I am starting a series of posts which will be entitled 'tales from the outside'. these are moments along the way of my departure from a conservative evangelical church in the Church of England - a place where I very much felt that I was 'on the outside'.
I recognise that in doing this I am not going to endear myself to some, yes of course the conservatives will tear me apart, but I expect that. But I also realise that some from my own stream, the open evangelicals, will question the wisdom of what I do. Is it wise, is it right? To you my friends I will say this - I have thought long and hard about when will be the right time to speak up, I think that now is the time, I may be wrong.
so here goes.........
I have thought very carefully about writing some of this stuff down. Am I simply giving in to the urge for catharsis that those the other side of trauma surely all desire? It is probably true that this is one part of the desire to write this down, but it must be said that it is equally true to point out that this is not an immediate rant, but rather a slowly contemplated and observed recovery.
It has been two years this month that we officially left our church. The church in which we were married and in which we had our babies dedicated, my first church. It was such an incredibly painful thing to do, something that we did not take lightly in any way. What took us to this point? How did this community go from being our home, to being uninhabitable for us, in two years?
The journey is complicated, the stops are painful, but I will begin at a point that, interestingly, doesn’t concern me directly, but rather a friend of mine. It was, perhaps, the first real moment of concern for me.
My friend was the assistant pastor at the church and had been for the previous 4 years prior to the new vicar’s arrival. He had done a degree in theology at a theological college and spent his 4 years with us responsible for the pastoral work and overseeing the volunteer youth workers (which included myself at the time) He was experienced, he was theologically trained, he was pastorally competent. It wasn’t surprising to me that he soon heard the call to train for priesthood in the Anglican church, a decision that was confirmed when he was selected for ministry around the time that the new vicar arrived.
My friend saw the possibility of training at the local theological college and continuing to serve the church in which he had been working and which he served through an interregnum. On approaching the vicar about this possibility, he was told in no uncertain terms that there would not be a job for him. It appeared that our vicar had arrived at our church with someone else already in mind for a curacy at the church. My friend was out of a job, out of a home, out of his community. No discussion.
As I have reflected on this turn of events, I have asked myself if this is so unreasonable. A vicar is entitled to appoint people next to him who will uphold the vision of the leadership, something which the vicar had every reason to doubt in my friend, who had considerable concerns regarding the ways of the new vicar. Of course his concerns were possibly justified in light of the fact that the vicar was prepared to override the obvious candidate for the job of assistant pastor, effectively making him and his family homeless, and appoint a theologically ‘sound’ friend instead. It, of course, has worked out well for my friend, even if the process of moving half way across the country moving children and buying houses, in order to take up training elsewhere, was somewhat unnecessary. God makes good out of the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Of course the vicar did not do anything wrong, technically. I could probably find no fault in employment law – after all, he wanted a curate, not an assistant pastor. However, is that what we are getting down to? Having to root around to find a ‘technical’ fault? This is, I find, one of the most frustrating things when trying to walk with conservatives of this particular conservative persuasion. Technically I can’t find fault, but spiritually, theologically and morally all my alarm bells are ringing. Some will say that it is simply that I disagree with this management style. However, I would say that how my friend was treated says something very significant about the vicar’s theology.
Was this the end of the staffing turnover? No, by the end of the vicar’s first 2 years of ministry in this church only 1 person was left who had been on the full-time paid staff for more than 18 months. Inevitable in a time of change? A new broom?