The shadow of safeguarding hung over the morning session. There had been a private fringe meeting for victims and survivors and church leaders last night (Friday): I understand that conversations were direct and pointed. We were immensely helped by the morning prayers that opened the day: sensitively and carefully led by the Revd Dr Rowan Williams, currently Chaplain at York University, but about to move to Peterborough Cathedral. They touched on all the concerns that safeguarding raises: for victims, for survivors, for those who have never spoken about what happened to them, for perpetrators and for those in parishes and families living with the aftermath.
Safeguarding – the human stories
A full house listened in silence to a presentation, having been told that several victims and survivors were in the gallery listening. It began with Jo Kind, herself a survivor of abuse, and a volunteer at MACSAS (Ministers and Clergy Abuse Survivors), which was founded 20 years ago. She made the point that five years ago, victims and survivors had to sit in the gallery while their words were read out for them by a Bishop. But now her presence meant victims and survivors could speak for themselves to the Synod. Old Synod hands like me probably do not appreciate how difficult it must be for someone to come and speak to the governing body of the church about what happened to them and the damage done to them by the church.
- we need a re-orientation, focussed on the needs of victims and the impacts on parishes, rather than on the organisation
- people feel Jesus is nowhere to be seen in the response people experience
- she hoped the Church would move much faster on all the much-talked-about support systems for victims and survivors, and making the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) fit for purpose.
Quoting another survivor, she pleaded ‘please borrow our courage’ to make these things happen. On specifics, she argued for the central management of diocesan safeguarding advisers (DSAs) and to independent supervision of the National Safeguarding team. (Those were to be debated when the motion was put.) She received a standing ovation – very rare indeed for a visiting speaker.
Dr Sheila Fish from SCIE (the Social Care institute for Excellence) followed her. SCIE have been engaged in an audit of every diocese’s current safeguarding work. (I was involved in their visit to Bath and Wells last year – it was thorough and testing.) She reminded us how difficult it can be to develop effective safeguarding in an organisation. In church, there can be a ‘holy hush’ where people don’t and won’t talk about it. It’s a cliché to say ‘we are on a journey’, but she used it because it is accurate, and SCIE would reckon the C of E is at an urgent point where we have to question some assumptions about power and hierarchy.
I was glad to hear her say that one of the learning points for anyone involved is that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ when trying to resolve things and move forward. People have to work together to resolve things. This is something that, sadly, to date has not been very visible in the church’s public dealings with survivors of abuse. We really do need to recognise the long term impact of abuse – something I became increasingly aware of in my term as a Bishop’s Chaplain, dealing with people and parishes where abuse had happened at some time.
Dr Fish finished with a very powerful quote from a survivor who had had a very poor experience of care and follow-up: “I’ve no idea who you think you are you are safeguarding, but it isn’t me”.
Both speakers were heard in almost total silence: there was some hard listening to some hard sayings. Some questions followed: generally respectful and asking for help in understanding how we could do better.
Safeguarding – the debate
Bishop Peter Hancock began the debate on the motion by expressing his thanks and appreciation to the survivors and victims of abuse who had come to York, joined in a fringe meeting, and come to be in the gallery. He said the church, over the years, had not seen what was before its eyes. He gave a long list of failures: at senior level, in dioceses and in parishes. He reinforced his list by noting that the time he had spent with survivors and victims himself had taught him that.
It was only the Archbishops Commissaries going into Chichester that brought movement and change. He hoped Synod would recognise that there have now been many changes for the better. As one measure of change, national safeguarding spending had gone from £7K a few years ago to £1.6m in 2018. Overall, the church of England (i.e. including diocesan resources) spends £7m. He spoke of the key phrase – a “whole church” approach.
The paper up for debate (GS2092 – read it here) came from the National Safeguarding Steering Group. It is not a comprehensive action plan but sets out themes.:
- Support for and engagement with victims and survivors
- Clergy selection and training
- Structures, independence, oversight and enforcement.
You need to read the paper to get the detail on this, but it is pretty comprehensive.
