks for your advice. Anita, I promise when I return to the UK and have finished my licensing and got back into the office I will dig out and post the practical steps we are proposing to take here. I'd love your comments on them!

MadPriest said...

You give sympathy when you can't do something about a situation. Sympathy from people who are scared to do something or just can't be bothered to do something or don't do something for political reasons just twists the knife in further.

I never wanted sympathy I wanted people to believe what I said and I wanted my life back. Jesus never sympathised with the lepers. He cured them.

Anonymous said...

Another anonymous comment from a minister in a different denomination. I ministered for six years in a small non-conformist church which shall remain nameless for obvious reasons. At first things went well. The church grew and the age profile changed so that the average age of the congregation fell. I was able to get involved in chaplaincy work in a local primary school and also the High School. AS part of the High School work I was invited - note invited - to join the annual residential week and spend significant time with staff and students away from the school. All good you might think.

But no. The significant voices in the congregation decided that they didn't like me spending time away from the church to reach into the community. They didn't want me supporting the High School SU group, or helping to organise the local joint-churches/SU holiday club, or enriching my preaching, teaching and leadership by reading widely and attending conferences. They didn't want me to be me. What they wanted was for me to be a puppet - to be who they wanted, to say what they wanted and to do what they wanted when they wanted.

The situation got so bad that I had to take time off work. When I returned to work it quickly became clear that not only had nothing changed, but that I was going to get no support at all from our denominational office-bearers. Eventually, at a meeting in my own home with one of those office-bearers, I was told that I should resign my position and leave the town. I was also told that on leaving my home, the person concerned was going straight to a meeting with the church leaders to tell them what he has said to me - that I should leave. So to the charge of bullying against some of the church's leaders, we could add constructive dismissal ...

Except that we can't because I was not an employee, so I could not be constructively dismissed.

Needless to say, I left that church and town, but had no support or assistance from the denomination in doing so. I was then told to take at least 2 years out of ministry and find a 'secular' job.

So much for the caring body of Christ.

MadPriest said...

I call it constructive defrocking. Taking away a minister's vocation (life) without going through the rigmarole of the church disciplinary procedures because they know damn well they wouldn't win their case.

This practice, that is very commonly employed by Church of England bishops and their yes-men is otherwise know as "knifing someone in the back" or "doing the dirty on someone."

The problem is that these episcopal bullies think they are being hit men for Jesus, that they are protecting the Church. Therefore, it is impossible to make them feel guilty for what they have done and the way they have done it. Appealing to their better nature is also a waste of time as they have divorced their own nature (better or otherwise) from what they perceive to be the function of their job. This is, of course, as far from the personel management techniques of Jesus Christ as you could possibly get and so we are left with Church of England PLC - just another "business" in the marketplace based on the same uncaring, inhuman, unchristian mixture of Darwinism and capitalism that dominates the boardrooms of secular employers.

The remedy for this malaise is not to ape the techniques of secular human resource managers (which are just psychological tricks to make more profits) but to simply do what Jesus would have done.

Unfortunately, doing what Jesus would have done is a surefire way of getting yourself knifed in the back by your father in Christ.

As Jesus said on the cross, "You just can't win with this lot."

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but another annonymous contributor. There are indeed consequences when you stick you head above the parapet on other people's behalf. Whether the bullying of lay people is by clergy or lay officials then it seems that the one who has drawn attention to it also is villified and isolated. What does it take for the church authorities to tackle bullying when many members of a parish have their legitimate concerns ignored or swept under the carpet? These things don't go away much as we might want them to do.

Colin_L said...

I think there are a lot of things that can be done about bullying. Accountability (of all to all) is a key factor, though difficult to achieve. My response focuses on clergy, although I acknowledge laity can be bullied too.

1. The first thing is to stop calling it 'bullying' and to focus on 'unacceptable behaviour'. Whether people feel bullied or not puts the focus on the victim, whereas 'bad behaviour' puts the emphasis on the perpetrator (the source of the problem, whether other people feel bullied or not).

