Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Informal monitoring and reference

The case of Jeremy Pemberton, the priest who has had his permission to officiate revoked as a result of entering into a same sex marriage, reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a priest who had entered into a civil partnership. This priest had also had his PTO withdrawn after a "pastoral" meeting with his bishop. Rather like Jeremy Pemberton it didn't have a material effect on his livelihood as he had other employment- and I believe he had officiated at most services without pay anyhow. The priest concerned worked as part of a ministry in a rural parish where churches were far apart and it soon became apparent that they were going to be hard pushed to cope without him and couldn't replace him due, I think, to finances and the difficulty of finding someone able to provide that kind of part time cover.

After representations by another priest, someone quite senior in the diocese told him he could officiate, but that it wasn't official, and if it came to light they knew nothing about it, and so he was still regularly taking services as he had before.  I had to say that my response to this kind "offer" would have ended in the word "off".  His response was that he felt called to ministry and wished to help his fellow clergy and he was above petty resentments. He said if he had ever taken the attitude of the C of E personally, he would have left ministry but as long as he felt called and his conscience was clear he would stay.

 I heard this account a while ago, yet the impression it gave me, which was of the hypocrisy and lack of humanity that can occur in parts of  the Church, has increased since then. There is no work place in Britain where people can  be treated as shabbily or offered as little legal protection and redress as they are in  the Church. And surely something is wrong when we have reached a place where matters can be so very underhand and dishonest? The recent denials that there is a blacklist  of clergy who enter into same sex marriages seems part and parcel of the same approach. So there is no official blacklist? Well, there is an unofficial one then, isn't there? How do you "informally monitor" people anyhow? If the group has "no powers", why set it up? If the group is to advise diocesan bishops, what exactly does it advise them about?

I don't expect decency, and certainly not compassion, but is  honesty and transparency really too much to ask?


  1. The above example highlights a curious problem for traditionalists, conservatives and liberals. When is the Church the Body of Christ, unique and different to the world and when is it an organisation like any other where the rules of wider society’s employment law apply? Well, the answer seems to be, when it suits – or when it is in its self-interest to be one or the other. The CofE – like many church and vol orgs, is happy to take the advantages of charitable status, Gift Aid and the like; and its particular situation of social and political privilege. It is very happy to reap all the benefits it can from the definitions bestowed on it and enacted by secular law which work to its own advantage. Yet it likewise likes to say it is something different and the rules of society that give the CofE enormous financial, social and legal privileges cannot be conveniently forgotten when it wants to play be its own rules.

    Personally, I have no problem with the CofE holding a conservative line when it comes to marriage – if you want to be a in a same sex marriage, then get a job doing something else. You can’t have your cake and eat it. However the Church of England also needs to be consistent in its rulings – the above says this is not the case, there is an element of ‘Don’t ask; don’t tell...’. Yet more than this, the CofE doesn’t maintain the same ‘official’ standard when it comes to divorce – the Bible (Mark 10) affords very few means of remarriage for a divorcee – s/he would have to have been the injured party when adultery was the grounds for divorce. However I personally know several Anglican clergy who have either married divorcees or have been divorced and remarried and they just seem to carry on as before. Which demonstrates just how fickle is the CofE – and even conservative Christians, where there is far more leeway when it comes to Biblical teaching on marriage and divorce than when it comes to the Bible and Willy-Woofters.

    On a personal note, I knew Jeremy (and his wife) when he was a curate in Leeds; both were lovely people and the ending of their marriage, after having five children, was a great sadness to me – as no doubt it was for all concerned (indeed, more so). His former brother-in-law is the Revd Chris Sugden, one of the founders of Anglican Mainstream... A curious and perhaps, not unrelated, irony.

    Oddly enough a fellow PhD friend of mine is in a committed same-sex relationship with an Anglican priest. I keep this to myself, as you know, I am reasonably well connected when it comes to the CofE, with close friends in relatively high-places. Therefore I find myself employing a ‘Don’t ask; don’t tell...’ – as this particular priest is now vicar of a church where a friend’s wife was NSM and so there is a connection. As noted, despite being one half of a same-sex couple, I am not particularly sympathetic to my fellow PhD and partner’s domestic arrangements. You can’t have your cake and eat it – but that goes for the CofE as well...

  2. I don't know Jeremy but I know of him and somebody did tell me his history.
    I broadly agree that the hypocrisy and lack of consistency in the Church is the greatest problem. I don't really want a Church that sacks its ministers for being in a same sex relationship, but IF it is going to do that then, as you say, at least be consistent and also sack anyone who divorces and remarries and don't offer prayer and blessings for same sex lay couples. Then I would know that there really is no place for me and I could walk away. It would, of course, leave the problem that by no means everyone in the Church is conservative, so all liberals would have to leave and probably establish a new church. But with numbers declining, except in what tends to be more evangelical parts of the church, I suspect the struggle to retain a broad liberal Anglicanism - and it always has been a fairly broad church- is doomed. The C of E will continue to decline, except in evangelical pockets and it will become effectively a narrow sect that won't have a place for me. At least there is the Quakers (although Quaker thought tends to be too pacifist for me, but that's another issue!)