On IICSA, there will be an interim report late this year, but the final report into the C of E won’t be ready till 2020. We should not wait for that, but act where we can as quickly as we can. He rejected calls for the church to hand safeguarding over to others: we must take accountability for what we do and it is part of our mission
In the debate,
- David Kemp, a former diocesan secretary from Canterbury, asked about Bishop’s accountability: he did not believe a bishop who doesn’t ‘get’ safeguarding would be brought to account properly. (I’m not sure about that: they would be liable under CDM for not having regard to safeguarding policy.)
- Calls were made for national control over diocesan safeguarding advisers: it would bring budgetary certainty and a consistent approach everywhere. Again, I am not convinced about this: being able to palm complaints and investigations off to London or York would weaken the local response, whether disciplinary or pastoral.
- The Bishop of Durham (formerly the Bishop for safeguarding) resisted those wanting us to outsource safeguarding to independent bodies. We must remain responsible for the things we are responsible for. But he did want more independent scrutiny and an ombudsman for complaints, to avoid the CDM, which – like many – he felt is not fit for purpose in safeguarding cases. He also wanted a redress system that helped people without the clumsiness of insurance claims – something that helped survivors stand on their own feet.
- But the Dean of St Paul’s suggested that we should have outside people to deal with complaints on our behalf: we are conflicted between the law, insurance, reputation management and caring for people, and we are compromised. “Stop trying to do everything!” Going further, he suggested that money being put into Renewal and Reform programme might better be put into proper compensation schemes.
Simon Butler then proposed an amendment that would offer a way of ‘dialling down’ the atmosphere of mistrust that exists between some very vocal survivors and the National Church Institutions. This is in the context of some of the things that are being said on social media, and in private conversations, whereby heated exchanges and expressions of mistrust are being aimed at the national safeguarding team. The Bishop accepted his amendment and it was passed, as was one from Simon Taylor highlighting the need for safeguarding to work at parish as well as national level
The Archbishop of Canterbury followed the new Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, in thanking victims and survivors who had come forward and participated. She talked of their ‘tenacity’ But Archbishop Justin went on to say
- there will be others who have not disclosed abuse, including members of Synod, and he gave a further apology to them
- he gave a warning about the call for more resources: it is all very well but someone has to pay. So this discussion needs to be had at diocesan synods and at PCCs, so that people are aware and ready to pay for things that they want to happen, rather than seeing it all as something ‘top-down’
- He was cautious on the pressure for more independence, again stating that it must be balanced with us taking responsibility. He finished by saying the culture has to change so that the survivor or victim is not blamed, but the offending behaviour (like drink driving) is condemned.
The angst and anguish that we heard in Questions and the debate on the agenda was largely absent in this debate (thank goodness).That was probably because we heard the voices of victims and survivors through Jo Kind and Dr Fish, and their very intimate, personal approach to speaking to us defused some of the procedural thunder we’d previously heard beforehand.
At the end of the day, looking back on it, some of us discussed whether it had been a turning point in our relationship with victims and survivors of abuse. It seems to me that the presentation and the presence of victims and survivors defused things, and the continual angry barracking that we have seen in recent months had dissipated. Meanwhile the debate indicated that things are changing – but also that they will take time to put in place and require even more resources. As a ‘glass half full’ person, I think we have seen a sea-change in tone today. It might mean that dealing with these awful issues will henceforth be done in a more constructive way.
New ways of working
The seminar afternoon had been retimed to allow full participation in the World Cup match. So there were two early afternoon opportunities to attend seminars and workshops (for the programme, see here and for my explanation see here and scroll down). A brief session before lunch oriented us and helped us choose what to attend.
On the Teaching Document, we were told that it had now been given the snappy title of Living in Love and Faith: Christian teaching and learning about human identity, sexuality and marriage. Well, it certainly beats the 1991 Issues in human sexuality – currently the ‘official line’, though it was comprehensively ridiculed during Questions yesterday, on the basis that its use of the term ‘homophile’ was meaningless in today’s society.
Dr Eeva John, who is coordinating the work spoke about the vision for the Teaching Document.
