here is my second post in a series of posts I have decided to do on living in and leaving a conservative evangelical church in the CofE. the first post can be found here.
I guess my friend’s experience was one of the first warning signs to me that I was encountering a way of engagement that I had not encountered before. The ‘rules’ of being together as a Christian community were suddenly under doubt. In my naïveté I would have expected that my friend’s job should not have been suddenly at risk. And for all talk of ‘transparency’ (and I remember that word being used a lot), I began to get a distinct sense that things were very opaque indeed.
Of course after my friend was ousted in this way, and it soon became clear that the youth worker was going the same way, he began to open up about other things that worried me considerably. One of these instances concerned the interview process by which the new vicar was appointed. This was the normal interview process and my friend was on the interview panel. At the time my friend was not unaware of the nuances of evangelicalism in the CofE and so one of his contributions at the interview was to say that he would not be happy with a Reform member taking the role of vicar (bearing in mind the church was fairly central evangelical, and open to having a female vicar). In the words of my friend the candidate ‘said nothing’, even though it was revealed soon after the vicar joined the church that he was in fact involved with Reform.
These are different rules of engagement to the ones that I know. Is to stay silent in that situation an honest response to that statement? Was this a temporary slip up in a difficult interview environment? Is the sound of silence in this situation a clanging gong of deception? In my friend’s dissertation, which was based on the relationship between power and conservative evangelicalism in the CofE, he names at least one other instance that he knows of in which this is the order of play in the interview process:
‘In another local church the vicar denied being part of any conservative evangelical networks. It turned out that he had been heavily involved within the movement and was even part of the steering group that organised Peter Jensen’s visit to the UK. It would appear that at best these men are often less than open; at worst, clearly deceitful.’
The sound of silence.
A clanging gong.
In this environment confusion and bewilderment abound. I remember thinking that if I just behave in a Christian way and if I have any concerns, air them to the PCC, then things will be okay. It didn’t take me long to realise that I didn’t know what the ‘Christian way’ was any more. We were all Christians weren’t we? Why was this so hard? Why was it that I didn’t understand the rules anymore? One of the most painful things is that some of this stuff is very difficult to put your finger on. In fact that is one of the things that my friend says in his piece of work – that he spoke to many many people who felt so battered and bruised but they couldn’t quite articulate why. In a sense that is why I have chosen to write a very personal experience, because it is simply that, my experience and my witness of the experience of others. You can take it or leave it – this is not an academic piece that requires grading, it is designed to be a personal piece of work which I give to you, should you so wish to read it. As far as the informational value of these examples goes, they are truthful examples, with regards to my observations, they are simply that, my observations.
The sound of silence is an interesting analogy – the sheer silence is where Elijah finds God, in the end. But silence is a place where many things can dwell – most of us fill it with music, tv, talking. We avoid the power of silence because it reveals our inner most being. In it we are bare before God. What we choose to do with silence reveals something of who we are, or who we desire to be.
The sound of silence.
The clanging gong?