Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ever increasing circles

Had one of those 'ooooohhh, so that's connected to that ...and that's connected to that and .. OH' Google moments yesterday.

The search was loosely related to finding a church in Sheffield and to toddler groups we are attending. It led me to news of clergy I recognised from days of yore and eventually all these things connected to the Nine O' Clock Service

I had heard of this Sheffield worship initiative and knew it to have been the subject of a sex scandal. But details I found in this blog piece and the embedded documentary led me to a fuller story.
It upsets me in particular (in general, the catalogue of abuses of power is very upsetting) because I consider myself part of the 'emerging' movement and now can better understand the suspicion surrounding it. It upsets me because, as a layperson who wants to remain within church structures but find new ways of doing things, Chris Brain is a forerunner who has cast us all under suspicion. It upsets me because the Nine O' Clock service, as a vision of church, appeals to me greatly: social awareness; genuine community; new ways of worshipping; lay people empowered; women given authority; part of but distinct from the denominational structure.

How can it be that those in positions of spiritual and pastoral responsibility idolised Chris Brain and gave him such a platform? He was handed a huge amount of power, very quickly, without question of his character and based (as far as I can gather) exclusively on his charisma. Based on the fact that he could get young people into an ageing church. Based on giddiness about a New Chapter. What a f*** up and a travesty.

When the spokeswoman for survivors of abuse says in the documentary that Brain was indeed grooming women in his congregation but may not have even been aware of this himself, it makes sense. Power is corrupting. All of us get carried away when we are worshipped. I do not for one minute excuse him: I can understand what happened.

I realise this story is old but I think we still have a lot to learn from it. Increasingly, I find the whole idea of being called by God to the priesthood, or to church leadership, or whatever language you want to use to describe God telling you are meant for an elevated role in your worshipping community, troubling. I will write more about that (again!) soon, I expect. Suffice to say that of the seven church communities I have known well, I could only describe two of them as free of abuses of power by their leaders.


Steve Tilley said...

There is quite a dilemma for anyone testing a calling to ministry. Hopefully we will already have been demonstrating leadership or potential but the C of E (who I serve) did, I assure you even in the late 1970s, go to some lengths to check my motivation and reliability. There are devious manipulators who get through but relatively few. Your comment about how many communities you have belonged to with abusive leaders is sobering. If you take this further I'd be happy to be interviewed.

Jonathan Potts said...

As far as I can see, the CofE usually does quite a lot of checks initially but then does very, very little continual checking. 10, 20, 30, even 5 years later, how can you be sure that the person is still suitable for ministry?