2. There is an education/training task to be done about awareness of behaviour and buying into policies and guidelines, like the 'Dignity at Work' document – it has to be referred to and used! If everyone treated others with dignity and respect we wouldn't have to worry about bullying. Unite the union is keen to contribute to awareness training.

3. Support systems need to be set up by/for ministers (sharing groups, pastoral supervision, spiritual direction etc.) right from the start, before any problems occur. Training can also help (how to chair a PCC meeting; self-esteem; assertiveness …)

4. There should be an assessment of the issues/stresses/history of a church when a minister is first appointed – if there are identified problems/people then the minister should be offered help/support in tackling these from day one. Their ministry should also be reviewed after, say, 3 or 6 months, to check on any problems that might be emerging/worsening. They should also receive an exit interview on leaving, which will feed into the next appointment.

5. If a minister becomes anxious/stressed by what is happening to them then they need to have someone independent (and trained) to refer to; this person can act as adviser/advocate. A union rep. is such a person.

6. A 'stressful' situation needs to be taken seriously from the beginning, not brushed under the carpet, because of the risk of bad impact on health.

7. When a minister is off sick with stress/anxiety/depression the church/diocese/region should work on a 'back to work' strategy with the involvement of Occupational Health and HR professionals, taking seriously their 'duty of care' as employer (or in the place of employer).

8. Cases should be dealt with as quickly as possible, not committed to a lengthy and lingering process, if this can be avoided, as this only causes more stress. It is not legal process or insurance that stressed clergy need most at such times but practical and pastoral help.

9. Finally, I am reflecting on the idea of league tables (this is another dimension of accountability). How many clergy days off sick for things like stress/anxiety/exhaustion occur in each diocese/region? Can we understand what is happening in the worse ones and learn to be more like the better ones?

Anonymous said...

I have seen bullying in a range of church contexts - not just in the CofE.

A whole members meeting turn on members of the leadership team in an NFI church.

Leaders of a smaller new church completely cut off lay leaders and prophesy that they were staging a church take over when they questioned aspects of teaching.

In the CofE I have seen curates bullying incumbents and church wardens bullying team vicars in interregnums.

So this is not a CofE problem. Much like all the churches have had to face up to the reality of child protection by using rules and structures and good practice we need the same sort of structures sadly to deal with conflict and bullying.

Grandmère Mimi said...


1. The first thing is to stop calling it 'bullying' and to focus on 'unacceptable behaviour'. Whether people feel bullied or not puts the focus on the victim, whereas 'bad behaviour' puts the emphasis on the perpetrator (the source of the problem, whether other people feel bullied or not).


Colin L, I like that idea.

MadPriest said...

So, after twelve years of being bullied and facing constant discrimination (that would be illegal if the Church didn't have an opt out clause from English employment legislation) I give up and move away to a new diocese. I think this is an opportunity to start again. I know who I really am (good and bad) and I know my skills because I minister online with constant feedback and no institution to hide behind. So I naively think that I can rejoin the church. The first thing I do is arrange to see the bishop in charge at the moment to get permission to officiate. I have to wait two months for an appointment. But today I went to see him. He had, of course, not only had conversations with the man who bullied me all those years before we met for the first time, he had also arranged with the pending diocesan bishop (not yet ordained bishop anywhere) that I would not be given permission to officiate.

What is the point in hope, Bishop Alan? What is the point in talking about bullying? The Church of England is like the police force used to be when it was guilty of institutionalised racism. There may have been few racist officers but the whole police force protected them so that the force did not get a bad name. No bishop will go against a bad bishop because in doing so they will be stating that the system that gave them an elevated position is capable of error.

I now realise that the reason why so many bullied people commit suicide is not because they are in too much pain to carry on living but because they see suicide as the only way of getting justice and reducing the potential suffering of others.

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