- If it succeeds it will gain respect for the Church, will contain widely accessible teaching and learning resources and be seen as good news. It could have a unifying impact. Well, that’s the hope for what success might look like.
- It will also support the role of Bishops as teachers of the faith, There is deep scholarly study going on, which will probably emerge as a substantial book, which must be coherent
- Trying to make this massive and potentially explosive project comprehensible, she used the image of cake: at this point, we do not have a cake to taste: we have a range of ingredients to assess to choose what will make up the cake.
Her address revealed that this is an immense task. I suspect some people thought it would simply be a book along the lines and size of Issues. She made it very clear this was a much bigger event. Her extensive use of imagery may not have endeared her to those whose preferred thought pattern is linear and word-based
The Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman explained what the Pastoral Advisory Group is doing. She stated clearly that their role is to work within the current doctrine and teaching of the Church, acknowledging that this will not please anyone.
- Those looking for change will be unhappy that the Group is not moving on from traditional teaching and Issues
- Those wanting to stay where we are (or even go back) will see the Group as the thin end of the wedge.
- She repeated several times the thought that for everyone their sexuality is a point of great vulnerability – not just LGBT people.
They have started work on the increasingly frequent requests in parishes for ministry to LGBT people.
And here, dear reader, I confess my failure to make the most of what was on offer. Returning to my room for a brief lie-down after lunch (you do realise that this blog gets written in the small hours, don’t you?) I managed to fall fully asleep and woke up at 4.45. Not only had I missed two seminars, I’d also missed the football, which was clearly a huge corporate event. I discovered later I was not alone: one priest I know went off shopping in a deserted York city centre; another dozed through the afternoon.
It was interesting that the media, in their search for ‘interesting pictures of people enjoying the match, leapt onto the idea that the Synod, Archbishops and all, were watching it.
Thus the BBC website on the second Alli goal : The goal also went down well at the General Synod, where the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent was heard to shout ‘Close him down’. My footballing friends inform me that while Pete did say that, it wasn’t at the point of a goal. Given that I missed the whole thing, Twitter helped me catch up. Personally, the tweet I liked best was a pic tweeted by the BBCs Paddy O’Connell from an (un-named) church.
Learning about the teaching document
The seminar I did attend was a revelation. I chose the Biblical studies option, as it’s clearly the subject area that is the root of much division of opinion. About 40 of us were treated to short sharp mini-lectures from top quality biblical scholars looking at important texts and themes.
- So on John’s gospel’s phrase ‘the beloved disciple’, we got a Cook’s Tour of what that concept might have meant in a first-century Greek culture. It seems it would have had homoerotic overtones, but the gospel writer was subverting that expectation in his readers to develop a theme about love which was primarily about the love between God the father and Jesus his Son.
- The Ephesians 5 passage about marriage relationships echoing Christ and the Church may be more about the latter than the former, we were told.
- Finally, the modern concept of ‘identity’, so important in current sexuality discussions cannot be found in the Bible. What can be found are stories about people changing or finding a new identity or role in the context of their community and God’s action.
There is neither space nor mental capacity on my part to go into all this: I simply give those highlights to show the depth and quality of the thinking that is going into the teaching Document work. I really enjoyed it, but I imagine that people not theologically trained may have found it too difficult. In questions, one asked: how do we make this simpler for people? The answer may be that we can’t: we have to find a way of showing people how complex it actually is.
We learned, then ,that the Teaching Document programme is a huge piece of work: no wonder it cannot be issued in a hurry. Organising this web of seminars around the campus must have been a huge task: all credit to the Synod officers and others who made it happen.
Is your Vicar properly paid?
After supper, the House of Clergy met separately to consider whether the clergy remuneration package should be reviewed. I previewed the basic issue and linked to the documentation here – scroll down on this link.) This is not something the clergy can decide for themselves, of course: it is for the Archbishops Council to set stipend levels, and the Pensions Board and Church Commissioners deal with pensions. In any case, a full General Synod debate would be required to make any changes.
