Saturday, 10 March 2012

An open letter to my vicar

Hi Rachel,

I hope that your retreat was a time of spiritual growth and insight. There's a lot of good that your pastoral oversight imparts, so I'm glad you're back.

At the same time, the recent report cataloguing the culture of connivance at Chichester exposes a terrible history of episcopal errors. In spite of the damning evidence, the Bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, remains in office until retirement later this year. He'll collect his pension with not so much as a censure on his record of public service. A skilled communicator, he even appeared as a bit of church PR on Top Gear some time ago.

The 'apology' extended to the child victims who are now adults (the perpetrator went after choirboys, once he was dismissed on similar grounds from the Scout movement) merely cites systemic failures that we should now presume to be fixed, rather than holding specific clergy to account for their lack of protective oversight:

Yet, we wonder why so many have abandoned the Anglican church. Even if you discount the comparative ignorance of the '60's, we are now in an era in which CRB checks are routinely mandated. Yet, the 'good' bishop was happy to endorse a 1999 Permission to Officiate for a previously convicted paedophile.

This case needed a clear and inspiring show of root-and-branch disciplinary rigour. Instead, victims got a set of ecclesiastical sound-bites aimed at avoiding organisational incrimination. Perhaps, we need a Christian equivalent of the Nazi-hunter to root out these convicted perverts before they occupy a role of trust. There must be a range of XXXL granite dog-collars on reserve for them in hell.

It's not the quality of theology, preaching and social initiatives that undermine the Anglican church, nor the rise of secularism. It is the reasonable public fear that at a certain level, we are a church run by those who can dismiss the damning evidence that would prevent interlopers ('wolves in sheep's clothing') from exploiting public trust with impunity.

There is an abiding recognition that many of our leaders are far too interested in publicised political debate, civic prominence and the advocacy of single-issue social causes to worry about a nurturing relationship with each individual parishioner, as a true shepherd would nurture sheep. Yet, the gospel not about driving through grand policies, but the transmission of divine grace through nurturing change, mentoring guidance and committed personal interaction. You can easily identify those who don't engage at those levels.

You can't overcome those obstacles from the pulpit alone. You can only establish important ideals. People will respond to someone who is alongside, rather than above them. That's why I'm signing up for the mentoring course that I mentioned last year. My extended two-cents worth here might just add up.


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