The erudite and thoughtful Stephen Trott proposed, therefore, that the Archbishops Council be asked to undertake the work of reviewing the whole remuneration package –stipend, pension, retirement housing provision, etc . The Council’s paper (see link above)explains where things stand at present.
The last look at all this was in 2001, when the aspiration was for clergy to be remunerated at a rate comparable to a newly appointed primary school head. Stephen observed that clergy have no increments or salary progression – it is basically flat scale (unless you become a Bishop or Archdeacon. He produced a 1943 definition of the stipend as a ‘maintenance allowance’ to enable a man (sic) to provide for his family in neither poverty nor plenty.
As well as looking at the base stipend figure (around £25,000 for most clergy, there is the element of the ‘tied house’: potentially a blessing to ministry, but something that prevents clergy getting on the housing ladder, and having to fund a house from scratch when they retire.
Pension provision has also been altered – for the worse. Just after the Church went into the SERPS scheme – which made pension contributions less onerous – the government abolished it. But nothing was done to restore the value that had been lost. I give some detail on this as I know many readers of this blog are clergy or in clergy households.
- Speakers talked from the heart about the ‘massive worry’ they have about adequacy of pension provision.
- Withdrawing from SERPS had been a strategic mistake. ‘They’ (the Archbishops Council, presumably) should pay back into the scheme the money that had been saved over the years.
- Differentials between ‘ordinary’ clergy and senior clergy are a bone of contention: one speaker, himself an Archdeacon, said they should not exist. An amendment was put to include specific mention of differentials in the message to Archbishops Council
- Over the years since Generosity and Sacrifice, the stipend has gradually slipped so that it is now around 43% of national average income- though the value of the ‘tied house’ is problematic to assess.
- one speaker SA
- id the pension question os more critical than the stipend level.
- If clergy were paid a salary, the hours they do would mean they are paid less than the minimum wage.
- Rural clergy with a family cannot afford more than one car, making family life difficult if the priest is using it.
- We need a theology of ministry and remuneration, not just a numbers exercise.
- The move to Universal Credit will affect clergy families who currently receive Family Credit very badly, losing thousands of pounds.
- Any work done must include the specific differences in tax, pension and social security regimes in diocese outside the UK (Channel Island,, Sodor and Man and Europe)
Support was pretty well universal in speeches. But one speaker did put the contrary view, citing the job and pay security enjoyed by clergy. And some financial facts were set out – such as the unwillingness/impossibility of dioceses putting more into clergy pensions above the current level of 37% of stipend.There was an attempt to alter the motion to make specific reference to pensions and housing provision. This was seen off in the interests of getting on with it.
So we voted to proceed, and we had a brief update on the Clergy Covenant work that is ongoing. The clergy Standing Committee (of which I am a member) meets on Monday to reflect on the debate and to set in motion the request to the Archbishops Council, and to review progress on the Clergy Covenant.
Having encouraged people yesterday to get up early and come to the 07.00 Communion service, I had to follow my own advice. I dare to think my intervention yesterday did do something to increase the numbers, as supplies of bread and wine were perilously tight at the end. However, the piece de resistance of the service was the celebrant, Glyn Webster, the Bishop of Beverley.
Having gently ticked me off in his welcome for forcing him to prepare a homily (In my speech I’d joked that ‘you might hear a good homily: you might not), he reflected on Amos 9 by getting us all to sing Vera Lynn’s classic eschatological vision There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover. There were some witty comments on the way over to breakfast about persuading a choir to sing it ‘to a setting by Palestrina’, to which one wag added we could change the dismissal, too… to We’ll meet again.
Tomorrow (Sunday) we worship in York Minister in the morning (I shall have to put on my gladrags and process with the Prolocutors), and then the day is about nuclear weapons, disinvestment on climate change grounds, and environmental programmes. A cynic might say ‘worthy but dull’, but I’ll let you know tomorrow in the next post.
* There’s a shadow hanging over me – a line from the Lennon-McCartney classic Yesterday on the 1965 Help! LP McCartney says that when the tune first came into his head he ha don words for it, and wrote down ‘scrambled eggs’ as it fits the melody. Try singing it.